Examining anxious-withdrawal, friendship, and psychological adjustment trajectories during early adolescence
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Not all anxious-withdrawn young adolescents struggle with their friends or experience psychological difficulties, but little is known about possible sources of this heterogeneity. Child-by-environment models are used to explain why some anxious-withdrawn youth fare better than others in terms of their social and psychological outcomes. These models suppose that pre-existing vulnerabilities within the child (including social-behavioral weaknesses and strengths) and the child’s social experiences (such as friendships) have independent or combined effects on adjustment. Guided by this perspective, this study of 271 young adolescents (51% boys; M age = 11.83 years, SD = 0.49) examined (a) the concurrent and longitudinal associations between anxious-withdrawal and three friendship adjustment indices (mutual friendship involvement, friendship stability, and friendship quality); (b) social-behavioral characteristics (prosocial behavior, relational aggression, sense of humor) as moderators of these associations; and (c) anxious-withdrawal and friendship adjustment as predictors of initial status and change in psychological adjustment trajectories (loneliness, depressive symptoms). Regression analyses revealed that anxious-withdrawal was not associated with friendship adjustment, nor did social-behavioral characteristics moderate these associations. However, growth curve analyses demonstrated that anxious-withdrawal predicted more adaptive psychological adjustment trajectories among youth with at least one mutual friend, albeit somewhat differently for boys and girls. Findings suggest that shy behaviors do not preclude anxious-withdrawn young adolescents’ success with friends and, more importantly, that simply having a friend diminishes their risk for psychological problems. Results highlight that not all withdrawn youth may require psychological intervention, but for those that do, peer-pairing therapy may be a promising therapeutic approach.