Parental Rejection Exacerbates the Effects of Other Risk Factors

Authors frequently report findings that show that parental rejection exacerbates the effects of other risk factors on general antisocial outcomes. In a study of adoptees, those with no biological risk did not differ in problem behaviors with different levels of maternal caring behaviors, but among those with biological risk, low maternal caring predicted the highest level of problem behaviors (Riggins-Caspers & Cadoret, 2001); the difference in problem behaviors between adolescents with biological risk receiving low and high maternal caring was very substantial. In a study of toddlers in Ontario, maternal negativity seemed to affect the progression of behavioral problems (aggression and emotional dyscon- trol) for some children and not others (Rubin et al., 2003). Among those children with high levels of these problems at age 2, maternal rejection seemed to matter a great deal, clearly predicting higher levels of behavior problems at age 4. For those children with low aggression scores at age 2, maternal negativity didn’t seem to matter. Scaramella and Conger (2003) show that parental hostility was uncorrelated with problem behavior among preschoolers who were low in negative emotional reactivity, but positively and significantly correlated with problem behavior among those above the median on negative emotional reactivity. These are just several examples of how parental rejection may exacerbate other risks.


Some authors have argued that parental warmth might operate differently for boys and girls. In one example, Booth, Farrell, and Varano (2008) explore whether aspects of social control influence adolescent males and females differently in the etiology of delinquency. Akse et al. (2004) argued that feeling rejected would elicit externalizing behavior in boys and depression in girls. Scholte and colleagues expected that boys who felt less positively treated by their parents (compared to their siblings) would exhibit more overt delinquency, while girls would exhibit more covert delinquency (Scholte, Engels, de Kemp, Harakeh, & Overbeek, 2007). Thus, we will examine studies of boys and girls separately to see if there are different associations between violence and parental warmth and rejection by gender.

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