Trajectories of maternal verbal aggression across the middle school years: associations with negative view of self and social problems

Child Abuse Negl. 2011 Oct;35(10):814-30. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.06.001. Epub 2011 Oct 20.


Objective: The primary research objective was to explore the relationship between trajectories of maternal verbal aggression (VA) experienced by low-income, community middle school students across a three-year period and outcomes that have been found to be related to VA in previous work, including a negative view of self and social problems.

Method: Longitudinal data were collected from 421 youth (51.8% male) attending two middle schools over 3 years using a multiple-informant survey design. K-means cluster analysis was used to identify trajectories of VA using youth ratings of the Conflict Tactics Scale: Parent-Child (Straus, Hamby, Finkelhor, Moore, & Runyan, 1998). Dependent variables were self-reported depression, self-esteem, delinquency, and peer victimization as well as peer-rated aggression and sensitive-isolated reputation.

Results: Four trajectory groups of VA were identified: Low Stable, Increasing, Decreasing, and High Stable. The 3-year average occurrence of VA was: 1.31, 9.18, 10.24, and 31.14 instances, respectively. Gender-specific MANOVAs revealed dramatic differences between the High Stable and Low Stable groups. High Stable boys reported significantly more depressive symptoms, delinquency, peer overt and relational victimization, and were less likely to have a sensitive/isolated reputation than Low Stable boys. High Stable girls reported significantly more depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, delinquency, peer overt and relational victimization and were rated by peers as having more aggressive/disruptive and relationally aggressive reputations than Low Stable girls. Girls in the High Stable group were more likely than other youth to report levels of depressive symptoms and delinquency >1 SD above the mean, while boys in the High Stable group were more likely to report levels of delinquency >1 SD above the mean. The Increasing and Decreasing groups also demonstrated significantly poorer functioning than the Low Stable group on most outcomes. Growth curve analysis revealed that VA showed a contemporaneous association with self-reported delinquency suggesting these factors are closely related.

Conclusions: Any level of VA greater than the 1-2 instances per year reported by youth in the Low Stable group was associated with less favorable outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Self Concept
  • Social Problems / psychology*