Does Mother Know Best? Adolescent and Mother Reports of Impulsivity and Subsequent Delinquency

Jordan Bechtold, Caitlin Cavanagh, Elizabeth P. Shulman, Elizabeth Cauffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Although impulsivity is one of the strongest psychological predictors of crime, it is unclear how well impulsivity, measured at a specific moment in adolescence, predicts criminal behavior months or years into the future. The present study investigated how far into the future self-reports and parents’ reports of a youth’s impulsivity predicted whether he engaged in illegal behavior, whether one reporter’s assessment was more predictive than the other’s, and whether there is value in obtaining multiple reports. Data were obtained from a 6-year longitudinal study of adjudicated juvenile offenders (n = 701 mother-son dyads). Youth (m = 15.93 years old; sd = 1.14) and their mothers independently reported on adolescents’ impulsivity at the initial assessment. We examined the prospective correlation of these measures with illegal behavior, assessed by official records of arrests and youths’ self-reports of offending across the 72-month study period. Youths’ and mothers’ reports of the adolescents’ impulsivity were weakly, but significantly, correlated with one another. Furthermore, mothers’ ratings of their sons’ impulsivity predicted arrest up to 6 years into the future, whereas youths’ reports did not significantly predict arrest beyond 30 months. With respect to youths’ self-reports of offending, mothers’ ratings of impulsivity again predicted farther into the future (as late as 6 years later) than did youths’ self-reports of impulsivity, which were not predictive beyond 4 years. However, across the first 4 years, youths’ self-reports of impulsivity explained more variance in self-reported offending than did mothers’ ratings. The results underscore the endurance of the predictive utility of an assessment of impulsivity and the importance (and accuracy) of parents’ reports of developmental constructs, even when their children are adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1903-1913
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of youth and adolescence
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 9 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Delinquency
  • Impulsivity
  • Parental reports
  • Risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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