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Explaining Variability in Youth's Responses to Adverse Life Events: An Examination of Specificity in Urban African American Adolescents Open Access

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Experiences of adverse life events can lead to a range of adjustment difficulties in youth, including internalizing and externalizing symptoms (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998; Compas et al., 1994: Cooley-Quille et al., 2001; Hankin & Abramson, 2001; Jackson & Warren, 2000). Low income, urban African American youth's disproportionate exposure to adverse life events places them at increased risk of developing adjustment difficulties compared to their middle-class, Caucasian counterparts who generally have less exposure to life event stress (Attar et al., 1994; Deardorff et al., 2003). However, there is significant variability in youth's responses to life event stress (Leadbeater et al., 1995; McMahon et al., 2003). Some youth do not display any adjustment difficulties in response to life event stress, while other youth express their distress through internalizing symptoms, externalizing symptoms, or both (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998; Compas et al., 1994; Cooley-Quille et al., 2001; Hankin & Abramson, 2001; Jackson & Warren, 2000). Consequently, there has been an increased interest in better understanding individual differences in youth's experience of and responses to life event stress. Existing research suggests four possible reasons for variability in African American youth's responses to life event stress: (a) the type of life event experienced (b) the setting in which youth reside, (c) youth's self-perceptions, such as self-worth, and (d) gender differences in the types of life events experienced. The present study examined specificity of non-violent and violent life events on African American adolescents' depressive and aggressive symptoms and the moderating role of self-worth and gender. Clinical implications of study findings and future directions are discussed.

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