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When children are exposed to serious life adversities, Ed Zigler believed that developmental scientists must expediently strive to illuminate the most critical directions for beneficial interventions. In this paper, we present a new study on risk and resilience on adolescents during COVID-19, bookended – in introductory and concluding discussions – by descriptions of programmatic work anchored in lessons learned from Zigler. The new study was conducted during the first two months of the pandemic, using a mixed-methods approach with a sample of over 2,000 students across five high schools. Overall, rates of clinically significant symptoms were generally lower as compared to norms documented in 2019. Multivariate regressions showed that the most robust, unique associations with teens’ distress were with feelings of stress around parents and support received from them. Open ended responses to three questions highlighted concerns about schoolwork and college, but equally, emphasized worries about families’ well-being, and positive outreach from school adults. The findings have recurred across subsequent school assessments, and strongly resonate with contemporary perspectives on resilience in science and policy. If serious distress is to be averted among youth under high stress, interventions must attend not just to the children's mental health but that of salient caregiving adults at home and school. The article concludes with some specific recommendations for community-based initiatives to address mental health through continued uncertainties of the pandemic.
In interventions for at-risk children, Tom Dishion strongly exhorted programs that are short term, cost-effective, and delivered in families’ own communities, just as resilience researchers underscore the need for programs that provide ongoing support for children's primary caregivers, and are implementable on a large scale. Presented here are preliminary results on a short-term intervention for mothers, the Authentic Connections Virtual Groups. A previous randomized trial of the in-person version of this program, conducted with mothers at high risk for stress and burnout, showed significant benefits. There had been zero dropouts across the 3-month program, and participants showed significant improvements on psychological indices as well as cortisol, even 3 months after the program ended. In the present study, virtual groups were conducted with five sets of women, all white-collar professionals with highly stressful, exacting careers, and most also primary caregivers of their children. Again, there were zero dropouts. Mean satisfaction ratings were 9.6 of 10, and the Net Promoter Score (promoters vs. detractors) fell in the “world class” range. To illuminate mechanisms of change, participants’ responses to open-ended questions on the groups’ value are presented verbatim. Recurrently mentioned were the development of new, authentic connections and invaluable ongoing support. These results, with the low costs and ease of women's attendance, attest to the value of expanding offerings such as these, toward benefiting even more highly stressed mothers themselves as well as the children for whose care they are responsible.
This study examined changes in adolescents’ perceived relationship quality with mothers and fathers from middle school to high school, gender differences, and associated mental health consequences using longitudinal data from the New England Study of Suburban Youth cohort (n = 262, 48% female) with annual assessments (Grades 6–12). For both parents, alienation increased, and trust and communication decreased from middle school to high school, with greater changes among girls. Overall, closeness to mothers was higher than with fathers. Girls, compared to boys, perceived more trust and communication and similar levels of alienation with mothers at Grade 6. Girls perceived stronger increases in alienation from both parents and stronger declines in trust with mothers during middle school. Increasing alienation from both parents and less trust with mothers at Grade 6 was associated with higher levels of anxiety at Grade 12. Less trust with both parents at Grade 6 and increasing alienation and decreasing trust with mothers in high school were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms at Grade 12. Overall, girls reported having higher levels of anxiety at Grade 12 compared to boys. Findings on the course of the quality of parent–adolescent relationships over time are discussed in terms of implications for more targeted research and interventions.
Substantial evidence links socioeconomic status to internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. However, it is unclear how these two categories of behavior problems relate to specific components of socioeconomic status (e.g., income, educational attainment, and occupational prestige) or overall social status. In this study, we conducted a second-order meta-analysis to estimate the average associations of income, education, occupation, and overall socioeconomic status with internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, and to examine if age, sex, and race/ethnicity moderated these associations. Our systematic search in PsycINFO, PubMed, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global identified 12 meta-analyses (17% unpublished), including approximately 474 primary studies and 327,617 participants. In relation to internalizing, we found small average associations with income, r+ = –.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) [–.31, –.04], and education, r+ = –.12, 95% CI [–.15, –.09]. In relation to externalizing, we found smaller associations with income, r+ = –.02, 95% CI [–.15, .10], education, r+ = –.03, 95% CI [–.16, .10], and overall socioeconomic status, r+ = –.05, 95% CI [–.11, .01], but these CIs included zero. Only sex composition of the samples moderated the latter association. We provide recommendations for best practices and future research directions.
