Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity

Abstract

The present study examined two measures of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity as moderators of the indirect path from permissive parenting to deviant peer affiliations to delinquency among a community sample of adolescents. Participants included 252 adolescents (M = 15.79 years; 53 % boys; 66 % European American, 34 % African American). A multi-method design was employed to address the research questions. Two indicators of SNS reactivity, skin conductance level reactivity (SCLR) and cardiac pre-ejection period reactivity (PEPR) were examined. SNS activity was measured during a baseline period and a problem-solving task (star-tracing); reactivity was computed as the difference between the task and baseline periods. Adolescents reported on permissive parenting, deviant peer affiliations, externalizing behaviors, and substance use (alcohol, marijuana). Analyses revealed indirect effects between permissive parenting and delinquency via affiliation with deviant peers. Additionally, links between permissive parenting to affiliation with deviant peers and affiliation with deviant peers to delinquency was moderated by SNS reactivity. Less SNS reactivity (less PEPR and/or less SCLR) were risk factors for externalizing problems and alcohol use. Findings highlight the moderating role of SNS reactivity in parenting and peer pathways that may contribute to adolescent delinquency and point to possibilities of targeted interventions for vulnerable youth.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Grant R01-HD046795 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded to Mona El-Sheikh. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We wish to thank the staff of our Research Laboratory, most notably Lori Staton and Bridget Wingo, for data collection and preparation, and the school personnel, children, and parents who participated.

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Correspondence to J. Benjamin Hinnant.

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Hinnant, J.B., Erath, S.A., Tu, K.M. et al. Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 1071–1081 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-0114-8

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Keywords

  • Permissive parenting
  • Deviant peer affiliation
  • Delinquency
  • Sympathetic nervous system reactivity