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Cross-ethnic examination of parenting behaviors in clinically anxious mothers and their relation to youth mental health status


Youth anxiety is highly prevalent, distressing, and impairing. Parenting behaviors, including high control (psychological and behavioral) and low acceptance, have been implicated as risk factors for the development and maintenance of youth anxiety. Little is known about parenting and anxiety in Latino families. Given cultural differences in family orientation, it is plausible that the influence of parenting behaviors on youth mental health functioning may be culture-specific. The goal of this dissertation was to illuminate psychosocial processes that may serve to transmit anxiety from mother to child and to assess the potential of nonequivalent pathways in non-Hispanic White (NHW) and Latino (LA) youths. Three broad questions were probed : (1) Do parenting behaviors differ between anxious NHW and LA mothers? (2) Are parenting behaviors of anxious mothers associated with youth anxiety, depression, or somatic symptoms? (3) Does the influence of maternal behaviors on youth internalizing symptoms vary by ethnicity? To evaluate these questions, this dissertation examined youth report on three dimensions of maternal parenting behaviors (psychological control [PC], firm control [FC], and acceptance [AC]) and their association to youth internalizing symptoms in the children (ages 7 to 15) of clinically anxious NHW and LA mothers (N = 28 dyads; 17 NHW and 11 LA). In this sample, LA mothers were rated by their children as higher in PC. Significant group differences in maternal FC and AC did not emerge. Across groups, increased PC was associated with decreased anxiety per parent and youth reports, and decreased AC was associated with increased somatic and depressive symptoms by some reports. The associations between PC and AC and youth internalizing symptoms were moderated by ethnicity. Specifically, a) maternal PC was positively associated with youth-reported somatic symptoms for LA, but not NHW youths, b) AC was negatively associated with parent-reported youth anxiety symptoms in NHW, but not LA, youths, and (c) AC was negatively associated with youth-reported depressive symptoms for NHW, but not LA, youths. Broadly, results suggests that, as predicted, ethnic groups differ in parenting strategies and the influence of parenting behaviors on youth emotional functioning may vary by cultural context. Clinical and research implications of findings are discussed

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