Natural Histories of Conduct Problems, Delinquency, and Associated Substance Use

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In the past, distinctions between subclasses of conduct problems and delinquency were a matter of dispute among scholars in juvenile delinquency and child psychology (American Psychiatric Association, 1987; Jessor, Donovan, & Widmer, 1980; Klein, 1971; Patterson, 1982; Reiss, 1951). Much progress has been made, however, in the conceptualization of developmental changes in behavior during childhood and adolescence. A key question that now must be asked is whether or not early distinctions in children’s conduct problems are maintained over time and whether or not some children eventually engage exclusively in specific forms of delinquency while others adopt a “cafeteria style” of criminal activities. A related question is whether or not youngsters develop antisocial behaviors along one path, as suggested by Robins and others (Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Robins, 1966; Snyder, Dishion, & Patterson, 1986), or whether several developmental paths exist.