Children’s reasoning about disclosing adult transgressions: Effects of maltreatment, child age, and adult identity


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299 4- to 9-year-old maltreated and non-maltreated children of comparable socioeconomic status and ethnicity judged whether children should or would disclose unspecified transgressions of adults (instigators) to other adults (recipients) in scenarios varying the identity of the instigator (stranger or parent), the identity of the recipient (parent, police, or teacher), and the severity of the transgression (“something really bad” or “something just a little bad”). By 4 to 5 years, children endorsed more disclosure against stranger than parent instigators, and less disclosure to teacher than parent and police recipients. The youngest maltreated children endorsed less disclosure than non-maltreated children, but the opposite was true among the oldest children. Older maltreated children distinguished less than non-maltreated children between parents and other types of instigators and recipients. The findings provide insight into children’s developing attitudes about adult transgression secrecy and how those attitudes may be shaped by adverse familial experiences.


Law and Psychology

Date of this Version

February 2010

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