Parents can support their adolescent child’s psychosocial development by a parenting style which is warm and involved, firm and consistent, and which grants psychological autonomy (the freedom to have one’s own thoughts and feelings). Psychological autonomy granting is regarded as particularly beneficial for the prevention of anxiety, depression, or other kinds of internalizing distress (McLeod, et al., 2007; Steinberg, 2001). However, longitudinal research has produced mixed evidence (Birmaher, et al., 2000; Colarossi & Eccles, 2003; Galambos et al., 2003; Steinberg, et al., 1994). Even less is known on long-term effects into young adulthood. Besides parental behaviors, also the parent-adolescent relationship might be important. Teens who feel close to their parents and who communicate frequently with them might experience a “secure base” which protects against depression and fosters the children’s well-being even in the future. Thus, this study examined reciprocal effects between parenting styles (psychological control and affection) and the parent-adolescent relationship (felt closeness to and communication with parents) and emotional, social and psychological well-being, and depression.
This study used the 2002, 2005, and 2007 waves of an ongoing longitudinal study, representative for the USA. Out of 1,319 adolescents aged 11-19 in 2002, 575 young adults, then 18-22 years old were re-interviewed in 2005. By 2007, more adolescents had reached young adulthood, thus, 878 young adults of age 18-24 were re-interviewed in 2007. Also 224 of the originally youngest adolescents were re-interviewed in 2007 as a separate sample. Parenting styles were assessed in the adolescent data collections 2002 and 2007, and parent-child relationships and well-being at all occasions.
Albeit adolescents’ perceptions of mothers’ and fathers’ parenting styles were highly correlated, specific effects on well-being occurred in cross-lagged regression analyses. Maternal psychological control in 2002 predicted lowered levels of emotional and social well-being and elevated levels of depression in 2005 (β’s = -.10, -.08, and .11, resp.). In part, these effects were found even after five years in 2007. Maternal support did not have any significant effects. For fathers, only one effect was found, of psychological control 2002 on depressive symptoms 2007 (β = .08). Measures of the parent-adolescent relationship did not predict well-being, with the exception of communication to mothers in 2002 which predicted emotional well-being in 2005.
In the opposite direction of effects, depression predicted maternal psychological control five years later (β = .18, p = .023), despite the smaller sample of still adolescent respondents. Also some effects of parenting and of well-being on the parent-young adult relationship occurred.
In conclusion, advice to parents might focus on how to avoid psychologically controlling behaviors, especially for mothers were these might conflict most with North-American gender roles. Future research should investigate why such detrimental behaviors occur in response to adolescents’ emotional problems. That parental support as a general style proved unimportant does not mean that support never would be needed: It might be that in key situations of danger or adolescent problems, adolescents need the impression that parents care, and not only abstain from psychological control (Olsson & Wik, 2009).
Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting, Montreal, Canada, March 30–April 2, 2011
The Panel Study of Income Dynamics is primarily sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Aging, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and is conducted by the University of Michigan.