Family And School Impact On Psychological Functioning From Childhood To Late Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study Of Rural Chinese Youth
The transition from childhood to adolescence can be a significant stressor for youth, leading to increases in internalizing problems for those who are vulnerable. Compared to the mounting research conducted on U.S. youth, children and adolescents in China have received less attention on their psychological adjustment. As Chinese youth constitute roughly 15% of the world’s population (World Health Organization, 2010), and the disproportionate quantity of longitudinal investigation on Chinese youth psychological functioning, understanding the influence of risk and protective factors, and their interactive effects on internalizing problems among Chinese youth is critical. According to Life Course Theory, Ecological Systems Theory, and Risk and Resilience Framework, we need to look beyond one snapshot, one risk or protective factor and analyze the interactions among multiple factors nested in multiple environments across time. Unfortunately, the longitudinal investigation of perceived family and school experiences on youth psychological functioning in rural China is rare. Thus, this study investigated four research questions: 1. What is the nature of internalizing problems among rural Chinese youth? 2. Are gender and perceived school experiences associated with internalizing problems in childhood among rural Chinese youth? Are they associated with changes in internalizing problems from childhood to late adolescence among rural Chinese youth? 3. Do perceived parental behaviors moderate the effect of gender on internalizing problems in childhood among rural Chinese youth? Do perceived parental behaviors moderate the effect of gender on changes in internalizing problems among rural Chinese youth? 4. Do perceived parental behaviors moderate the effect of school experiences on internalizing problems in childhood among rural Chinese youth? Do perceived parental behaviors moderate the effect of perceived school experiences on changes in internalizing problems among rural Chinese youth? This study used data from Wave I (2000) to Wave III (2007) of the Gansu Survey of Children and Families, which is one of the first projects to obtain data at the individual and village levels in four waves from 2000 to 2009 in rural China (Gansu Survey of Children and Families [GSCF], 2010a). The time-varying dependent variable was internalizing problems measured by a summative scale adapted from the Child Behavior Checklist and Youth-Self Report. The Level-1 time-variant predictor was youth age. The Level-2 time-invariant predictor was child gender, and the Level-2 time-variant predictors included perceived parental warmth, lack of teacher support, and adverse classroom climate. Research questions were examined using two-level growth curve models with time nested in individuals. All multivariate data analyses were conducted using PROC MIXED in SAS v9.4. The results showed that on average levels of internalizing problems decreased over time among rural Chinese youth from childhood to late adolescence. In addition, youth gender was not associated with internalizing problems, there were no differences between boys and girls in childhood in internalizing problems nor were their differences between boys and girls in changes in internalizing problems. As for perceived lack of teacher support and adverse classroom climate, both had positive effects on childhood internalizing problems. Youth who reported less lack of teacher support and adversity in their classrooms were predicted to have lower levels of internalizing problems. In addition, teacher support was also related to changes in internalizing problems from childhood to adolescence. Youth who reported more lack of teacher support were predicted to have a steep downward trajectory of internalizing problems in the developmental period examined, which indicates the effect of lack of teacher support is more detrimental in childhood compared to adolescence. Furthermore, parental warmth moderated the relationship between lack of teacher support and childhood internalizing problems. Lack of teacher support had a less impact on internalizing problems in childhood when youth perceived higher levels of parental warmth. Also, parental warmth moderated the relationship between adversity in classroom and changes in internalizing problems from childhood to adolescence. Adverse classroom climate had a less impact on the internalizing problems trajectory when youth perceived higher levels of parental warmth. The current investigation adds to the literature by examining the unique and interactive effects of individual characteristics, family and school experiences on internalizing symptoms from childhood to late adolescence. Results of the current study emphasize the importance of fostering responsive and supportive relationships within the family and school contexts early on and continually. Social workers in China have the potential to engage large teachers, students and school personnel to promote changes in rural school contexts and consult parents on strategies to improve family context. Social workers in China are also well positioned to advocate for national mental health policies that recognize and address mental health problems among rural youth.