The role of pragmatics in mediating the relationship between social disadvantage and adolescent behavior.


Objective: The relationship between social disadvantage, behavior, and communication in childhood is well established. Less is known about how these 3 interact across childhood and specifically whether pragmatic language skills act as a mediator between early social disadvantage and adolescent behavior. Method: The sample was the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a representative birth cohort initially recruited in England in 1991/1992 and followed through to adolescence and beyond. Of the original 13,992 live births, data were available for 2926 children at 13 years. Univariable analysis was first used to identify sociodemographic and other predictors of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) at 13 years. The mediational role of the pragmatics scale of the Children’s Communication Checklist (CCC) at 9 years was then tested, controlling for age, gender, and IQ. Results: There was evidence of both a direct effect from social disadvantage (path C9) to SDQ Total Behavior Score at 13 years (-.205; p < .001) and an indirect effect from social disadvantage to SDQ Total (-.225; p < .001) after adjusting for the CCC pragmatics scale as a mediator. The latter represents a reduction in the magnitude of the unadjusted effect or 'total effect' (-.430), demonstrating that the pragmatics scale partially mediates the relationship of early social disadvantage and adolescent behavior (even after controlling for other covariates). The same relationship held for all but the pro-social subscale of the SDQ. Conclusion: The results provide evidence to suggest that there maybe a causal relationship between these variables, suggesting that interventions targeting pragmatic skills have the potential to reduce adolescent behavioral symptoms.