In an upper-middle class setting, we explored associations between students’ peer reputation in Grades 6 and 7 with adjustment at Grade 12. With a sample of 209 students, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) of peer reputation dimensions supported a 4-factor model (i.e., popular, prosocial, aggressive, isolated). Structural equation models were used to examine prospective links between middle school peer reputation and diverse Grade 12 adjustment indices, including academic achievement (Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and grade point average), internalizing and externalizing symptoms, and use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. Prosocial reputation was connected to higher academic achievement levels and fewer externalizing symptoms. Both prosocial and isolated reputations were negatively associated with dimensions of substance use, whereas popularity was positively associated. Implications for future research and interventions are discussed.
In this prospective study of upper middle class youth, we document frequency of alcohol and drug use, as well as diagnoses of abuse and dependence, during early adulthood. Two cohorts were assessed as high school seniors and then annually across 4 college years (New England Study of Suburban Youth younger cohort [NESSY-Y]), and across ages 23–27 (NESSY older cohort [NESSY-O]; ns = 152 and 183 at final assessments, respectively). Across gender and annual assessments, results showed substantial elevations, relative to norms, for frequency of drunkenness and using marijuana, stimulants, and cocaine. Of more concern were psychiatric diagnoses of alcohol/drug dependence: among women and men, respectively, lifetime rates ranged between 19%–24% and 23%–40% among NESSY-Os at age 26; and 11%–16% and 19%–27% among NESSY-Ys at 22. Relative to norms, these rates among NESSY-O women and men were three and two times as high, respectively, and among NESSY-Y, close to one among women but twice as high among men. Findings also showed the protective power of parents’ containment (anticipated stringency of repercussions for substance use) at age 18; this was inversely associated with frequency of drunkenness and marijuana and stimulant use in adulthood. Results emphasize the need to take seriously the elevated rates of substance documented among adolescents in affluent American school communities.
This longitudinal study of affluent suburban youth (N = 319) tracked from 6th to 12th grade is parsed into two segments examining prospective associations concerning emotional–behavioral difficulties and academic achievement. In Part 1 of the investigation, markers of emotional–behavioral difficulty were used to cluster participants during 6th grade. Generalized estimating equations were then used to document between-cluster differences in academic competence from 6th to 12th grade. In Part 2 of the study, indicators of academic competence were used to cluster the same students during 6th grade, and generalized estimating equations were used to document between-cluster differences in emotional–behavioral difficulty from 6th to 12th grade. The results from Part 1 indicated that patterns of emotional–behavioral difficulty during 6th grade were concurrently associated with poorer grades and classroom adjustment with some group differences in the rate of change in classroom adjustment over time. In Part 2, patterns of academic competence during 6th grade were concurrently associated with less emotional–behavioral difficulty and some group differences in the rate of change in specific forms of emotional–behavioral difficulty over time. These results suggest that the youth sampled appeared relatively well adjusted and any emotional–behavioral–achievement difficulty that was evident at the start of middle school was sustained through the end of high school.
We review evidence on a group recently identified as “at risk,” that is, youth in upwardly mobile, upper-middle class community contexts. These youngsters are statistically more likely than normative samples to show serious disturbance across several domains including drug and alcohol use, as well as internalizing and externalizing problems. Extant data on these problems are reviewed with attention to gender-specific patterns, presenting quantitative developmental research findings along with relevant evidence across other disciplines. In considering possible reasons for elevated maladjustment, we appraise multiple pathways, including aspects of family dynamics, peer norms, pressures at schools, and policies in higher education. All of these pathways are considered within the context of broad, exosystemic mores: the pervasive emphasis, in contemporary American culture, on maximizing personal status, and how this can threaten the well-being of individuals and of communities. We then discuss issues that warrant attention in future research. The paper concludes with suggestions for interventions at multiple levels, targeting youth, parents, educators, as well as policymakers, toward reducing pressures and maximizing positive adaptation among “privileged but pressured” youth and their families.
In recent years, translational research involving humans and animals has uncovered biological and physiological pathways that explain associations between early adverse circumstances and long-term mental and physical health outcomes. In this article, we summarize the human and animal literature demonstrating that epigenetic alterations in key biological systems, the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis and immune system, may underlie such disparities. We review evidence suggesting that changes in DNA methylation profiles of the genome may be responsible for the alterations in hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis and immune system trajectories. Using some preliminary data, we demonstrate how explorations of genome-wide and candidate-gene DNA methylation profiles may inform hypotheses and guide future research efforts in these areas. We conclude our article by discussing the many important future directions, merging perspectives from developmental psychology, molecular genetics, neuroendocrinology, and immunology, that are essential for furthering our understanding of how early adverse circumstances may shape developmental trajectories, particularly in the areas of stress reactivity and physical or mental health.
