Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Sarah R. Black

Second Advisor

Elliott A. Beaton

Third Advisor

Matthew Scalco

Fourth Advisor

Christopher Harshaw

Fifth Advisor

Danielle H. Dallaire


Research has shown that living in a family high in negative and hostile conflict is detrimental to children’s adjustment. As youth transition into adolescence, their desire for more autonomy can lead to changes in the family dynamic, such as increased family conflict. What is lesser known are the ways in which families may differ in how conflict changes during this time, how these differences may influence adjustment, and whether having a child with problem behaviors may lead to increases in family conflict.

The present studies used four waves of data from the Adolescent Brain & Cognitive Development study, an ongoing longitudinal study of 11,868 nine to ten year old youth and their parents. At all four waves, parents and youth independently reported on levels of family conflict (Family Environment Scale-Conflict subscale; Moos & Moos, 1974). Parents reported annually on youths’ internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Child Behavior Checklist; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000).

Parents reported family conflict as low and decreasing over four years, whereas youth reported low initial levels which increased over four years. Significant variance in growth parameters suggested variation around starting points and rates of change over time. Latent growth class analyses uncovered four latent patterns of family conflict for each reporter, each with a majority group which started out low and stayed low over four years. These patterns predicted both later internalizing and externalizing behaviors, with the majority low classes showing the least problem behaviors.

Youth-reported family conflict was bidirectionally associated with externalizing behavior, in that families with greater than expected conflict had children with more externalizing behaviors, and youth with more externalizing behaviors reported greater than expected conflict at home. Internalizing behavior, however, did not predict later family conflict, though family conflict predicted deviations in later internalizing behavior. Parent-reported conflict and youths’ problem behaviors were neither unidirectionally nor bidirectionally predictive.

These findings add to the literature by showing that externalizing behaviors are both predictive of and predicted by family conflict, whereas internalizing behaviors are not. At the same time, the existence of more than one pattern of family conflict suggests that, while slow changes in conflict may be occurring across the larger population, there exist unique patterns of family functioning which can better predict youths’ maladjustment.


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Available for download on Tuesday, April 15, 2025