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Adolescents in in urban areas are at a higher risk for experiencing direct victimization as well as witnessing violence directed towards others, which increases the amount of post-traumatic stress (PTS) they face (Joseph, S., Mynard, H., & Mayall, M. 2000). Experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been associated with a number of negative externalizing behaviors, such as increased delinquency, drug use and aggressive behavior in adolescents (Dierkhising, C. B., Ko, S. J., Woods-Jaeger, B., Briggs, E. C., Lee, R., & Pynoos, R. S. 2013). This association is especially relevant, as adolescence is a stage where youth are beginning to experiment and form life-long habits to manage life stressors. However, previous research has been limited regarding gender differences in PTS as males and females often have different ways of coping with traumatic events (Stevens, Murphy, & McKnight, 2003). This study closes this gap by investigating the connection between PTS and externalizing behaviors in the form of delinquency, drug use, and aggression in a sample of urban, predominantly African American adolescents. Data for this study comes from the first two waves of Project COPE, a four-year longitudinal study on violence exposure, stress responses and adjustment who were recruited from low SES neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia. The sample included 166 males (46.4%) and 192 females (53.6%), all of whom were in grades five or eight and between the ages of nine and sixteen (M=12.13, SD=1.62) at wave 1 of the study. The participants consisted primarily of African Americans (91%). During annual in home interviews, participants provided assessments of PTS using the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC) scale, and delinquency, aggressive behavior and drug use were assessed using the Problem Behavior Frequency Scales (PBFS). Linear regression analyses were conducted with and without gender as moderator. Results from this sample found no significant relationship between PTS and Delinquency (Beta=.074, p>.05) or Drug use (Beta=.035, p>.05) one year later. However, a significant relationship was found between PTS and aggressive behavior at year two (Beta=.185, p<.05). Interactions with gender revealed that the patterns of association between PTS and aggressive behavior were similar for males and females. Contrary to previous research, our results show no increased risk of drug use or rule-breaking behavior in this sample of adolescents from high violence neighborhoods, for either males or females. It is possible that the effects were short-term in this case rather than lasting. However, the significant relationship of PTS with increased physical aggression for all youth sheds light on possible long-term consequences of PTS and underscores a need to address this specific risk in low SES, urban samples with high prevalence of PTS. The data from our research further adds to the existing consensus suggesting that low SES, urban adolescents, due to unavailable resources, has the possibility of behaviors reemerging as delinquent behaviors.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)



Post Traumatic Stress, Adolescent, Urban, Delinquency, Drug Use, Aggression, Gender


Developmental Psychology

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D.


© The Author(s)

Post Traumatic Stress and Externalizing Behaviors in At Risk Urban Adolescents: A Prospective Study