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.
Children of affluent parents are often excluded in psychological research as they are considered to be at “low risk”; however, research is beginning to suggest that this previously under-studied population may be at risk for developing multiple problem behaviors, including substance use and externalizing problems. The current study aimed to extend the application of Problem Behavior Theory (PBT) to a sample of affluent adolescents by examining the extent to which these behaviors co-occurred and were associated with negative outcomes. Data were collected from 1,147 high school students living in an affluent community via anonymous questionnaires regarding their engagement in various problem behaviors. PBT was supported in this sample, and youth who engaged in multiple problem behaviors reported experiencing more negative outcomes than youth who did not engage in these behaviors. The findings of this study support the generalizability of PBT and also highlight the importance of continuing to study affluent youth in addition to traditionally high-risk populations.
Affluent youth; Adolescent risk behavior; Problem Behavior Theory; Externalizing behaviors; Substance use
Ego development, the capacity to derive coherent, nuanced meaning from one’s life experiences, often has significant impact on psychosocial adjustment during adulthood. Research with nonclinical populations has indicated links between higher ego development and healthy emotional coping and interpersonal relationships. Emerging research with substance-abusing mothers suggests that higher levels of ego development are associated with improved parenting but also with increased rates of psychopathology. Less is known about how ego development is related to other psychosocial factors important for substance-abusing mothers’ functioning and capacity to parent, including the proclivity to engage in risky behaviors, adaptive coping behaviors, and readiness to engage in psychotherapy. The present study examines these links. Participants included 182 methadone-maintained women who expressed interest in a randomized clinical trial testing the efficacy of a relational parenting intervention for substance-abusing mothers (Luthar, Suchman, & Altomare, 2007). Data were analyzed using a series of MANCOVAs and ANCOVAs controlling for maternal IQ and depression. Mothers with higher levels of ego development reported more adaptive coping techniques and greater readiness to engage in psychotherapy but also reported a heightened desire for strong sensations. Findings are discussed in light of mothers’ psychological processes and parenting capacities. The significance of findings for developing parenting interventions for substance-abusing mothers is also discussed.
substance-abusing mothers; substance-using mothers; ego development; parenting; parenting intervention; sensation seeking; coping
Despite ongoing concern about substance use during adolescence, very little is known about alcohol and drug use among teens living in affluent social settings. In this longitudinal study, cluster analysis was used to characterize patterns of substance use and change in other dimensions of psychosocial adjustment within a cohort of 292 high school students (54% girls) living in an affluent, suburban community. When compared with a cluster of students reporting minimal use, clusters reporting escalating, declining, and persistently high use consistently demonstrated relatively poorer psychosocial adjustment. Moreover, other dimensions of psychosocial adjustment remained relatively stable despite changes in substance use, and there were relations involving substance use and other aspects of psychosocial adjustment that may be specific to this social setting. The findings highlight the need for preventive intervention grounded in a clear understanding of developmental process occurring within populations of affluent, suburban teens.
Objectives in this research were to examine contextual differences in correlates of substance use among high school students. The focus was on two broad categories of adjustment indices: personal psychopathology (internalizing and externalizing problems) and behaviors reflecting social competence (academic achievement, teacher-rated classroom behaviors, and peer acceptance or rejection). Associations between drug use and each of these constructs were examined in two sociodemographically disparate groups: teens from affluent, suburban families (n = 264), and low socioeconomic status adolescents from inner-city settings (n = 224). Results indicated that suburban youth reported significantly higher levels of substance use than inner-city youth. In addition, their substance use was more strongly linked with subjectively perceived maladjustment indices. Comparable negative associations involving grades and teacher-rated behaviors were found in both groups, and among suburban males only, substance use showed robust positive associations with acceptance by peers. Results are discussed in terms of developmental perspectives on adolescent deviance, contextual socializing forces, and implications for preventive interventions and treatment.
