The Association of Neighborhood, Family, and Friends with Pre-Adolescent Aggression
Sample. Data from ESSP projects in 2008-2009 in four diverse school districts and 13 schools was combined to create a dataset with 1251 child cases. About half of the sample (48%) was male, 39% was African American, 7% was Latino, and 46% was European American. Forty-three percent of the sample took part in the school lunch program.
Measures. Three child-report and two-parent report scales were used in the analysis: Seven items measured child perceptions of caring adults in the neighborhood. Six measured child perceptions of caring parents, and five items measured child perceptions of negative behaviors (e.g., lying, hitting) among friends. The behavior of teens in the neighborhood was measured with four parent-report items, as was the dependent aggression variable. Child gender, race/ethnicity, and free/reduced lunch program participation were included as control variables.
Analysis. Mplus 6.11 was used to test latent variable models using Weighted Least Square (WLSMV) with a polychoric correlation matrix of the ordinal observed variables and a correction for the clustering of children in schools. Full information Maximum Likelihood allowed the inclusion of cases with missing values.
Results. The final model had excellent fit (RMSEA = .013, CI .008 to .017; CFI = .979; TLI = .977). Children’s perceptions of their friends’ negative behaviors and parents’ caring had direct effects on aggression. Parent caring also had an indirect effect on aggression through friends’ behavior. The statistical effects of caring neighborhood adults were fully mediated by their effects on parent caring. However, although some of the effects of neighborhood teen behavior were mediated through children’s friends’ behavior, this negative neighborhood characteristic also had direct effects on child aggression.
Discussion. Factors in all three domains are related to pre-adolescent aggression, suggesting that social work interventions need to target multiple domains. Caring neighbors may promote caring parenting, which in turns reduces childhood aggression directly and indirectly by reducing the influence of negative friends. Negative teens may increase the likelihood of children having older role models with negative behaviors, as well as directly promoting aggressive behaviors among children.