The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Intimacy With One's Mother and Its Effects On Peer Delinquency During Adolescence

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Adam P. James, MSW, Ph.D. student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Ferol E. Mennen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Penelope K. Trickett, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Purpose: According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, on a given day, there are approximately 77,000 youths in detention facilities across the United States. Given the exorbitant costs of operating these facilities, as well as evidence that incarcerated youth are more likely to recidivate than those supervised in a community-based setting or not detained at all, it is clear that alternative responses to juvenile offending are needed. Successful intervention efforts will depend on understanding the ways in which youth develop delinquent behaviors. To this end, we used Hawkins and Weis’s social development model to examine the trajectory of peer delinquency, a known predictor of delinquent behavior. Specifically, using longitudinal data, we conducted a partial test of the model by examining the purported relationship between social bonds and associations with delinquent peers. Given the widely recognized limitations of cross-sectional analyses, this study’s ability to examine these relationships across time may offer greater evidence of causality. Establishing causality is especially important for intervention design, as an inaccurate understanding of time-ordering may result in developmentally inappropriate and ineffective interventions.

Methods: Longitudinal data analysis was conducted on an ongoing National Institute of Child Health and Development funded study of the effects of maltreatment on adolescents. The sample consists of 280 adolescents (mean baseline age=10.9) living in Los Angeles, CA. Participants were assessed at three time points approximately one year apart. Peer delinquency was assessed via the Adolescent Delinquency Questionnaire, a self-report measure that asked participants if they knew people their age who had engaged in various forms of delinquent behavior. The Intimacy Scales, a self-report measure of intimacy with one’s mother, was used as a proxy for assessing the social bonds between adolescents and their mothers. Both random- and fixed-effects models were used to estimate the relationship between intimacy with one’s mother and peer delinquency across time.

Results: Results from the random-effects model revealed that there was a negative effect of intimacy with one’s mother on peer delinquency across time (β =-.0135, p<.01). A fixed-effects model, which has the advantage of controlling for unmeasured time-invariant characteristics, also indicated that this relationship was significant in the expected direction (β =-.0145, p<.01). Neither child maltreatment nor gender moderated this relationship.

Implications: We found that youth who perceived their relationships with their mothers as more intimate had significantly lower peer delinquency scores across time, thus providing evidence in support of Hawkins and Weis’s social development model. These findings suggest that interventions designed to prevent maladaptive associations with delinquent peers should target children’s social bonds with their mothers. These goals could be incorporated into existing forms of individual and family therapy for at-risk youth. Additionally, these findings might be used to inform primary prevention interventions, such as promoting positive attachment processes in communities affected by high rates of juvenile offending. Future research should explore how other types of social bonds, such as those with the family and occurring within other domains of children’s lives (schools, neighborhoods, etc.), also contribute to the association with delinquent peers.