Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 905–920 | Cite as

Cumulative Family Risk Predicts Increases in Adjustment Difficulties across Early Adolescence

  • Cheryl Buehler
  • Jean M. Gerard
Empirical Research


Family is an important socialization context for youth as they move through early adolescence. A significant feature of this complex socialization context is the accumulation of potential family risk factors that may compromise youth adjustment. This study examined cumulative family risk and adolescents’ adjustment difficulties in 416 two-parent families using four waves of annual longitudinal data (51 % female youth). Risk factors in four family domains were examined: socioeconomic, parents’ psychological realm, marital, and parenting. Cumulative family risk experienced while in 6th grade was associated concurrently with daughters’ higher internalizing problems and with increased internalizing problems during early adolescence. Cumulative family risk was associated concurrently with sons’ higher externalizing problems and with daughters’ increased externalizing problems over time. Cumulative family risk was associated concurrently with lower grades and with declining grades over time for both daughters and sons. The number of risk domains also was associated with youths’ adjustment difficulties during early adolescence, providing evidence that risk in two-parent families involves more than ineffective parenting. These findings suggest a critical need to provide strong support for families in reducing a variety of stressors across multiple family domains as their children traverse early adolescence.


Academic achievement Adolescence Externalizing Family risk Family stress Internalizing Problem behavior 



This research was supported by a grant from The National Institute of Mental Health, R01-MH59248 to the first author. We thank the staff of the Family Life Project for their unending contributions to this work and the youth, parents, teachers, and school administrators who made this research possible.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.Human Development and Family StudiesBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA

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