Adolescents, especially those who have experienced child maltreatment, are at higher risk of experiencing increased psychological symptoms, including anger and depression. Given that adolescent anger and depression are linked to negative health and relational outcomes, it is important to identify the factors that contribute to anger and depression among high-risk adolescents. Interpersonal theory posits that the quality of adolescent peer relationships plays a significant role in shaping adolescent psychological symptoms. Although previous scholarship has investigated these associations, they did not pay attention for vulnerable populations. Further, prior studies have not considered various dimensions of peer relationship quality (e.g., levels of satisfaction, intimacy, conflict, companionship) and excluded key characteristics, such as gender. To address these important research gaps, this study aimed to 1) investigate the associations between multiple aspects of peer relationship quality and psychological symptoms (i.e., anger and depression) among high-risk adolescents and, 2) test the moderation effect of gender on this associations.
Data for this study were drawn from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) and included 635 youth (55.3% female; 56.9% Black; 22.7% low-income) at-risk of maltreatment living in the United States. Peer relationship quality was measured at age 16 using the Networks of Relationships Inventory. Anger and depression were measured at age 18 using the Trauma Symptom Checklist. Adolescent gender, race, household income, maltreatment experiences, and previous externalizing and internalizing symptoms were used as covariates. We conducted Generalized Estimating Equations analyses to examine the association between peer relationship quality and adolescent psychological symptoms and to test the moderating role of gender on this association.
Overall, adolescents who had higher conflict with their peers, not companionship, satisfaction, and intimacy, showed higher levels of anger and depression. Further, significant interaction effects between gender and intimacy on anger and depression were identified. Female adolescents who had higher levels of intimacy with their peers showed greater anger and depression, compared to males who had higher levels of intimacy.
Conclusion & Implications:
This study supports previous scholarship noting a connection between adolescent peer conflict and psychological symptoms, such as anger and depression. However, results diverge from previous research demonstrating positive impacts from peer companionship, intimacy, and satisfaction on psychological symptoms. This indicates potential differences in the role of peer relationships amongst at-risk adolescents. This study also advances knowledge of gender differences in the effects of peer relationship quality on psychological symptoms. Findings suggest that peer intimacy may impact psychological symptoms of at-risk female adolescents indicating a need for gender-sensitive interventions to improve female peer relationships and psychological well-being.