Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of
Differences in Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Students over Time: A 22-Year Cross-Sectional Cohort Study
Date of this Version
Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Levels of emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents demonstrate secular changes over time, warranting ongoing investigation. Prior studies examining secular trends in a range of such problems have been conducted in the U.S. and internationally. Research in this area generally has not fully considered the school setting. This study compared emotional and behavioral problems across two cohorts of students in the U.S. assessed over a 22-year time period as part of measurement development efforts for the Scales for Assessing Emotional Disturbance Rating Scale (SAED-RSRS; Epstein et al., 2020). Specifically, analyses drew from data collected via teacher report on matched cohorts of students for the 1998 (data collected from 1996 to 1997; n = 1,148) and 2020 (data collected from 2016 to 2018; n = 1,148) editions of the SAED-RS. After establishing measurement invariance across cohorts and testing for gender differences, structural equation modeling revealed statistically significant cohort mean differences on two of the five factors of the SAED-RS, suggesting increases over time in Inability to Learn (β = 0.09, p = .024) and Physical Symptoms and Fears (β = 0.14, p = .005) that were comparable for girls and boys. There were no statistically significant differences on the remaining factors: Relationship Problems, Inappropriate Behavior, and Unhappiness/Depression. Supplemental item-level tests revealed differences on 8 of the 39 SAED-RS items. Findings suggest increases in specific problem areas that could benefit from ongoing monitoring and targeted interventions to support contemporary students.
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