Ecological Predictors of Children's Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes
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Introduction: Ecological, transactional, and developmental theories suggest that contextual factors play a crucial role in children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. Currently, little is known about the development of children’s social-emotional learning between middle and late childhood. Meanwhile, research is needed to understand the influence of ecological predictors (e.g., home, parental, and community contexts) on children’s social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. Accordingly, we aim to (1a) examine the influences of ecological predictors on children’s social-emotional competence and behavior outcomes and (1b & 1c) assess the moderating role of gender and race/ethnicity in these associations. Moreover, we aim to (2a) identify subgroups of children based on their trajectories of social-emotional competence and behavior development and (2b) explore the influence of ecological predictors on children’s social-emotional competence and behavior trajectories. Lastly, we aim to (3a) determine whether children may be distinguished based on their profile of social-emotional competence and (3b) evaluate the extent to which ecological predictors influence children’s profiles as well as (3c) examine associations between children’s social-emotional competence profiles and later behavioral outcomes. Method: Data from the Institute of Education Sciences’ Social and Character Development (SACD) Research Program were used. The SACD Program was a multi-site, randomized trial, of seven school-based programs that sought to bolster academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes in children. This occurred between fall 2004 and spring 2007.The program included over 6,000 children from nearly 100 schools who were followed between grades 3 through 5. Our analytic sample comprised over 3,100 children assigned to control conditions with data from five collection waves: fall grade 3, spring grade 3, fall grade 4, spring grade 4, and spring grade 5. The ecological predictors assessed in this thesis included socio-demographic risk, household chaos, poor parental monitoring/supervision, positive parenting, intergenerational closure, child-centered social control, community access to resources, and community risk. The social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes examined in this thesis included altruistic behavior, empathy, self-efficacy for peer interaction, normative beliefs about aggression, and ADHD-related behavior. Latent variable modeling was used to address our aims and hypotheses. Specifically, structural equation modeling was used to address aim 1, growth mixture modeling was used to address aim 2, and latent profile analysis was used to address aim 3. Results: Ecological predictors at grade 3 were significantly associated with children’s social-emotional learning outcomes at grade 5 (1a). Moreover, the associations between the ecological predictors and social-emotional learning outcomes differed based on children’s gender (1b) and race/ethnicity (1c). Meanwhile, children’s development of social-emotional competence and behavior was heterogeneous between grades 3 and 5 (2a). Furthermore, ecological predictors at grade 3 significantly influenced children’s social-emotional competence and behavior trajectories between grades 3 and 5 (2b). Finally, children may be distinguished based on their profiles of social-emotional competence across grades 3 to 5 (3a), which were influenced by concurrent ecological characteristics (3b). Children’s social-emotional competence profiles also predicted their later behavioral outcomes (3c). Conclusion: Home, parental, and community characteristics play an important role in children’s social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. Addressing these ecological predictors through targeted prevention efforts may improve children’s social-emotional learning. They may also predict children’s social-emotional competence and behavior trajectories. Furthermore, these contextual characteristics may influence children’s social-emotional competence profiles. In light of the heterogeneity with regard to both children’s development as well as their patterns of social-emotional competence and behavior, tailoring prevention programs to include indicated intervention strategies may be necessary to ensure successful outcomes. Overall, the findings of this thesis advance our knowledge of positive youth development, which may be particularly important for children’s research and advocacy groups, such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).