Preventing the Intergenerational Transmission of Antisocial Behavior: Successful Child Socialization Strategies in At-Risk Families

Project: Research project

Project Details


Today in the U.S., 33 million children have a parent with a criminal record. Children with a parental history of criminal behavior and incarceration are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior themselves; yet, many will instead take a more prosocial path. The overarching goal of this application is to understand the factors that determine which of these developmental trajectories these children will take. We focus on the preschool age (3-5 years old), a key period for socialization. Drawing from a resilience framework, children’s socialization outcomes will include their performance on developmentally appropriate tasks: (1) emerging conscience (compliance, internalization of rules, concern for others, and discomfort following rule violation) and (2) self-regulation (behavioral and emotional), as well as the absence of (3) early disruptive behavior problems and (4) functional impairment. The specific aims are to: Aim 1. Test parental risk factors and familial mechanisms that explain individual differences in socialization outcomes among children of parents with a history of incarceration; Aim 2. Test the protective role of the parents’ social and economic resources for preventing the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior; and Aim 3. Test the compensatory role of alternative caregiving relationships for preventing the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior. We will examine these questions in 150 preschool-aged children of parents (60% mothers and 40% fathers) who were incarcerated as juveniles and have been participating in the Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP) for the past 20 years. We will leverage the extensive prospective longitudinal data available on the NJP parents’ mental health, antisocial behavior, incarceration history, and social and economic resources, and collect new data from the NJP parent and a second caregiver, to test parental risk factors and familial mechanisms that determine individual differences in child socialization (Aim 1). We will conduct direct observations and in-person interviews, to measure child socialization outcomes, child interactions with the NJP parent and the second caregiver, and protective factors at the levels of the child-caregiver dyad and the larger social environment (Aims 2 & 3). This study will provide the empirical basis for developing protective interventions to prevent, from an early age, the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior, addressing NICHD’s Child Development and Behavior Branch priority of identifying protective factors associated with Psychosocial Adjustment for Individuals in High-Risk Environments.
Effective start/end date4/1/183/31/20


  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (5R21HD092671-02)


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