Parental depression, overreactivity, and emotional support during parent-adolescent conflict: An actor partner interdependence analysis
Curran, Timothy Michael
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Past research shows that a parent’s own depression is related to maladaptive communication during parent-adolescent conflict (Downey & Coyne, 1990; Wilson & Durbin, 2010). However, no research to date has also examined the relationship between a co-parent’s depressive symptoms and parent conflict communication. Thus, this dissertation investigated the relationship between both parents’ depressive symptoms and constructive and destructive parental communication during conflict with an adolescent child. First, this study examined the relationship between destructive parent conflict communication (i.e., overreactivity) and actor and partner reports of depression. Specifically, I examined two competing models testing the relationship between overreactivity and depression. The first model placed depression as the independent variable, whereas the second model placed overreactivity as the independent variable. Second, I tested both parents’ depression as predictors of constructive conflict communication (i.e., expressions of emotional support to children). Emotional support was measured using interaction data from 10-minute conflict interactions with parents and adolescent children. The hypotheses were tested using data from 180 mother-father dyads (N = 360) who had a child between 14 – 17 years old. The partner effects from the analysis showed that father depression was associated with decreased destructive communication and increased constructive communication in mothers. However, mother depression was associated with decreased constructive communication in fathers. The partner effects observed in this project suggest that mothers engage in prosocial communicative acts when fathers experience depressive symptoms, whereas fathers engage in less emotional support when mothers are depressed. Overall, the results from this project highlight that partner depressive symptoms predict parent behaviors towards adolescent children during conflict interactions in different directions. It seems that mothers may be buffering children from the negative effects of father depression by communicating with increased emotional support and lower overreactivity. On the other hand, mother depression is linked to lower emotional support from both parents. Overall, these results offer evidence that mother and father depressive symptoms may impact adolescent children differently depending on the co-parent’s communication behaviors. The practical and theoretical implications of these results are discussed in further detail.