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Parent Responses to Adolescent Emotions in a Triadic Family Context: Associations with Interparental Relationship Quality and Adolescent Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms


Family systems theory posits that it is impossible to dissociate the quality of family relationships from children’s and adolescents’ social and emotional development. Previous research demonstrates that adolescents’ psychological health is influenced by the way parents respond to their adolescents’ emotions and by the quality of the interparental relationship. However, few studies have examined associations between parental responses to adolescent emotions and adolescent psychological health in a triadic family context. The present study examined how parents’ responses to adolescents’ emotions in a triadic family context are associated with adolescent depressive and anxiety symptoms and interparental relationship quality. Fifty-two families participated in the present study when the children were in 9th grade. Results showed that adolescents who expressed more negative emotion tended to have more depressive and anxiety symptoms. Consistent with hypotheses, mothers who were more likely to respond to adolescents’ negative emotions with validation/interest reported higher couple communication quality. Also consistent with hypotheses, fathers who were more likely to respond to adolescents’ positive and negative emotions negatively reported lower interparental relationship quality. In addition, fathers who were more likely to respond to adolescents’ positive emotions with validation/interest reported better interparental relationship quality. The current study moves beyond the dyadic characterization of parental responsiveness to adolescents’ emotions. Findings from this work have implications for developing informed interventions to focus on influences of the whole family picture rather than on a single parent’s relationship with the adolescent.

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