A Parental Values scale, in which students ranked the top 5 of 10 items in terms of how important they perceived the items as being to their parents, was analyzed using a latent class ranking model. A model with three latent classes was considered adequate, based on the Bayesian information criterion and the interpretability of the results. The three classes were interpreted as consisting of students who perceive their parents as valuing personal happiness, those who perceive their parents as valuing concern for others, and those who perceive their parents as valuing academics and attending a good college. Some evidence as to the validity of the latent classes was obtained by comparing scores on a Parental Expectations scale; the scores were higher for the academic latent class as compared to the other two classes. The analysis suggests which items might be useful in a revised version of the scale.
Objectives of this study were to ascertain risk and protective factors in the adjustment of 78 school-age and teenage offspring of opioid- and cocaine-abusing mothers. Using a multimethod, multiinformant approach, child outcomes were operationalized via lifetime psychiatric diagnoses and everyday social competence (each based on both mother and child reports), and dimensional assessments of symptoms (mother report). Risk/protective factors examined included the child sociodemographic attributes of gender, age, and ethnicity, aspects of maternal psychopathology, and both mother's and children's cognitive functioning. Results revealed that greater child maladjustment was linked with increasing age, Caucasian (as opposed to African American) ethnicity, severity of maternal psychiatric disturbance, higher maternal cognitive abilities (among African Americans) and lower child cognitive abilities (among Caucasians). Limitations of the study are discussed, as are implications of findings for future research.
The purpose of this study was to build on preliminary findings of unusually high internalizing symptoms and substance use among suburban high school students. The sample consisted of 302 sixth- and seventh-grade students in an affluent, suburban community. Findings corroborated expectations regarding several domains of vulnerability, showing (1) high rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms among older girls, (2) significant links between various internalizing symptoms and substance use among both boys and girls, and (3) peers’ approval of substance use among older boys. In exploring potential causes of distress in this suburban sample, associations were found for achievement pressures (particularly excessive perfectionistic strivings), and isolation from parents (particularly low perceived closeness to mothers). Findings of this study are discussed in terms of widespread stereotypes about affluent families, as well as implications for future research and preventive interventions for a subgroup of youth typically viewed as being at “low risk.”
Despite concentrated efforts at improving inferior academic outcomes among disadvantaged students, a substantial achievement gap between the test scores of these students and others remains (Jencks & Phillips, 1998; National Center for Education Statistics, 2000a, 2000b; Valencia & Suzuki, 2000). Existing research used ecological models to document social–emotional factors at multiple levels of influence that undermine academic performance. This article integrates ideas from various perspectives in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary model that will inform policy makers, administrators, and schools about the social–emotional factors that act as both risk and protective factors for disadvantaged students’ learning and opportunities for academic success. Four critical social–emotional components that influence achievement performance (academic and school attachment, teacher support, peer values, and mental health) are reviewed.
This study used data from 340 mother–child dyads to examine characteristics of children with co-occurring diagnoses of anxiety and externalizing disorders and compared them with children with a sole diagnosis or no diagnosis. Comparisons were made using 4 child-diagnostic groups: anxiety-only, externalizing-only, co-occurrence, and no-problem groups. Most mothers were characterized by low income and histories of psychiatric diagnoses during the child’s lifetime. Analyses using multinomial logistic regressions found the incidence of co-occurring childhood disorders to be significantly linked with maternal affective/anxiety disorders during the child’s lifetime. In exploring implications for developmental competence, we found the co-occurrence group to have the lowest level of adaptive functioning among the 4 groups, faring significantly worse than the no-problem group on both academic achievement and intelligence as assessed by standardized tests. Findings underscore the importance of considering co-occurring behavior problems as a distinct phenomenon when examining children’s developmental outcomes.
co-occurring psychiatric disorders; anxiety disorders; externalizing disorders
Temporal associations in the relationship between emotional-behavioral difficulty and academic achievement were explored in 2 samples followed from 6th through 8th grade. The first sample comprised 280 students entering an economically disadvantaged urban middle school and the second comprised 318 students entering an affluent suburban middle school. Among disadvantaged youth, emotional indices were concurrently associated with poorer achievement while prospective associations between substance use and achievement were evident. For privileged adolescents, only a significant concurrent relationship emerged between social anxiety and achievement, although nonsignificant trends in the data suggest other, albeit weak, associations. The findings are discussed in terms of similarities and differences in these temporal associations across 2 samples representing extremes of the socioeconomic continuum.
