Pathways From ADHD to Delinquency

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Jackson Goodnight


The relationship between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and later externalizing behavior has yet to be fully understood within the context of interpersonal relationships and self-perception. This study examined whether parent-child relationship quality, deviant peer influence, and poor self-perception that follow from childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Problems (ADHP) explain why children with ADHP are at elevated risk for delinquency in adolescence. The study formally and comprehensively tested these pathways and addressed methodological limitations of past studies on this topic. I analyzed data from the offspring of a nationally representative sample, the Children of the National Survey of Youth (CNLSY), at three time points using maternal and child reports. Data were analyzed using multilevel path analysis to allow for sibling comparison and between-family tests. Parent-child relationship quality, deviant peer influence, and self-perception were examined as possible mediators of the link from childhood ADHP to adolescent delinquency. Results of this analysis failed to indicate that parent-child relationship quality, deviant peer influence, or self-perception mediate the relationship between ADHP and delinquency at the between or within level. However, delinquent peer influence was found to be predictive of later delinquency both when siblings were compared (within-family) and when children from different families (between-family) were compared. In addition, low levels of self-perception were predicted by earlier ADHP at the between-family level, and low self-perception predicted later delinquency at the within-family level. Although these findings did not support the hypothesized pathways from ADHP to delinquency via deviant peer influence, self-perception, and parent-child relationship quality, they suggest that self-perception and peer delinquency are risk factors for adolescent delinquency even when confounding due to family background is addressed. These findings suggest that risk for delinquency may be reduced by interventions that reduce exposure to deviant peers and/or improve self-perception.


Clinical Psychology, ADHD, delinquency, self-perception, peers, parenting

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