Examining the roles of family environment and internalizing symptoms on early adolescent social aggression: a one-year longitudinal study

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Paulos, Stephanie Katherine, 1978-

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Much research has recently been directed at social aggression, which includes subtle and covert behaviors intended to harm the target. Evidence indicates that social aggression is associated with social maladjustment such as peer rejection and internalizing and externalizing problems. Despite increasing interest by researchers on the consequences of this form of aggression, relatively few studies have examined the etiology of social aggression. Previous research has demonstrated that depression and social anxiety may predict social aggression, however little research has examined the role of the family system in contributing to the development of this maladaptive behavior. Using path-analytic techniques, this study examined how family factors (parent-adolescent conflict, positive family relations, and maternal psychological control) affect subsequent social aggression one-year later after controlling for baseline levels of social aggression. Individual symptoms of depression and social evaluative anxiety were also incorporated in the model to determine if the effects of the family variables on later social aggression were mediated by the individual emotional adjustment of a child. Using competing models, this study compared model fit across boys and girls. The stability of social aggression over a 1 year period was also examined using confirmatory factor analysis techniques. Participants included in this study were 497 10- to 14-year-old middle school students. Results suggest that social aggression is a stable and chronic difficulty for boys and girls over a one year period. Positive family relations significantly negatively effected social aggression over the course of a year, above and beyond baseline subsequent levels of social aggression, for girls. Additionally, parent-adolescent conflict, positive family relations, and maternal psychological control were significantly related to baseline levels of social aggression. This study corroborated previous research on the deleterious effects of parent-adolescent conflict, less positive family relations, and maternal psychological control on depressive symptoms for both boys and girls. Additionally, positive family relations were also shown to reduce social evaluative anxiety for both boys and girls. Findings from this study emphasize the need for prevention and intervention efforts directed at the family system for improved adjustment of early adolescents.