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The Differential Longitudinal Effect of Early Pubertal Timing on Two Domains of Externalizing Behaviors From Adolescence to Young Adulthood

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Early pubertal timing consistently shows to have a deleterious effect on adolescent problem behaviors, with mixed research regarding the duration of the effect (i.e., concurrent or longitudinal). Part of the reason for the mixed research may be that externalizing behaviors is too broad of a term to describe a wide range of behaviors, thus the purpose of this dissertation was to assess if and when the deleterious early maturation effect wanes in externalizing behaviors, specifically two domains of externalizing behaviors: nonviolent and violent behaviors. This study used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) dataset, a longitudinal, nationally representative dataset spanning 4 waves and 14 years (Mage_Wave1 = 14.6 years; 52.8% female; N = 4,255).

One of the unique features of this study is that it incorporates age-appropriate items of violent and nonviolent behaviors in assessing externalizing behaviors from early adolescence (i.e., age 12) through young adulthood (i.e., age 30) via a parceling technique in a measurement invariance model. The measurement invariance analysis indicated partial strong factorial invariance, suggesting that nonviolent and violent behaviors had the same underlying structure over time, respectively, despite a change in measurement items to accommodate the age of the participants. Next, results from longitudinal growth curve analyses suggested that early maturing adolescents reported significantly elevated overall externalizing, nonviolent, and male violent behaviors throughout adolescence but became indistinguishable from on-time and late-maturers after adolescence, thus supporting the attenuation hypothesis. Most interestingly, the main effect of pubertal timing was only significant for the trajectory of males’ violent behaviors, but not females’ violent behavior, such that early maturing males engaged in more violent behaviors at age 12, but these early maturers declined at a more rapid pace than on-time or late-maturing males. As the research for the effect of early pubertal timing on overall externalizing behaviors is more extensive and consistent for females than for males, this finding helps clarify the differential effect of early maturation for males and females on overall externalizing behaviors as well as nonviolent and violent behaviors. Results are discussed in terms of future research, theoretical, and applied implications.

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