Behavioral problems in preadolescence: Does gender matter?

Psych J. 2020 Oct;9(5):583-596. doi: 10.1002/pchj.347. Epub 2020 Feb 15.


Behavioral problems in children are increasingly acknowledged as a global issue in mental health. Preadolescence is the transitory phase of development that links childhood and adolescence, and the presence of behavioral problems in this phase could be detrimental to children's present and future. This study aimed to describe the epidemiology of "behavioral problems" in preadolescents aged 11 to 12 years and to examine their distribution by socioeconomic status and children's characteristics while developing an in-depth understanding of the role of gender as a risk factor for such problems. A school-based, cross-sectional study was conducted in Karachi, Pakistan. Participants were selected from a middle-class, coeducational school chain. Sociodemographic questionnaires and an officially adapted version of Youth Self Report Form, which is child- and adolescent-reported version of Child Behavior Checklist, were used to collect data from children. The prevalence of Overall Behavioral Problems was 28.6%. From Broadband Scales, the relative prevalence of internalizing problems was about 52% higher than that of externalizing problems. Among the Narrowband Scales, somatic complaints were the most prevalent (23.2%). Male children significantly had higher odds for being at risk of Overall Behavioral problems, internalizing problems, and co-occurring behavioral issues, as compared to female children. The study concludes that the prevalence of overall behavioral problems is at the higher end of the global range. Male children are more at risk for overall behavioral problems, and contrary to previous studies, they are significantly more at risk of internalizing problems. Our study is the first to report the risk of co-occurrence of multiple issues with respect to gender, and adds that male children are significantly at risk of multiple co-occurring behavioral problems. Our study highlights the need for an in-depth understanding of cultural, sociopolitical conditions for actionable and gender-sensitive interventions for preadolescents.

Keywords: behavioral problems; developing countries; gender; preadolescence; south Asia.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Pakistan
  • Problem Behavior*