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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Development of Childhood Risk-Taking: Parenting and Self-Regulation in a Sociocultural Context

  • Author(s): Blanks, Ana G.
  • Advisor(s): Yates, Tuppett
  • et al.

Maladaptive risk-taking (e.g., substance use, unsafe sex, reckless driving) is a public health epidemic that is nonrandomly distributed across groups by gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty level. Although studies have examined risk-taking in adolescence, few have identified pathways to childhood risk-taking. Drawing on a sample of 250 child-parent dyads (50% female; Mage=49.1 months; SD=2.9; 46% Hispanic, 18.4% Black, 11.2% White, .4% Asian, and 24% multicultural) in an ongoing longitudinal investigation, this study evaluated 1) associations between observations of positive parenting during the preschool period (i.e., high support, low hostility, and low intrusion) and risk-taking at age 10 using the laboratory-administered Balloon Analogue Risk Task for Youth (BART-Y), 2) associations between children’s behavior regulation and emotion regulation at age 6 and risk-taking at age 10, 3) indirect relations from positive parenting to risk-taking through behavior and/or emotion regulation, and 4) the invariance of the proposed mediation model by child gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty status. Positive parenting and behavior regulation were associated with higher levels of risk-taking, whereas emotion regulation was related to lower levels of risk-taking. Both behavior regulation and emotion regulation mediated the relation between positive parenting and risk-taking. However, invariance analyses revealed that the indirect path through emotion regulation was significant only among children of Hispanic descent and those who were not in poverty. Although most research has conceptualized risk-taking as maladaptive, these findings suggest that risk-taking may be adaptive in select contexts. The findings highlight the adaptive heterogeneity of childhood risk-taking, encourage further investigation of these processes during childhood, and suggest that prevention and intervention efforts should incorporate parenting and regulatory processes to promote adaptive risk-taking and reduce maladaptive risk-taking.

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