Background: There is a well-established relation between child maltreatment and externalizing behaviors in adolescence. A gap in this scientific literature is the identification of pathways, particularly protective pathways, explaining this relation prior to the transition to adulthood. Objective: This study examined the indirect and cross-lagged pathways of peer engagement in prosocial activities to explain the relation between child maltreatment and adolescent externalizing behaviors. Participants and settings: Children and their caregivers (N = 1354) participated in a multi-site, multi-wave, prospective cohort study of child maltreatment in the U.S. Methods: Child maltreatment, peer engagement in prosocial activities, and externalizing behaviors were assessed at ages twelve, fourteen, and sixteen. A cross-lagged path model evaluated whether peer engagement in prosocial activities was an indirect pathway of the relation between prior child maltreatment and subsequent externalizing behaviors. Cross-lagged relations were examined to determine directionality of risk among these variables during adolescence. Results: The path model did not support peer engagement in prosocial activities as an indirect or cross-lagged pathway to externalizing behaviors in adolescence. Instead, prior child maltreatment had a direct relation with greater externalizing behaviors, which had indirect and cross-lagged effects with less peer engagement in prosocial activities at multiple points later in adolescence. Conclusions: The degree of peer engagement in prosocial activities may not be a risk or protective pathway to externalizing behaviors in adolescence for those exposed to child maltreatment. In fact, externalizing behaviors appear to limit subsequent engagement with peers in prosocial activities, providing an opportunity for future research and intervention.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health