The Effect of Coping on the Relationship Between Child Behavior Problems and Exposure to Community Violence in Low Risk School Children

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Virginia Tech

Research has found that the prevalence of community violence exposure is relatively high among suburban and urban middle school-aged children. Exposure through witnessing and victimization has been related to antisocial behavior. Active coping has been related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, whereas avoidant coping is related to conduct disorder. This study examines effects of community violence exposure on antisocial behavior problems (in terms of school infractions) and coping as a moderator of these negative effects of violence exposure.

It was hypothesized that 1) there would be a main effect for community violence exposure such that adolescents with high levels of violence exposure (either as a victim or witness) would exhibit greater school misbehavior problems than those with low levels of exposure; 2) there would be main effects for coping such that children with high (vs. low) levels of active coping would exhibit fewer school misbehavior problems, and those with high (vs. low) levels of avoidant coping would exhibit greater school misbehavior problems.; 3) there would be an interaction effect such that children with high levels of violence exposure and high (vs. low) levels of avoidant coping and low (vs. high) levels of active coping would exhibit the greatest level of school misbehavior problems relative to all other groups.

Seventy-eight ninth grade male and female students from a predominantly rural setting were recruited and grouped according to high and low self-reports of community violence exposure and active and avoidant coping strategies. School misbehavior was measured through school discipline records.

Results indicated high prevalence rates of community violence exposure among school children in a rural setting, replicating previous findings and acknowledging violence exposure beyond at-risk and urban populations. Fifty-five percent reported being a victim of community violence and 86% reported witnessing community violence at least once in their lifetime. A significant interaction indicated that individuals with low levels of both active and avoidant coping exhibited more school infractions as well as more severe and aggressive types of infractions. In addition, for severity and aggressiveness, this interaction effect of coping on school misbehavior was strongest only in individuals with higher levels of community violence exposure.

The results of this study provide support for the position that community violence exposure exists among school-aged children in urban and rural communities and this exposure negatively impacts the behavior of children when it is combined with poor coping. Coping appears to play a role in the difference observed among children who experience community violence in relation to school misbehavior.

school misbehavior, coping, community violence