We begin this article by considering the following critical conceptual issues in research on resilience: (1) distinctions between protective, promotive, and vulnerability factors; (2) the need to unpack underlying processes; (3) the benefits of within-group experimental designs; and (4) the advantages and potential pitfalls of an overwhelming scientific focus on biological and genetic factors (to the relative exclusion of familial and contextual ones). The next section of the article is focused on guidelines for the selection of vulnerability and protective processes in future research. From a basic science standpoint, it is useful and appropriate to investigate all types of processes that might significantly affect adjustment among at-risk individuals. If the research is fundamentally applied in nature, however, it would be most expedient to focus on risk modifiers that have high potential to alter individuals’ overall life circumstances. The final section of this article considers conceptual differences between contemporary resilience research on children versus adults. Issues include differences in the types and breadth of outcomes (e.g., the tendencies to focus on others’ ratings of competence among children and on self-reports of well-being among adults respectively).
resilience; protective processes; risk modifiers; interventions
Parentification of children has not been the focus of much empirical research. Consequently, this study was designed to explore the defining characteristics and potential consequences of caretaking burden in a sample of 356 children living in urban poverty. In a series of multivariate analyses, characteristics of the children, vocational-educational status of their mothers, and family structure correlated with caretaking burden more consistently than psychiatric, substance use, or personality problems in the mothers. Moreover, responsibility to care for mother, more so than responsibility for household chores or the care of siblings, consistently correlated with the psychosocial adjustment of the children. However, even the highest levels of caretaking burden were not consistently associated with clinically significant compromise of psychosocial adjustment.
parent-child relations; caregiver burden; dysfunctional family; childhood development
In this study, women’s levels of ego development and their psychological difficulties were examined in relation to feelings in the maternal role. The sample consisted of 91 mothers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Ego development was assessed by the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, and psychological difficulties were operationalized by self-reported global symptomatology, maternal substance abuse, and expressed anger. Outcome variables included feelings of satisfaction, distress, and support in the maternal role, as well as the degree to which negative and positive emotions were integrated in response to hypothetical vignettes of challenging everyday child-rearing experiences. Hypotheses were that women at high levels of ego development would show greater deterioration in the presence versus absence of self-reported adjustment problems than would those at lower levels. A series of interaction effects each indicated trends consistent with the hypotheses. These results add to accumulating evidence that tendencies toward self-examination, characteristic of high developmental levels, do not inevitably serve protective functions but may be linked with heightened reactivity to negative intrapsychic forces.
Despite longstanding concern that the presence of children deters drug-dependent women from entering treatment, there have been few empirical tests of the relationship between parenting responsibilities and treatment-seeking behavior. In this study, the relationship between number of biological children and treatment history was examined in a cohort of 153 women seeking methadone maintenance treatment. In a standard multiple regression analysis that also allowed for the potential influence of (a) age, (b) education, (c) ethnic minority status, (d) cohabitation with a sexual partner, (e) chronicity of opioid use, and (f) knowledge of HIV infection, there was a significant, negative relationship between number of children and number of earlier contacts for drug abuse treatment. Ethnic minority status and cohabitation with a sexual partner were also associated with fewer earlier contacts; greater chronicity and knowledge of HIV infection were associated with more earlier contacts. Moreover, there was significant moderation of the negative relationship between parenting responsibilities and treatment history by (a) ethnic minority status, (b) cohabitation, and (c) chronicity of use. Within a cross-sectional research design, the findings highlight ways parenting responsibilities may interact with other factors over time to influence the treatment-seeking behavior of drug-dependent women.
