Exploring the role of gender in internalizing and externalizing behavior among maltreated youth

  • D. Cristescu
  • A. Baban


Background. The negative effects of child maltreatment have been well documented. In response to maltreatment, girls and boys may experience different psychological, social and behavioral consequences. Studies revealed that adolescent males cope with exposure to maltreatment by externalizing their behavior compared to females who tend to internalize their behavior. The present study has two main objectives: 1) to investigate the prevalence of child maltreatment (emotional, physical, sexual) 2) to explore the role of gender and internalizing symptoms between maltreatment exposure and externalizing symptoms. Methods. We used data from a nationally representative cross-sectional survey carried in Romania as a part of Health Behavior in School Aged Children (HBSC, 2014). We conducted secondary data analysis in order to explore the study objectives. The total sample consisted of 1712 youth (44,6% boys, 55,4% girls; 14-17 years old). We used univariate and bivariate descriptive statistics. In order to test the effects of gender and internalizing symptoms, we used structural equation modeling. Results.We found significant gender differences in terms of exposure to emotional and physical maltreatment but not in the sexual one, with girls beeing more exposed to all types of maltreatment. Children with a history of maltreatment significantly reported more externalizing symptoms. The results of structural equation modeling revealed that internalizing symptoms partially mediated the relationship between maltreatment exposure and externalizing symptoms in the case of girls but not boys. Discussion. Taking into account gender differences in youth`s reaction to child maltreatment has practical implications for early identification and intervention in mental health issues.
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