Just a phase? Mapping the transition of behavioural problems from childhood to adolescence

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Purpose Young people change substantially between childhood and adolescence. Yet, the current description of behavioural problems does not incorporate any reference to the developmental context. In the current analysis, we aimed to identify common transitions of behavioural problems between childhood and adolescence.

Method We followed 6744 individuals over 6 years as they transitioned from childhood (age 10) into adolescence (age 16). At each stage, we used a data-driven hierarchical clustering method to identify common profiles of behavioural problems, map transitions between profiles and identify factors that predict specifc transitions.

Results Common profiles of behavioural problems matched known comorbidity patterns but crucially showed that the presentation of behavioural problems changes markedly between childhood and adolescence. While problems with hyperactivity/impulsivity, motor control and conduct were prominent in childhood, adolescents showed profiles of problems related to emotional control, anxiety and inattention. Transitions were associated with socio-economic status and cognitive performance in childhood.

Conclusion We show that understanding behavioural difculties and mental ill-health must take into account the developmental context in which the problems occur, and we establish key risk factors for specifc negative transitions as children become adolescents.