Opioid dependence; Methadone maintenance; Women; Parenting; Drug treatment history; Pharmacotherapy
The Relational Psychotherapy Mothers’ Group (RPMG), a developmentally informed, supportive psychotherapy designed to serve heroin-addicted mothers with children up to 16 years of age, aims at addressing psychosocial vulnerabilities, and facilitating optimal parenting, among at-risk mothers. We present preliminary evidence on the efficacy of RPMG as an “add on” treatment in comparison with standard methadone counseling alone. At the end of the 24-week treatment period, mothers receiving RPMG plus standard methadone counseling demonstrated lower levels of risk for child maltreatment, greater involvement with their children, and more positive psychosocial adjustment than women who received methadone counseling alone. Children of RPMG participants also reflected fewer problems in multiple areas. At 6 months posttreatment, RPMG recipients continued to be at a relative advantage, although the magnitude of group differences was often attenuated. Notably, urinalyses indicated that RPMG mothers showed greater improvements in levels of opioid use over time than comparison mothers.
Despite a long history of documenting discrepancies in parent and child reports of parental care and child psychopathology, it has only been in recent years that researchers have begun to consider these discrepancies as meaningful indicators of parent–child relationship quality and as predictors of long-term child adjustment. Discrepancies in perceptions of parenting may be particularly important for the children of mothers with a history of substance abuse who may be less aware of the impact of their behavior on their child and of their child’s internalizing symptoms. This study examined associations between (a) mother–child discrepancies in reports of maternal aggression, and (b) mother and child reports of child internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Data collected from 99 mother–child dyads (with children 4–16 years of age) during the baseline phase of a randomized clinical trial testing a parenting intervention were used in this study. Measures included parent and child versions of the Parental Acceptance–Rejection Questionnaire and the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children. Findings indicated that as children viewed their mothers as increasingly more aggressive than mothers viewed themselves, children reported more internalizing and externalizing symptoms but mothers only reported more child externalizing symptoms. Mother–child discrepancies in reports of parenting behavior have potentially meaningful implications for child emotional and behavioral problems.
mothers; children; adolescents; Connecticut; interrater discrepancies; substance abuse; emotional disturbance; depression; aggression; parent–child relations; parent groups
The authors examined maternal ego development in relation to psychopathology and parenting problems in a sample of substance abusing mothers. Given predilections at higher levels of ego development for introspection and guilt, the authors expected mothers at higher levels to report more psychopathology. Given predilections at lower levels of ego development for dichotomous perceptions and limited conceptions of causation, the authors expected mothers at low levels to report more problematic parenting behaviors. Intelligence was expected to correlate but not overlap with ego development. Subjects were 182 mothers who expressed interest in a randomized clinical trial for a new parenting intervention. Measures included the Washington University Sentence Completion Task—Short Form, the Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire, the Brief Symptom Inventory and the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test. Results of correlation and multivariate analyses of variance confirmed predictions. Implications for future development of interventions for substance abusing mothers are discussed.
ego development; drug abuse; parenting style; psychopathology
In this study we examined three parenting dimensions (involvement, autonomy, and limit-setting) and three potential determinants (maternal addiction, low SES and its correlates, and mothers’ perceptions of their children’s maladjustment) in order to disentangle features of parenting that are uniquely related to maternal addiction from those related to contextual determinants. We also examined conditional effects of low SES and its correlates on parenting.
Based on a literature review and predictions arising from an ecological model of parenting, we expected that maternal addiction would be related with problems in parental involvement, but that the other parenting dimensions would be related with mothers’ perceptions of children’s maladjustment and low SES. Accordingly, we examined variance in each parenting dimensions accounted for by each of the three determinants, respectively.
Subjects included 120 (69 opiate-addicted and 51 SES-matched comparison) mothers with children under 16 years of age.
Children’s maladaptive behavior was assessed with the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, and parental adjustment with the Parent Child Relationship Inventory.
Direct effect predictions were confirmed and two conditional effects involving single status and family size were also found.
Although many parenting problems have previously been attributed to maternal addiction, only parental involvement is directly related to being an addict; other parenting dimensions may be better explained by contextual factors.
