Longitudinal Relations among Adolescent Risk Behavior, Family Cohesion, Violence Exposure, and Mental Health in a National Sample

Abstract

Violence is a public health concern linked with mental health problems among adolescents, and risk behavior increases the likelihood of violence exposure. Family cohesion may attenuate the negative effects of risk behavior. The purpose of this study was to examine family cohesion as a moderator in the relation between risk behavior (substance use and delinquency) and violence exposure, and to explore longitudinal associations among cohesion, violence exposure, and subsequent mental health outcomes (PTSD and depression). Data were drawn from the National Survey of Adolescents-Replication, a nationally representative sample of 3604 adolescents, with data collected via structured phone interviews at three waves spanning a two-year period. Hypotheses were tested using longitudinal structural equation modeling. Findings revealed that high family cohesion attenuated the relation between risk behavior and subsequent violence exposure. Wave 2 violence exposure was associated with more Wave 3 mental health problems, but high family cohesion was related to fewer subsequent symptoms. Follow-up analyses revealed that family cohesion moderated the relation between risk behavior and experiencing, but not witnessing, violence. Several demographic associations were observed. Although risk behavior increases exposure to violence, and in turn, mental health problems, family cohesion may serve as a protective factor, attenuating the link between risk behavior and subsequent negative consequences. This effect emerged even when accounting for demographic and socioeconomic covariates. Interventions with adolescents should target family relationships as a protective factor to reduce risk of violence exposure and mental health problems, particularly for adolescents who are engaging in high-risk behaviors.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD046830; PI: Kilpatrick) and the National Institute of Mental Health (T32 MH18869, PIs: Danielson & Kilpatrick).

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Goodrum, N.M., Smith, D.W., Hanson, R.F. et al. Longitudinal Relations among Adolescent Risk Behavior, Family Cohesion, Violence Exposure, and Mental Health in a National Sample. J Abnorm Child Psychol 48, 1455–1469 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00691-y

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Keywords

  • Trauma
  • Family cohesion
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Risk behavior
  • Substance use