December 16, 2014
in Brazilian Mothers' Reports of
4-Year-Olds' Problems Over 11 Years
often assumed that children's behavior is worse than it used
to be. To test this assumption, it is necessary to use the
same procedures to assess representative population samples
of children at two or more widely separated points in time.
This has been done with the CBCL, TRF, and YSR in the U.S.
and The Netherlands. From 1976 to 1989, U.S. children's CBCL/6-18
Total Problems scores showed a small increase but from 1989
to 1999 they showed a small decrease. Similar patterns were
found for TRF and YSR problem scores over shorter periods.
Problem items that were rated high, medium, or low at the
initial assessments tended to retain the same rank orders
at the later assessments (Achenbach, Dumenci, & Rescorla,
2002a, b, 2003). Over a 20-year period, CBCL/6-18 and TRF
scores for Dutch children showed considerable stability, although
there were small increases in problem scores (Tick, van der
Ende, & Verhulst, 2007). Over a 10-year period, Dutch
YSR scores showed minimal changes (Tick, van der Ende, &
Verhulst, 2008). And over a 14-year period, Dutch preschool
children's CBCL problem scores also showed considerable stability,
although there were slight decreases in scores on some scales
(Tick, van der Ende, Koot, & Verhulst, 2007).
changes in problems reported for Brazilian children, Matijasevich
et al. (2014) had interviewers administer the CBCL/4-18 to
mothers of 634 4-year-olds living in Pelotas, Brazil in 1993
and to a new sample of mothers of 3,750 4-year-olds in 2004.
Significant increases in scores were found on several problem
scales for both genders, especially for Aggressive Behavior,
where the effect size was d =0.5, which is medium according
to Cohen's criteria. The increase in scores for Aggressive
Behavior contributed to increases in Externalizing and Total
Problems scores. Small but significant decreases were found
in Attention Problems scores for both genders (Cohen's d
= 0.36). The increases in Aggressive Behavior scores were
not accounted for by changes in familial or maternal characteristics
that were analyzed. However, the authors pointed out that
the increases in problem scores "could reflect broader
changes in the local environment in terms of insecurity and
violence . . . Criminal indicators in Pelotas showed that
the number of criminal offenses at least doubled between 2002
and 2011" (p. 1131), although such data were not available
for the 1993-2004 period spanned by the comparison of CBCL
When changes in problems reported for children at different
points in time are assessed empirically, substantial increases
in Aggressive Behavior problem scores were thus found for
Pelotas 4-year-olds, but changes for Dutch and American children
were minimal. Similar studies of other cohorts compared over
different periods might yield different results. However,
empirical comparisons of population samples assessed by the
same methods are needed to obtain evidence on whether problem
levels are changing.
Achenbach, T.M., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L.A. (2002).
Is American student behavior getting worse? Teacher ratings
over an 18-year period. School Psychology Review, 31,
T.M., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L.A. (2002). Ten-year comparisons
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Achenbach, T.M., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L.A. (2003).
Are American children's problems still getting worse? A 23-year
comparison. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31,
Matijasevich, A., et al. (2014). Increase in child behavior
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Tick, N.T., van der Ende, J., Koot, H.M., & Verhulst,
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of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 1333-1340.
Tick, N.T., van der Ende, J., & Verhulst, F.C. (2007).
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Tick, N.T., van der Ende, J., & Verhulst, F.C. (2008).
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