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Predictors of Multiple Risk Behavior Trajectories among Economically Disadvantaged African American Youth: An Examination of the Applicability of Problem Behavior Theory

  • Sterrett, Emma M.
  • Dymnicki, Allison B.
  • Henry, David
  • Byck, Gayle
  • Bolland, John
  • Mustanski, Brian1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • 1 Kent School of Social Work
  • 2 University of Louisville
  • 3 American Institutes for Research
  • 4 Institute for Health Research and Policy
  • 5 University of Illinois at Chicago
  • 6 Department of Medical Social Sciences
  • 7 Northwestern University
  • 8 College of Human Environmental Sciences
  • 9 University of Alabama
Published Article
Journal of Adolescent Health
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2014
Accepted Date
Feb 28, 2014
DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.02.023


PurposeAfrican American youth, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, evidence high rates of negative outcomes associated with three problem behaviors, conduct problems, risky sexual behavior, and substance use. This study used a contextually-tailored version of Problem Behavior Theory (PBT) to examine predictors of the simultaneous development of problem behaviors in this specific cultural group. MethodsSocio-contextual and individual variables representing four PBT predictor categories, controls protection, support protection, models risk, and vulnerability risk, were examined as predictors of co-occurring problem behaviors among economically disadvantaged African American adolescents (n = 949). Specifically, the likelihood of following three classes of multiple problem behavior trajectories spanning ages 12 to 18, labeled the “early experimenters,” “increasing high risk-takers,” and “adolescent-limited” classes, as opposed to a “normative” class was examined. ResultsAmong other findings, controls protection in the form of a more stringent household curfew at age 12 was related to a lower likelihood of being in the “early experimenters” and “increasing high risk-takers” classes. Conversely, vulnerability risk manifested as stronger attitudes of violence inevitability was associated with a higher likelihood of being in the “early experimenters” class. However, the PBT category of support protection was not associated with risk trajectory class. More distal neighborhood-level manifestations of PBT categories also did not predict co-occurring behavior problems. ConclusionGuided by an incorporation of contextually-salient processes into PBT, prevention programs aiming to decrease co-occurring problem behaviors among low-income African American adolescents would do well to target both proximal systems and psychological constructs related to perceived security throughout adolescence.

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