July 16, 2000

Warm Family Environment Protects Aggressive Children from School Maladjustment and Later Adulthood Unemployment

Child-centered parenting and prosocial behavior break cycle of destructive behavior

WASHINGTON - A pattern of maladaptive behaviors beginning with aggression in school age children can be halted to avoid future problems in adulthood, say researchers who study the relationship between childhood aggression and the likelihood of later unemployment. Certain parenting techniques and learning prosocial behaviors have been successful in stopping aggressive children's downward spiral, according to a study appearing in the July issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

To examine what protects some aggressive children from repeating destructive behaviors into adulthood, Finish researchers Katja Kokko, MA, and Lea Pulkkinen, PhD, of the University of Jyvaskyla examined 369 participants at different times in their childhood and then in adulthood on various measures of adjustment and family life. The participants were part of the Jyvaskyla Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, an ongoing longitudinal study of looking at cycles of maladaptation. The study was begun in 1968 and data was collected from the participants at ages 8, 14, 20, 27, 33 and 36.

The authors found that the children who were aggressive at age eight began a cycle of maladaptation that included school maladjustment, problem drinking, lack of occupational alternatives and finally long-term unemployment, said lead author Kokko. But child-centered parenting (supportive parents, parents involved in their children's lives and a warm family environment) and prosocial behavior (high self-control of emotions in stressful or uncomfortable situations) reduced aggressive children's chances of long-term unemployment as adults.

The participants were evaluated at four different ages. At age eight, teachers rated the children's levels of aggression (hurts other children, hits objects, attacks someone without reason and teases younger peers). Teachers also rated the children on their prosocial behavior (acts reasonably in annoying situations, uses negotiation to improve situations, sides with smaller, weaker peers and is friendly to others). At age 14, school maladjustment was assessed by academic success and teachers' ratings of students' interest in their school work.

At age 27, participants reported their job options and drinking behavior. The participants were also asked to describe their recollection of how they interacted with their parents and the quality of their home life. Between ages 27 and 36 (sample size dropped to 311), incidences of long-term unemployment were determined among the participants.

"It seems that the child-centered parents were more interested in their children's school performance than were the less child-centered parents," said the authors. "The parental support and supervision offered helped channel the aggressive children away from the cycle of maladaptation to a more positive developmental pathway."

Furthermore, aggressive children who learned some prosocial behavior were more accepted by their peers, said Kokko. And this helped the children further develop their social skills, making school easier and giving them a better chance to get jobs later.

Article: "Aggression in Childhood and Long-Term Unemployment in Adulthood: A Cycle of Maladaptation and Some Protective Factors," Katja Kokko, MA, and Lea Pulkkinen, PhD, University of Jyvaskyla, Developmental Psychology, Vol. 36, No. 4

Katja Kokko can be reached by telephone at +358-14-260-2856 and Lea Pulkkinen can be reached by telephone at +358-50-552-4891

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.