Maltreatment during childhood is associated with difficult interpersonal relationships throughout the life course. The aim of the current study was to investigate differential pathways from child maltreatment to emerging adult relationship dysfunction. Specifically, we prospectively tested whether child maltreatment initiates a developmental cascade resulting in coercive negative romantic and friend interactions in emerging adulthood via childhood antisocial tendencies and via childhood relational aggression. Utilizing a longitudinal sample of emerging adult participants (N = 392; mean age = 20 years old) who took part in a summer research camp program as children (mean age = 11 years old), results supported pathways via both childhood antisocial behavior and childhood relational aggression. We found specificity within these pathways such that childhood antisocial behavior was a mediator of child maltreatment effects on emerging adult negative romantic interactions, whereas childhood relational aggression was a mediator of child maltreatment effects on emerging adult negative friend interactions. Taken together, results indicate that children exposed to maltreatment face significant interpersonal challenges in emerging adulthood, within both the friend and the romantic domains, and point to distinct childhood pathways to these negative interactions. Our findings are consistent with Dishion's (2016) theoretical framework for understanding the development of coercion in relationships and highlight the criticality of early intervention with maltreating families.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Financial Support. We are grateful to the Jacobs Foundation (to Dante Cicchetti) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01-DA01774 to Fred A. Rogosch and Dante Cicchetti) for their support of this work.
- antisocial behavior
- child maltreatment
- relational aggression
- romantic relationships