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

Joseph R. Cohen, Hena Thakur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Extant research and theory posit that emotional abuse and emotional neglect-exposure 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 emotional abuse and neglect, as reported by multiple informants, may confer within at-risk, adolescent samples. Objective: In response, the present study examined how emotional abuse and emotional neglect-exposure in adolescence uniquely related to psychological symptoms and social impairment. Participants and Setting: Our aims were tested in a child welfare system (CWS)-involved sample of adolescents (N = 657; AgeM = 12.49 at baseline) who were participating in a longitudinal study. Methods: A multi-informant approach was used to assess emotional abuse/neglect and mental health. Physical abuse and lifetime CWS contact represented covariates in growth curve models. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104811
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Adolescence
  • Assessment
  • Impairment
  • Maltreatment
  • Psychopathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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