Developmental Differences in the Association of Peer Relationships with Traumatic Stress Symptoms

Abstract

Although childhood trauma exposure has a high incidence, traumatic stress often goes untreated in children and youth. We investigated peer relationship quality as a prevention strategy for reducing traumatic stress across different developmental periods. We analyzed longitudinal data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Wellbeing (NSCAW I) using a time-varying effect model (TVEM) to investigate the association between peer relationship quality and traumatic stress symptoms across ages 8–17 years. We controlled for a robust set of confounders identified through a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG). The unique association between peer relationship quality and traumatic stress symptoms was negative and significant from ages 8 to 8.5 years, and again from ages 9.4 to 10.9 years and at age 16.4 to 16.8 years, with maximum associations of − 1.45 T score points at age 8.5 years (95% CI = [− 2.87, − 0.40]), − 1.57 at age 9.4 years (95% CI = [− 3.13,− 0.01]), and − 1.89 at 16.7 years (95% CI = [− 3.70, − 0.09]). Peer relationship quality protected against traumatic stress during specific times during adolescent development. Our results suggest that helping youth establish and maintain positive peer relationships may be a useful prevention approach for helping them cope with trauma experiences.

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Acknowledgments

This article includes data from the National Survey on Child and Adolescent Wellbeing, developed under contract with the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ACYF/DHHS). The National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect provided the data. The information and opinions expressed herein reflect solely the position of the authors.

Funding

This study was funded by a post-doctoral award through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (F32HD100021-01).

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Correspondence to Rebeccah L. Sokol.

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Research Triangle Institute (RTI) Institutional Review Board provided approval of the original NSCAW studies. The University of Michigan Institutional Review Board approved the current study (ID: HUM00163833). These studies have been performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Sokol, R.L., Zimmerman, M.A., Perron, B.E. et al. Developmental Differences in the Association of Peer Relationships with Traumatic Stress Symptoms. Prev Sci 21, 841–849 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-020-01125-3

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Keywords

  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Social support
  • Development