Prediction of Early-Onset Deviant Peer Group Affiliation: A 12-Year Longitudinal Study

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Abstract

Context

Deviant peer group involvement is strongly related to onset, aggravation, and persistence of conduct problems during adolescence.

Objective

To identify early childhood behavioral profiles that predict early-onset deviant peer group involvement.

Design

A 12-year longitudinal study of behavioral development.

Setting

Fifty-three inner-city elementary schools in a large Canadian city.

Participants

A total of 1037 boys in kindergarten from low socioeconomic neighborhoods.

Main Outcome Measures

Annual self-reported deviant peer group involvement from 11 to 17 years of age.

Results

Kindergarten boys were at highest risk of following an early adolescence trajectory of deviant peer group affiliation if they were hyperactive, fearless, and low on prosocial behaviors but much less at risk if they scored high on only 2 of these dimensions. Family adversity had no main effect but substantially increased the risk of following an early adolescence trajectory of deviant peer group affiliation for boys with a profile of hyperactivity, fearlessness, and low prosocial behaviors.

Conclusions

Kindergarten boys from low socioeconomic areas who are hyperactive, fearless, infrequently prosocial, and raised in adverse family environments are at much heightened risk of engaging in deviant peer groups early in their development. Boys at high risk can be identified as early as kindergarten and should be targeted for preventive intervention.

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