Positive Childhood Experiences and Positive Adult Functioning: Prosocial Continuity and the Role of Adolescent Substance Use



      To examine positive childhood experiences as predictors of positive adult functioning, including civic involvement, productivity and responsibility, interpersonal connection, and physical exercise; and to examine adolescent substance use as a mediator of prosocial continuity.


      A total of 429 rural participants were interviewed across seven waves from age 11 to 22 years. Structural equation models examined the relationship between positive childhood experiences and adult functioning, with adolescent substance use added to each model as a possible mediating mechanism.


      Positive childhood experiences predicted significantly better adult functioning for each model, even after accounting for adolescent substance use. Positive childhood experiences also consistently predicted significantly less adolescent substance use. In turn, adolescent substance use predicted significantly less civic involvement and less productivity and responsibility, but was not associated with interpersonal connection or physical exercise when accounting for childhood experiences. Results were largely consistent across gender and levels of family income.


      Findings show the enduring importance of positive childhood experiences in predicting positive functioning in early adulthood. Although adolescent substance use increased risk for poorer functioning in important domains of adult life, results suggest that positive experiences in late childhood continued to have a significant prosocial effect into young adulthood. The study also highlights the late elementary grades as a time when parents, teachers, and others can potentially have a large influence in proactively providing prosocial opportunities for children.


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