Knowledge lability: Within-person changes in parental knowledge and their associations with adolescent problem behavior

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19 Scopus citations


Higher levels of parental knowledge about youth activities have been associated with lower levels of youth risky behavior. Yet little is known about how parental knowledge fluctuates during early adolescence and how those fluctuations are associated with the development of problem behavior. We use the term lability to describe within-person fluctuations in knowledge over time with higher lability indicating greater fluctuations in knowledge from year-to-year. This longitudinal study of rural adolescents (N=840) investigated if change in parental knowledge across four waves of data from grades 6 to 8 is characterized by lability, and if greater lability is associated with higher youth substance use, delinquency, and internalizing problems in grade 9. Our models indicated that only some of the variance in parental knowledge was accounted for by developmental trends. The remaining residual variance reflects within-person fluctuations around these trends, lability, and measurement and occasion-specific error. Even controlling for level and developmental trends in knowledge, higher knowledge lability (i.e., more fluctuation) was associated with increased risk for later alcohol and tobacco use, and for girls, higher delinquency and internalizing problems. Our findings suggest that lability in parental knowledge has unique implications for adolescent outcomes. The discussion focuses on mechanisms that may link knowledge lability to substance use. Interventions may be most effective if they teach parents to consistently and predictably decrease knowledge across early adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-283
Number of pages10
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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