The Association between Child Maltreatment and Coping Strategies among Finnish 9th Graders

By Lepistö, Sari; Paavilainen, Eija | Child Welfare, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Association between Child Maltreatment and Coping Strategies among Finnish 9th Graders


Lepistö, Sari, Paavilainen, Eija, Child Welfare


Child maltreatment is commonplace, and adolescents are involved in it either as witnesses or victims. Research has shown that child maltreatment plays a major role in adolescent well-being and coping. The purpose of this study is to describe adolescents' experiences of child maltreatment and coping with it. The survey included 1,028 ninth-graders from one Finnish municipality. Further knowledge of child maltreatment and coping can help develop more effective interventions for increasing adolescents' health and well-being.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 3.6 million children were reported to have been abused or neglected in 2010, while an estimated 1,560 children died due to abuse or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). A 2007 U.S. study (N = 7,313) showed that 38% of adolescents had experienced childhood maltreatment, and 32% had witnessed violence (Harpaz-Rotem et al., 2007). Likewise, a 2008 Finnish study showed that 32% of 15-year-olds (iV= 13,459) had been subjected to mild violence by their parents, while 4% had been subjected to serious violence in the past year. Seventeen percent of ninth-graders had witnessed physical violence in their home (Ellonen et al., 2008).

The effects of child maltreatment on child well-being have been studied excessively, and it is known that child maltreatment may result in several shortand long-term problems for the child (Krug et al., 2002; Paavilainen ScFlinck, 2008). Traumatic experiences caused by violence have a direct impact on children, and living with violence also affects parenting skills, resulting in poor attachment and the inability to care for and support children (Holt et al., 2008). Child maltreatment can lead to adolescent depression, increased risk of suicide, early emancipation, or difficulties in friendship and dating (Anthonysamy <$c ZimmerGembeck, 2007; McCabe et al., 2005; Smith et al., 2008).

Parents have an important role in promoting adolescent socialization, and the quality of the relationship between parent and adolescent is significant for adolescent development (Newman et al., 2008; Stocker et al., 2007). The importance of family is highlighted in relation to adolescents' self-rated health (Pedersen et al., 2004). Both family violence and poor relationships negatively affect adolescent health by exacerbating aggressive behaviors and promoting anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and social problems (Lansford et al., 2002; Levendosky et al., 2001).

People use various strategies to cope with problems. The effectiveness of a coping strategy is dependent on how well it corresponds to the internal or external demands posed by the situation. (Fields &c Prinz, 1997; Folkman et al., 1986; Frydenberg 6c Lewis, 2004.) In this study the examination of coping draws upon a model of adolescent coping developed by Frydenberg and Lewis (1993,2004), which divides coping into three domains: problem-focused coping, reference to others and non-productive coping.

The literature on coping has predominantly addressed adult coping (Frydenberg, 1997). Frydenberg and colleagues studied the coping of so-called normal adolescents, and Seiffge-Krenke and colleagues focused on coping in adolescents with long-term illnesses such as diabetes. Some studies have addressed coping in depressed adolescents who try to avoid stressful situations (Seiffge-Krenke, 2000; SeiffgeKrenke et al., 2001). Coping with stressful situations such as family conflicts (Wadsworth 6c Compas, 2002) or losing a parent (Rask et al., 2002; Schneider 6c Phares, 2005) has been investigated based on adolescents'experiences; in the wake of stress, these adolescents try to manage themselves. Studies of coping with child maltreatment are scarce, and most of them have used a qualitative research design (Browne, 2002; Buckley et al., 2007). A few studies have focused on coping with sexual abuse (Bal et al., 2003; Daigneault, et al. …

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