Early Adverse Childhood Experiences and Positive Functioning during Adolescence

Publication Year


Journal Article

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been shown to have consequences for adolescent development, yet little is known about the association between ACEs and positive functioning. Positive functioning evaluates engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness, and happiness, which are intimately related to pro-social behavior. As skills associated with sociability in adolescence often carry on into adulthood, understanding the developmental origins in inequalities in pro-social behavior, as measured by positive functioning, is key to ensuring equitable life chances across the life course. Subsequently, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS; n = 3444) was used to examine how early exposure to cumulative ACEs, plus the timing and duration of those ACEs may be associated with positive functioning development in adolescence. The sample consisted of urban-born youth (49% female) with the mean age of 15. Racial/ethnic breakdown of the sample is 18% non-Hispanic White, 49% non-Hispanic Black, 25% Hispanic, and 8% “Other”. Overall, estimates suggest that roughly 88% of these youth experienced at least one ACE by age five. The findings indicate that cumulation, timing, and duration of early ACEs are related to overall adolescent positive functioning and four out of the five domains (perseverance, optimism, connectedness, and happiness), even after controlling for more recent ACEs. This study highlights the critical impact of very early ACEs on youth positive functioning, which may confer further physical, mental, and social disadvantages into adulthood. Positive functioning can serve as a protective factor against some of the negative consequences of adversity, and ensuring that all families receive proper supports may limit the lifelong effects of adversity, and most importantly, prevent ACEs from occurring in the first place.

Journal of Youth and Adolescence