Behavior and development of preschool children born to adolescent mothers: risk and 3-generation households

Maureen M Black, Mia A Papas, Jon M Hussey, Wanda Hunter, Howard Dubowitz, Jonathan B Kotch, Diana English, Mary Schneider
Pediatrics 2002, 109 (4): 573-80

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether living in a 3-generation household (grandmother-mother-child) is associated with fewer behavior problems and better cognitive development among preschool children of mothers who gave birth during adolescence and whether it protects children from the behavior and developmental problems associated with maltreatment and maternal depression.

DESIGN: Cohort study.

SETTING: Participants included low-income families recruited from 4 sites: East, Northwest, Midwest, and South, who are part of LONGSCAN, a longitudinal study of children's health, development, and maltreatment.

PARTICIPANTS: One hundred ninety-four mothers who were adolescents (less than age 19) at delivery. Data were gathered when children were 4 to 5 years of age. Twenty-six percent of the children lived in 3-generation households, 39% had a history of maltreatment, and 32% of the mothers had depression scores in the clinical range.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Child behavioral problems were measured with the Child Behavior Checklist, completed by the mother, and child developmental status was assessed with the Battelle Developmental Inventory Screening Test, administered by research assistants.

RESULTS: Multiple regression analyses revealed that children who had been reported for maltreatment and had mothers with depressive symptoms had more externalizing behavior problems, compared with children who experienced neither risk or only 1 risk. However, when residential status was considered, children with the greatest number of externalizing behavior problems were those who experienced both maltreatment and maternal depressive symptoms and lived in 3-generation households. Children who had been reported for maltreatment or had mothers with depressive symptoms were more likely to have internalizing problems, compared with children with neither risk. Residential status was not related to children's internalizing behavior problems or cognitive development.

CONCLUSIONS: Living in a 3-generation household did not protect preschool children from the behavior problems associated with maltreatment and depression. In contrast, living in a 3-generation household was associated with more behavior problems among the highest risk group of children--those who had been maltreated and had mothers with symptoms of depression. Although 3-generation families may provide an important source of support and stability for adolescent mothers and their infants early in the parenting process, it may not be advisable to rely on 3-generation households as young mothers enter adulthood, particularly among those with a history of maltreatment or depression. Children with the fewest number of behavior problems were living with their mothers in their own household (often with the father), had not been maltreated, and had mothers with few symptoms of depression.

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