Race/ethnic and immigration-related diversity in children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms in school
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Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (Kindergarten Class), this research explored the developmental trajectories of internalizing and externalizing behaviors during the elementary school years, with an emphasis on the connections between these behaviors, how they are embedded in social structural settings defined by broad stratification systems, and what their implications are for the future. Specifically, this study was organized around three aims: (1) To estimate trajectories of internalizing and externalizing behaviors (e.g., co-occurrence and dynamic interplay); (2) To explore variations in those trajectories across segments of the population (e.g., race/ethnicity); and (3) To examine the links between children's internalizing and externalizing pathways in elementary school and their 8th grade academic functioning, as well as possible group variation in those links. Four analytical techniques -- growth curve analysis, latent class growth analysis, cross-lagged modeling and regression analysis -- were used. Results indicated a low incidence of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in the whole sample as well as small incremental changes over time and small differences across groups. More in-depth investigation revealed that children of Black parents and boys were at greater risk for present and future problematic behaviors, and boys and children of immigrants were at greater risk for future academic failure when their earlier overall combined symptom trajectories fell in the risky category. In addition, the general patterns of children's internalizing symptoms serving as protective factors for future externalizing symptoms and of externalizing symptoms serving as risk factors for future internalizing symptoms tended to be most consistent among children of White parents and children of non-immigrants. Moreover, findings revealed that what matters about the symptom trajectories in relation to later school functioning is not just the initial level of symptoms but also the change in levels from kindergarten through fifth grade. Overall, this study suggested that intervention efforts need to take into account both the symptomatic child's initial (and overall) levels of symptoms as well as over-time change of symptoms when putting together a specific intervention plan for the affected individual. Finer prevention and intervention efforts are also needed for boys and for children of immigrants to facilitate positive academic functioning.