Method: The Pathways to Desistence Study is a multi-site longitudinal study of n=1324 serious delinquent offenders between 2000 and 2003. Early onset of behavior problems (independent variable) was measured using the Child Psychopathy Checklist. Respondents indicated how often they engaged in a particular problem behavior prior to age 11. Three specific mediators of delinquency were examined: parental monitoring, peer delinquency, and exposure to violence. Parental monitoring (M1) was measured with the nine-item Parental Monitoring Inventory. The peer delinquent behavior (M2) items are a subset of items used by the Rochester Youth Study. The current study used the 12-item antisocial behavior scale, which measures the degree of antisocial and delinquent behavior among the adolescent’s peers. The Exposure to Violence Inventory (M3) was used to assess the frequency of exposure to violent events, with higher scores indicating greater exposure to violence. Psychological distress (dependent variable) was measured by the Positive Symptom Distress Index of the Brief Symptom Inventory,(53-items) in which participants rate the extent to which they have been bothered by various symptoms in the past week. The indirect effects of parental monitoring, delinquent peer behavior, and exposure to violence on the relationship among early problem behaviors and psychological distress were assessed using bootstrapped serial mediation analysis. Gender was included as a covariate.
Results: The addition of multiple mediators changed the impact of single variable mediation in the predicted effect of M on Y. Parental monitoring was associated with decreases in delinquent peer associations (d21 = -.2176, p < .001) and less exposure to violence (d31 = -.3347, p < .001). Association with delinquent peers was strongly associated with exposure to violence (d32 = 1.681, p < .001). After calculation of these additional effects, inclusion of serial mediation effects is possible. Complete mediation was noted. Significant gender effects were. Males were more likely to be exposed to violence than females [b = .6253, t(1085,4) = 3.0635, p < .01]. Females were likely to report greater levels of parental monitoring than males [b = -.2306, t(1087,2) = -3.15, p < .01]. However, females also reported greater psychological distress than males [b = -.1405, t(1084,5) = -2.4758, p < .05].
Implications: A series of problems, from early childhood through adolescence, provides a pathway to distress and potentially to delinquency. Severing this pathway may require consideration of the micro and mesosystems that act as antecedents of delinquent behavior. Strategies such as comprehensive community and school-based interventions, as well as attention to the parent-child relationship may provide avenues to decrease psychological distress.