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Developmental consequences of emotional abuse and neglect in vulnerable adolescents: A multi-informant, multi-wave study

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 111 Dated: 2021
J. R. Cohen; H. Thakur
Date Published

This study examined how exposure to emotional abuse and emotional neglect in adolescence is uniquely related to psychological symptoms and social impairment.


Extant research and theory posit that exposure to emotional abuse and emotional neglect is uniquely harmful during adolescence. Yet, these findings are mostly based on mono-informant, retrospective studies with unselected adults that examine emotional maltreatment in the aggregate. This prevents inferences concerning the unique, prospective risk of emotional abuse and neglect, as reported by multiple informants, may confer within at-risk, adolescent samples. A multi-informant approach was used to assess emotional abuse/neglect and mental health. Physical abuse and lifetime  contact with the child welfare system (CWS) represented covariates in growth curve models. Emotional abuse predicted symptoms within informant, such that youth-reported emotional abuse predicted youth-reported internalizing, β = 0.21, p = .001, and externalizing, β=0.35, p = .001, symptoms while parent-reported emotional abuse predicted parent-reported externalizing, β=0.30, p <  .001, and internalizing β=0.29, p <  .001, symptoms. Meanwhile, youth-reported emotional neglect predicted heightened self-reported internalizing symptoms, β=0.29, p <  .001, parent-reported externalizing symptoms, β=0.15, p = .002 and social impairment across youth, β=-0.17, p = .01 and parent, β=-0.24, p <  .001, report. This study shows the importance of distinguishing between these maltreatment subtypes in adolescence and provides measurement recommendations for future maltreatment research. The manuscript concludes by discussing adolescent emotional abuse and neglect-exposure as a maintenance, as opposed to causal risk, factors. (publisher abstract modified)