Building upon prior findings of elevated problems among East Coast suburban youth through the 11th grade, this study establishes disproportionately high incidence of maladjustment across three disparate samples: East Coast Suburban youth at the end of their senior year in high school, and 11th and 12th graders in (a) a Northwest suburb and (b) an East Coast city. Both East Coast samples showed pronounced elevations in substance use, whereas the Northwest suburban sample showed marked vulnerability in serious internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Across all samples, parents’ low perceived containment for substance use (lax repercussions on discovering use) was a major vulnerability factor, followed by parents’ knowledge of their teens’ activities. Overall, adolescents’ symptom levels were more strongly related to their relationships with mothers than with fathers. An exception was boys’ apparent vulnerability to fathers’, but not mothers’, perceived depressive symptoms. As with affluent eighth graders, we found that “overscheduling” in extracurriculars is not a critical vulnerability factor among these high school students. Finally, youth reports suggested that most affluent parents do not indiscriminately bail their children out of all problem situations (although a small subset, apparently, do). Results are discussed along with the implications for practice and for future research.
The maintenance of high social competence despite stress was examined in a 6-month prospective study of 138 inner-city ninth-grade students. The purpose was to provide a replication and extension of findings derived from previous cross-sectional research involving a comparable sample of children. Specifically, goals were to examine the extent to which high-stress children with superior functioning on one or more aspects of school-based social competence could evade significant difficulties in (a) other spheres of competence at school and (b) emotional adjustment. Measurements of stress were based on uncontrollable negative life events. Competence was assessed via behavioral indices including school grades, teacher ratings, and peer ratings, and emotional distress was measured via self-reports. Results indicated that high-stress children who showed impressive behavioral competence were highly vulnerable to emotional distress over time. Furthermore, almost 85% of the high-stress children who seemed resilient based on at least one domain of social competence at Time 1 had significant difficulties in one or more domains examined when assessed at both Time 1 and Time 2. Findings are discussed in terms of conceptual and empirical issues in resilience research.
The main objectives of this study were to prospectively examine the relationship between externalizing (substance use and delinquency) and internalizing (depression and anxiety) dimensions and academic achievement (grades and classroom adjustment), as well as continuity over time in these domains, within a sample of wealthy adolescents followed from 10th to 12th grades (n = 256). In both parts of the study, cluster analyses were used to group participants at 10th grade and then group differences were evaluated on adjustment outcomes over time. In Part 1, problem behavior clusters revealed differences on academic indices with the two marijuana using groups—marijuana users and multiproblem youth—exhibiting the worst academic outcomes at all three waves. For Part 2, the two lowest achieving groups reported the highest distress across all externalizing dimensions over time. Stability across the three waves was found for both personal and academic competence as well as the associations between these two domains. Results are discussed in relation to intervention efforts targeting wealthy students at risk.
In this 6-month prospective study, interactions between intelligence and emotional distress were examined in predicting social competence among 138 inner-city adolescents. The attempt was to extend previous cross-sectional findings obtained with a similar sample of disadvantaged youth. Intelligence was assessed via a nonverbal test of cognitive abilities, and social competence was operationalized based on teacher and peer ratings and school grades. Distress variables examined in interaction with intelligence included internalizing and externalizing symptomatology as well as the more specific internalizing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interaction effects obtained indicated that intelligent youth who reported high depression and anxiety at Time I showed decreases in social competence over time, whereas those low on initial distress showed improvements in social competence levels. No such associations between initial distress and subsequent social competence were seen among the less intelligent children. Findings are discussed in terms of theoretical issues and empirical evidence in developmental psychopathology, and implications for future research are noted.
Interactions between intelligence and psychosocial factors were examined in terms of influences on social competence among 144 inner-city ninth-grade students. Psychosocial variables examined included ego development, locus of control, and positive and negative life events. Definitions of social competence were based on peer ratings, teacher ratings, and school grades. Results indicated that, unlike their less intelligent peers, intelligent youngsters showed higher competence levels at high versus low levels of both ego development and internal locus of control. Findings were interpreted in the context of sociocultural influences on academic achievement among disadvantaged adolescents.
