Elementary school predictors of adolescent adjustment problems



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Texas Tech University


Children who have difficulty getting along with their peers experience a wide range of behavioral and emotional problems and are thought to be at risk for future difficulties. However, it is not clear what poor peer acceptance adds to the prediction of negative outcomes that is different from problem behaviors and lack of prosocial skills. The purpose of this investigation was to explore how well elementary school peer nominations of social behavior and peer acceptance could predict adolescent maladjustment. A longitudinal sample of 172 girls and 135 boys was assessed in elementary school and again in junior high school. Multiple aspects of adjustment were obtained from self-report measures, peer ratings, and school records.

A different pattern of prediction was observed depending on the outcome adjustment factor under consideration. Early disruptive behavior was uniquely predictive of externalizing problems such as delinquent behavior, offensive interpersonal behavior, hyperactivity and immaturity, and poor academic performance. Early internalizing behaviors were linked to adolescent outcomes such as depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and social incompetence. In addition, early peer perceptions of being helpful, good looking, and academically competent broadly predicted adjustment in junior high school, with lack of these positive skills predicting unfavorable adjustment. Peer acceptance in elementary school showed a modest relationship to adjustment in junior high school. However, peer acceptance did not play a unique role in determining subsequent adjustment independent of a child's social behavior. Gender differences were evident. Prosocial skills more often contributed unique information in predicting outcomes for boys than for girls. Also, specific risk factors for academic and school adjustment problems were different for boys and girls. These early risk factors are discussed in terms of their unique contributions in forecasting subsequent maladjustment. Methodological issues and possible mediating variables are also discussed. Directions for future research include advancing our understanding of the specific aspects of peer relationships that contribute to later problems, focusing on developmental considerations, and examining the role of protective factors in preventing negative outcomes.



School children, Interpersonal relations, Adjustment (Psychology) in adolesence