Atkin, Sharon Doreen (2007). AN ANALOGUE STUDY OF PARENT-ADOLESCENT CONFLICT: PROCESSESS AND OUTCOMES PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, University of Queensland.

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Author Atkin, Sharon Doreen
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Patricia Noller
Abstract/Summary Conflict between parents and their adolescents has been widely acknowledged as a necessary forum for adolescents to develop their sense of self and make a successful transition into adulthood and as an important, and at times damaging, factor in adolescent adjustment. What constitute the negative and positive aspects of parentadolescent conflict and in what ways such interactions contribute to parent-adolescent relationships and adolescent adjustment is an important progression for such research. It would seem a positive step to begin with experimental investigations where aspects of parent-adolescent conflict communication can be controlled. Such an approach has a greater likelihood of providing information about which types of conflict are associated with which types of outcomes for adolescents and their families. The purpose of this study was to investigate specific styles of parent-adolescent conflict (coercion, demand/withdraw and mutuality) and the processes that link such conflict with parent-adolescent relationships and adolescent adjustment. An analogue approach was incorporated to capture the dynamics of the differing conflict styles (audio-tapes of simulated parent-adolescent conflict discussions), along with questionnaire approaches in regard to conflict behaviour. Participants were 58 two-parent family triads (mother, father, adolescent) and 27 singlemother family dyads (mother, adolescent). The adolescents were aged 12 to 16 years. Participants responded to questionnaires relating to their perceptions of, and affective responses to, the taped discussions. Family relationships were assessed in terms of the affection in their relationships, and parenting behavior (psychological control; behavioural control and acceptance). Adolescent adjustment was assessed in terms of internalising and externalising behavior and self-esteem. The validity of using an analogue method for research into parent-adolescent conflict was supported. In general, participants were able to identify the characteristics of the conflict styles and discriminate between them. The mutual style was perceived as the most likely to be resolved and the least likely to get worse, and the coercive style was perceived as the least likely to be resolved and the most likely to get worse. These results were more marked for the two-parent family members, as compared to the participants from single-mother families, who discriminated less between the styles. Based on an adaptation of Grych and Finchams’ Cognitive Contextual framework, it was proposed that adolescents’ understanding and experience of parent-adolescent conflict would be associated with their perceptions of their relationships with their parents which would in turn lead to particular adjustment outcomes. It was also proposed that for adolescents, either typically experiencing negative conflict interactions with their parents, or experiencing heightened negative affect during conflict interactions, would be associated with poorer relationships with their parents, which in turn would be associated with less positive adjustment outcomes. Mediation analyses allowing for multiple mediators were conducted. Results indicated that in the two-parent families, mothers’ and adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships mediated the associations between the typicality of the mother-adolescent coercive discussions and adolescent externalising behaviour and self-esteem. Also, fathers’ and adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships mediated the associations between the typicality of father-demands/adolescent-withdraws conflict and adolescents’ internalising and externalising behavior and self-esteem. There were no such associations found for the level of reported affect in relation to the taped discussions. Conversely, for the single-mother families, the typicality of the taped discussion did not show strong associations with mother-adolescent relationships and adolescent adjustment; however, perceptions of relationship quality mediated the relations between the level of affective response to the conflict and adolescent adjustment. Specifically, adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships mediated the associations between the adolescents’ levels of anger for single-mother-demands/adolescent-withdraws discussions and adolescents’ internalising behaviour. These adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships with their single mothers also mediated the associations between adolescents’ expectation that the mother-demands/adolescent-withdraws discussions would get worse and their self esteem. These results were discussed in terms of the current literature and the future directions of research into parent-adolescent conflict. The associations between parent-adolescent conflict, family relationships and adolescent adjustment in two-parent families revealed that the conflict dynamics that were associated with family relationships and adolescent adjustment were different for mother-adolescent and father-adolescent conflict. Results also indicated that single-mothers and their adolescents perceive conflict differently from married mothers and their adolescents. Future investigations could be aimed at exploring differences in conflict processes and outcomes between married mothers and fathers with their adolescents and married mothers and single-mothers with their adolescents in more detail, and with larger samples.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 16:01:05 EST