This study builds upon prior findings of elevated substance use among suburban high school students, examining the ramifications of different parenting dimensions on substance use and related behaviors. The sample consisted of 258 11th graders in an affluent suburban community. Parenting predictors considered included those well-studied previously such as monitoring and closeness, as well as two newer dimensions: perceived containment (stringency of anticipated reactions in reaction to negative behaviors) and perceived commitment (e.g., helping the child despite other commitments). Outcomes included self-reported substance use, delinquency, and rule breaking, as well as teacher-rated inattentiveness and school grades. Findings showed elevated substance use among these 17-year-olds compared with national norms, especially among girls. Of the parent predictors, significant unique links with multiple outcomes were found for parents' knowledge of their children's activities and perceived parental containment (stringent repercussions) in reaction to the children's substance use. Notably, students reported that their parents were much more tolerant of their substance use than of other problem behaviors such as rudeness to adults and minor acts of delinquency. Results are discussed along with the implications for practice and research.
The study of resilience has two core characteristics: it is fundamentally applied in nature, seeking to use scientific knowledge to maximize well-being among those at risk, and it draws on expertise from diverse scientific disciplines. Recent advances in biological processes have confirmed the profound deleterious effects of harsh caregiving environments, thereby underscoring the importance of early interventions. What remains to be established at this time is the degree to which insights on particular biological processes (e.g., involving specific brain regions, genes, or hormones) will be applied in the near future to achieve substantial reductions in mental health disparities. Aside from biology, resilience developmental researchers would do well to draw upon relevant evidence from other behavioral sciences as well, notably anthropology as well as family, counseling, and social psychology. Scientists working with adults and with children must remain vigilant to the advances and missteps in each others' work, always ensuring caution in conveying messages about the “innateness” of resilience or its prevalence across different subgroups. Our future research agenda must prioritize reducing abuse and neglect in close relationships; deriving the “critical ingredients” in effective interventions and going to scale with these; working collaboratively to refine theory on the construct; and responsibly, proactively disseminating what we have learned about the nature, limits, and antecedents of resilient adaptation across diverse at-risk groups.
The purpose of this study was to ascertain the effectiveness of the
Relational Psychotherapy Mothers' Group (RPMG), a supportive
parenting group intervention for substance abusing women. Sixty mothers
receiving RPMG were compared to 67 women receiving recovery training (RT);
both treatments supplemented treatment in the methadone clinics. At the
end of the 6-month treatment period, RPMG mothers showed marginally
significant improvement on child maltreatment (self-reported) and cocaine
abuse based on urinalyses when compared with RT mothers; notably, children
of RPMG mothers reported significantly greater improvement in emotional
adjustment and depression than children of RT mothers. At 6 months
follow-up, however, treatment gains were no longer apparent. Overall, the
findings suggest that whereas supportive parenting interventions for
substance abusing women do have some preventive potential, abrupt
cessation of the therapeutic program could have deleterious
consequences.Preparation of the manuscript
was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health
(RO1-DA10726, RO1-DA11498, R01-DA14385, and K23DA14606), the William T.
Grant Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation.
In this study of 360 low-income mother–child dyads, our primary
goal was to disentangle risks linked with commonly co-occurring maternal
diagnoses: substance abuse and affective/anxiety disorders. Variable-
and person-based analyses suggest that, at least through children's
early adolescence, maternal drug use is no more inimical for them than is
maternal depression. A second goal was to illuminate vulnerability and
protective processes linked with mothers' everyday functioning, and
results showed that negative parenting behaviors were linked with multiple
adverse child outcomes. Conversely, the other parenting dimensions showed
more domain specificity; parenting stress was linked with children's
lifetime diagnoses, and limit setting and closeness with children's
externalizing problems and everyday competence, respectively. Results are
discussed in terms of implications for resilience theory, interventions,
and social policy.Preparation of this
manuscript was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of
Health (RO1-DA10726, RO1-DA11498, and R01-DA14385).
The central question addressed in this study was whether upper class,
suburban teenagers can engage in various problem behaviors and still
maintain adequate academic grades, because of environmental safety nets,
unlike their low-income, inner-city counterparts. Three problem behavior
dimensions were assessed among tenth graders, that is, substance use,
delinquency, and low school engagement. Academic achievement was assessed
in terms of grades across four major subjects. Variable-based analyses
indicated unique links with grades for self-reported delinquency and
school disengagement in high- and low-income samples, but for substance
use only among the former. Person-based analyses showed that in both
schools, grades were clearly compromised among youth with disturbances in
all three problem domains. In addition, in the suburban school only,
grades were low in the cluster characterized chiefly by high substance
use. Results are discussed in terms of stereotypes regarding risks (or
lack thereof) stemming from families' socioeconomic status;
implications for theory and interventions are also considered.Preparation of this manuscript was funded in
part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1-DA10726,
RO1-DA11498, R01-DA14385), the William T. Grant Foundation, and the