The reciprocal relations between well-being and maternal and peer warmth in adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system

Jennifer M. Traver, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
Danielle H. Dallaire, Department of Psychological Sciences, College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
Paul J. Frick, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
Laurence Steinberg, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Elizabeth Cauffman, Department of Psychological Science, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, California, USA.


INTRODUCTION: Although justice system involvement increases the risk of negative outcomes for adolescents, many justice-involved youth desist from crime as adults (Sampson & Laub, 2005). There are few studies examining predictors of positive development in justice-involved adolescents. In the current study, we assess the influence of maternal and peer warmth on the development of well-being in adolescents involved in the US justice system over the course of 5 years. METHODS: Participants included 1216 adolescent males who experienced their first arrest. Interviews were given every year for 5 years. Well-being was measured using the EPOCH questionnaire (Kern et al., 2016) and relationship warmth was measured using a scale adapted from Conger et al. (1994). Hypotheses were tested using latent curve models with structured residuals. RESULTS: Baseline levels of well-being were associated with maternal (β = 0.49, p < .001) and peer warmth, β = 0.52, p < .001. When an individual's maternal warmth was higher than predicted given their maternal warmth trajectory, their subsequent well-being was higher than expected given their well-being trajectory, b = 0.07, p < .001. When an individual's peer warmth was higher than predicted, their subsequent well-being was higher than expected, b = 0.06, p < .001. These relations were reciprocal, such that well-being also predicted increased maternal and peer warmth. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that increasing maternal or peer warmth may have cascading effects on the well-being of justice-involved adolescents. Interventions for justice-involved youth may benefit from targeting factors that increase positive development for these youth.