Two (maltreated vs not maltreated) × 2 (gender) × 2 (white vs minority) analyses of variance were conducted to examine adolescents' adjustment as a function of early physical maltreatment, taking into account gender and ethnicity. The main effects of maltreatment are presented in the . The first 3 columns show the main effects of maltreatment without controlling for other risk factors associated with maltreatment. The second 3 columns depict the main effects of maltreatment, controlling for ecological and child risk factors.
Differences Between Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children in Academic, Psychological, and Behavioral Problems in Adolescence*
As shown, adolescents who had been maltreated early in life had lower grades and standardized test scores in language arts, were absent from school almost twice as many days, and were suspended from school more than twice as many times as adolescents who had not been maltreated. However, with the exception of school absences, all of these effects could be accounted for by risk factors associated with maltreatment rather than maltreatment per se.
In grade 11, mothers reported that adolescents who had experienced early maltreatment had levels of aggression, anxiety/depression, dissociation, delinquent behaviors, PTSD, social problems, thought problems, and social withdrawal that were on average twice as high as those of their nonmaltreated counterparts. The effects of maltreatment on all of these psychological and behavioral problems as reported by adolescents' mothers could not be explained away by other risk factors (with the lone exception of delinquent behavior). However, adolescents who had been maltreated did not differ from those who had not been maltreated on these dimensions based on their own reports; these variables are not shown in the and were excluded from further analyses. On the Adolescent Behavior Questionnaire, adolescents who had been maltreated reported more behavior problems than did their nonmaltreated counterparts (although this effect was accounted for by other risk factors rather than abuse per se) and were less likely to anticipate attending college (a little better than a 50% chance vs a high or very high chance) even after controlling for other risk factors.
The magnitude of the effects of early maltreatment on several adolescent problems depended on the adolescent's gender and ethnicity. Maltreatment × gender and maltreatment × ethnicity interactions were tested for all dependent variables; only interactions significant after controlling for ecological and child covariates are shown in the figures. As shown in , boys and girls who had been maltreated were more likely to experience adjustment problems compared with nonmaltreated adolescents, but the effects of early maltreatment were stronger for girls than for boys. Although not shown in , significant maltreatment × gender interactions for dissociation (F1,377=5.40, P<.05), PTSD (F1,377=14.39, P<.001), social problems (F1,377=5.99,P<.05), thought problems (F1,377=7.82, P<.01), and social withdrawal (F1,377=5.48, P<.05) replicated the pattern of findings depicted for aggression and anxiety/depression. illustrates all significant maltreatment × ethnicity interactions, controlling for ecological and child covariates. This figure indicates that for school absences, the negative effect of maltreatment was stronger for minority than white children. In addition, minority adolescents who were maltreated were suspended more often and had more behavior problems than did minority adolescents who were not maltreated; the effect was in the opposite direction but not significant for white adolescents.
Figure 1 Representative significant maltreatment × gender interactions from analyses of covariance. School absences were obtained from official school records. Aggression and Anxiety/Depression subscale scores are from the mothers' reports. Note: Although (more ...)
Figure 2 Significant maltreatment × ethnicity interactions from analyses of covariance. School absences and suspensions were obtained from official school records. Behavior problems were determined from adolescent reports. The bar represents the group (more ...)
These findings indicate that physical maltreatment in the first 5 years of life places a child at risk for a variety of psychological and behavioral problems during adolescence. Although on average, adolescents who had been maltreated experienced more problems than did their nonmaltreated counterparts, one may wonder whether the same group of children who had been maltreated displayed a pervasive set of maladaptive outcomes or whether different maltreated children display different maladaptive outcomes. To examine this question, we created a variable reflecting the number of problems adolescents experienced, including (1) aggression at clinically deviant levels and (2) anxiety/depression at clinically deviant levels (each 1 SD or more above the nationally normed mean as recommended by Achenbach18
); (3) school suspension; (4) trouble with the police; (5) pregnancy or impregnating someone; (6) running away from home; and (7) gang membership. Thus, adolescents could experience as few as 0 or as many as 7 problems.
As shown in , cross-tabulations of this problem count by early maltreatment revealed that 74% of adolescents who had been maltreated experienced at least 1 adjustment problem compared with only 43% of nonmaltreated adolescents. Twenty-one percent of maltreated adolescents experienced 3 or more problems compared with 7% of nonmaltreated adolescents. Thus, maltreatment in the first 5 years of life almost doubles the risk of any problem and triples the risk of experiencing problems in multiple domains during adolescence (χ23 = 26.11, P<.001).
Number of psychological and behavioral problems experienced by maltreated and nonmaltreated adolescents.