It has been suggested that overscheduling of upper-class youth might underlie the high distress and substance use documented among them. This assumption was tested by considering suburban 8th graders’ involvement in different activities along with their perceptions of parental attitudes toward achievement. Results indicated negligible evidence for deleterious effects of high extracurricular involvement per se. Far more strongly implicated was perceived parent criticism for both girls and boys as well as the absence of after-school supervision. Low parent expectations connoted significant vulnerability especially for boys. The findings indicate that at least among early adolescents, converging scientific and media reports may have scapegoated extracurricular involvements, to some degree, as an index of ubiquitous achievement pressures in affluent communities.
affluence; extracurricular activities; achievement pressure; parent criticism; parent expectations
In this study, the authors used an attachment framework to examine how drug-dependent mothers’ early bonding experience, depression, illicit drug use, and perceived support work together to influence the family environment. The authors hypothesized that (a) depression and drug use function as proxies for a stronger risk factor, the perceived absence of support available in everyday life, and (b) associations between mothers’ early bonding experience and family environment are mediated by perceptions of support and nurture available in everyday life. The authors used a “building block” analytic approach and data collected from 125 mothers enrolled in methadone maintenance to test hypotheses. Both hypotheses were confirmed for 1 outcome, family adaptability. For the 2nd outcome, family cohesion, only perceived support was a significant predictor. Although preliminary, the findings suggest that perceptions of relationships in everyday life play a critical role in the etiology of drug-dependent mothers’ parenting.
Parenting interventions for substance-abusing adults have been broadly based on two approaches, one emphasizing parental control as a means to managing children’s behavior and the second emphasizing parental warmth and sensitivity as means to fostering children’s psychological development. In this investigation, we examined associations of parental control and parental warmth, respectively, with children’s behavioral and psychological adjustment in a sample of 98 women enrolled in methadone maintenance and their school-aged and adolescent children. Using collateral data collected during the baseline phase of a randomized clinical trial (Luthar, S. S., Suchman, N. E., & Altomare, M. [in press]. Relational Psychotherapy Mothers Group: A randomized clinical trial for substance abusing mothers [in preparation]), we tested predictions that (a) parental control would be more strongly associated with children’s behavioral adjustment and (b) parental warmth would be more strongly associated with children’s psychological adjustment. Both predictions were generally confirmed, although some crossover among parenting and child dimensions was also evident. Results support the theoretical stance that parental limit setting and autonomy support, as well as nurturance and involvement, are important factors, respectively, in children’s behavioral and psychological adjustment.
Parent–child relations; Mother–child relations; Maternal substance abuse; Family relations; Parenting intervention
Using an attachment framework, we examined (1) whether substance-abusing mothers’ perceptions of how they were parented were related to the severity of their substance abuse and psychological maladjustment and (2) whether these two factors mediated the association between mothers’ perceptions of how they were parented and their children’s placement out of home. There were 108 mothers of 248 children who completed interviews upon admission to a methadone maintenance program for women. Measures included lifetime risk composite scores derived from the Addiction Severity Index, the Parental Bonding Instrument, and a demographics questionnaire. A multilevel modeling approach was used to model effects of the hierarchically organized data (e.g., children nested within families). Findings are consistent with an attachment perspective on parenting suggesting that the internal psychological processes of a parent play a critical role in the continuity of parenting.
Maternal drug abuse; Comorbid psychopathology; Child abuse; Parent–child relations; Attachment
The primary purpose of this study was to understand further the heterogeneity of popularity, by exploring contextual correlates of two dimensions of positive peer regard among seventh graders within two highly disparate sociodemographic groups: affluent suburban and low-income urban (N = 636). Three sets of attributes were examined, all consistently linked to social status in past research: rebellious behaviors (aggression, academic disengagement, delinquency, and substance use), academic application (effort at school and good grades), and physical attributes (attractiveness and athletic ability). The data provide empirical validation for the conceptual distinctions among peer-perceived admiration and social preference with adolescents from diverse contexts. More specifically, results showed that within each socioeconomic context (a) some forms of rebellious behaviors are clearly admired, (b) prosocial attributes are linked with peer-perceived admiration and social preference, (c) physical attractiveness and athletic skills are important for positive peer regard, the former particularly for suburban girls and the latter for suburban boys, and (d) aggression elicits admiration among early adolescents, but can also generate their disdain (i.e., lowered social preference). In the urban context, results provided evidence for the salience of distinct forms of rebellious and achievement oriented behaviors among different racial/ethnic groups as well.
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.