Offenders in Emerging Adulthood: School Maladjustment, Childhood Adversities, and Prediction of Aggressive Antisocial Behaviors

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Abstract

Early psychosocial adversities and maladjustment, such as childhood maltreatment and school adjustment problems, have been linked to an increased risk of aggressive antisocial behaviors. Yet, clinical studies of subjects at the highest risk of persistence in such behaviors are rare, especially during the life-changing transition years of emerging adulthood. This study describes early predictors of aggressive antisocial behaviors in a large, nationally representative cohort of Swedish, male violent offenders in emerging adulthood (age range = 18–25 years; N = 270). First, data on psychosocial background characteristics and aggressive antisocial behaviors (including age at onset) are provided. Second, early predictors of aggressive antisocial behaviors are tested in bivariate and multivariate interactive models. The offenders demonstrated a diversity of early onset adversities and disruptive behaviors, in line with established risk factors for subsequent criminality and adverse outcomes in a variety of life domains. Severe school adjustment problems, especially bullying others and early onset truancy, were important and interrelated predictors of aggressive antisocial behaviors over the lifetime, whereas childhood adversities such as parental substance or alcohol abuse and repeated exposure to violence at home during childhood were interrelated predictors of aggressive antisocial behaviors, albeit with less statistical importance. The findings stress the importance of early identification of individuals in the risk zone of developing severe and persistent aggressive antisocial behaviors and of early preventive interventions directed toward families with high-risk profiles. The findings also provide initial guidelines on which psychosocial background risk factors that need to be considered first-hand in early interventions.

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