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Negative parental discipline in early childhood and assault in at-risk adolescents: The role of attitudes about guns and violence

Sat, April 14, 1:15 to 2:15pm, Hilton, Floor: Second Floor, Marquette Ballroom


Developmental models underscore the legacy of early parent-child experiences for social-emotional and behavioral outcomes in adolescence. Theories on physical aggression (e.g., General Aggression Model; Anderson & Bushman, 2002) highlight the influence of social learning mechanisms in the development of behavioral problems. In fact, the social-cognitive theory posited by Bandura (Bandura, 1973; Bussey & Bandura, 1992) suggests that children’s cognitive structures are influenced by relationships with parents and other close contacts, which guide expectations for future behavior. The aim of the current study was to test an indirect pathway from early childhood to early adolescence (EA) in which negative parental discipline (i.e., laxness, harshness) when children are three-years-old leads to more positive attitudes about the acceptability of guns and violence, which in turn predicts assault and aggression during EA. These effects across time are predicted to emerge even when controlling for parental attitudes about weapons and violence, demographic characteristics, and maternal substance use in this at-risk sample.

The at-risk sample consisted of 100 caregiver-child dyads recruited at birth in part due to prenatal exposure to substances and assessed through early adolescence (EA). The majority of mothers were single (60%) and receiving government assistance (71%). Data were collected again in EA (Mage = 13.6 years, SD = .53; 57% female; 84% African American; 17% Latino). 79 participants had data on all measures. All measures had acceptable psychometric properties.

The Parenting Scale (Arnold et al., 1993) was completed by mothers at 36 months. The total discipline scale includes: overreactivity (harsh and emotional discipline), laxness (permissive, inconsistent discipline), and verbosity (lengthy verbal responses to misbehavior). Adolescents and parents completed the Attitudes Toward Guns and Violence Questionnaire (Shapiro, 2000). Higher scores on this 26-item measure indicate more positive attitudes regarding guns and violence. Parent reports were used as a covariate. Early adolescents’ self-report of aggression was assessed using the Youth Self-Report (YSR; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). The assault self-report subscale was derived from the Adolescent Delinquency scale (Huizinga, Esbensen, & Weiher, 1991).

Collected at the 1-month-old laboratory visit, demographics (i.e., biological mother’s age, years of education, parity, child’s gender) and maternal substance use (standardized composite of days of cocaine use per week and number of cigarettes, joints, and alcoholic drinks) were controlled. The Parental Support for Fighting and for Nonviolence measure (Orpinas, Murray, & Kelder, 1999), which assesses adolescents’ perception of their parents’ support for fighting, was controlled.

Within Process Macro (Hayes, 2013) indirect effects testing with bootstrapping (5,000 samples) were conducted for two models. The DV’s were only moderately correlated, r = .30. In the first model (see Figure 1) there was an indirect effect as indicated by the confidence intervals excluding 0. Negative parental discipline positively predicted attitudes towards guns and violence in EA, which in turn positively predicted adolescent reported assault. In the second model (see Figure 2) where YSR aggression was the outcome in EA, there was an indirect effect.

Results highlighted the important role of maternal discipline approaches among at-risk children for the development of maladaptive outcomes in EA.


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