Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Albert Farrell


Despite theoretical support for the role of the family in providing a foundation to protect youth against risks for aggression, there is little published literature examining a protective influence. This study examined family functioning and perceived parental messages about fighting and nonviolence as moderators of the relation between risk factors and adolescent aggression. The specific risk factors included affiliating with a delinquent group of peers, attending a school with norms that support aggression, and witnessing violence within the community. Secondary analyses were conducted on data collected from a high-risk sample of 537 adolescents in 2 cohorts from 18 schools. Adolescents completed measures of peer delinquent behavior and community violence exposure at the beginning and end of the sixth grade and at the end of the following two school years. An aggregated school-level measure of norms supporting aggression was constructed from a random sample of students in each cohort and school. Family variables included adolescent reports of parental messages supporting fighting and nonviolence, and family functioning classes created through a latent profile analysis of adolescent and parent reports of family cohesion, family problem-solving, parental involvement, and positive parenting. Aggression was assessed by a composite of ratings from parents, teachers, and adolescents. Longitudinal analyses indicated that delinquent peer associations and witnessing violence were each related to changes in aggression over time. School norms supporting aggression was not significantly related to aggression. Parental messages supporting nonviolence and not supporting fighting, and good family functioning at the start of the sixth grade were each related to lower subsequent levels of aggression. Few protective effects of family processes were found. High family functioning reduced the risk associated with delinquent peer associations. Lower levels of parental support for fighting buffered the risk associated with witnessing violence, but not at higher levels of witnessing violence. Thus, whereas a foundation of positive parental messages and good family functioning was associated with lower aggression overall, these family factors generally did not serve to protect adolescents that experienced higher levels of risk. These findings suggest a need for further study of protective factors for adolescents in the face of peer, school, and community risk.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2013