Does Mother Know Best? Adolescent and Mother Reports of Impulsivity and Subsequent Delinquency

Abstract

Although impulsivity is one of the strongest psychological predictors of crime, it is unclear how well impulsivity, measured at a specific moment in adolescence, predicts criminal behavior months or years into the future. The present study investigated how far into the future self-reports and parents’ reports of a youth’s impulsivity predicted whether he engaged in illegal behavior, whether one reporter’s assessment was more predictive than the other’s, and whether there is value in obtaining multiple reports. Data were obtained from a 6-year longitudinal study of adjudicated juvenile offenders (n = 701 mother-son dyads). Youth (m = 15.93 years old; sd = 1.14) and their mothers independently reported on adolescents’ impulsivity at the initial assessment. We examined the prospective correlation of these measures with illegal behavior, assessed by official records of arrests and youths’ self-reports of offending across the 72-month study period. Youths’ and mothers’ reports of the adolescents’ impulsivity were weakly, but significantly, correlated with one another. Furthermore, mothers’ ratings of their sons’ impulsivity predicted arrest up to 6 years into the future, whereas youths’ reports did not significantly predict arrest beyond 30 months. With respect to youths’ self-reports of offending, mothers’ ratings of impulsivity again predicted farther into the future (as late as 6 years later) than did youths’ self-reports of impulsivity, which were not predictive beyond 4 years. However, across the first 4 years, youths’ self-reports of impulsivity explained more variance in self-reported offending than did mothers’ ratings. The results underscore the endurance of the predictive utility of an assessment of impulsivity and the importance (and accuracy) of parents’ reports of developmental constructs, even when their children are adolescents.

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Acknowledgments

Data for this article were obtained from the Pathways to Desistance study. The authors are grateful to Edward Mulvey (Principal Investigator), Carol Schubert (Study Director), and the co-Investigators, site coordinators, and working group members; Laurie Chassin, George Knight, Sandra Losoya, Laurence Steinberg, Robert Brame, Jeffrey Fagan, and Alex Piquero. We are also grateful to the many individuals who served as study interviewers. Funding for the Pathways study was obtained from Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission, Center of Disease Control, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA 019697 05), National Institute of Justice (2008-IJ-CX-0023), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2005-JK-FX-K001), Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and William T. Grant Foundation.

Author contributions

JB performed the statistical analysis and helped to compose and edit the manuscript; CC helped to compose and edit the manuscript; EPS assisted with the analytic plan and helped to compose and edit the manuscript; EC is the Principal Investigator on the project and participated in the design and coordination of data collection and helped to compose and edit the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jordan Bechtold.

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Bechtold, J., Cavanagh, C., Shulman, E.P. et al. Does Mother Know Best? Adolescent and Mother Reports of Impulsivity and Subsequent Delinquency. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1903–1913 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-0080-9

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Keywords

  • Parental reports
  • Adolescence
  • Impulsivity
  • Risk assessment
  • Delinquency