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Parenting and Adolescents’ Friendship Competence

March 26, 2013

In a  longitudinal study “examin[ing] the unique effects of hostile and psychologically controlling parenting behaviors on adolescents’ friendship competence,” Emily C. Cook, Cheryl Buehler and Anne C. Fletcher write:

Friendship competence is a critically important developmental task for adolescents (Roisman, Masten, Coatsworth, & Tellegen, 2004). Competencies needed to maintain friendships during adolescence differ somewhat from competencies needed to maintain relationships with childhood friends and may be more similar to those needed in adult relationships (Engels, Finkenauer, Meeus, & Dekovic, 2001). Friendship competence during adolescence includes establishing intimacy, giving and receiving support, and managing conflict (Burleson, 1995). Adolescents who have difficulty mastering these competencies are at risk for psychosocial problems during adolescence (Allen, Porter, & McFarland, 2006; Hussong, 2000) and for problems with accomplishing important developmental tasks during young adulthood (Roisman et al., 2004).” (p.461)

Cook, Buehler and Fletcher continue: “Adolescents’ relationships with parents are important predictors of friendship competence (Cui, Conger, Bryant, & Elder, 2002; Engels et al., 2001). Parenting behaviors employed during early adolescence may have a particularly important influence on youths’ ability to accomplish developmental tasks during early and middle adolescence (Galambos, Barker, & Almeida, 2003). Surprisingly, few researchers have directly examined whether parenting behaviors during the transition to early adolescence, as opposed to parenting during childhood, are important predictors of youths’ ability to form competent friendships by middle adolescence. Furthermore, with the exception of Cui et al. (2002), few studies have examined processes by which parenting affects adolescents’ friendships. Two important factors that might explain why parenting affects friendship competence are behavioral characteristics of youth (i.e., externalizing behaviors) and cognitions that adolescents have about relationships (i.e., emotional insecurity). To address these significant gaps in the literature, this study tests a prospective model that suggests negative parenting behaviors during early adolescence are associated with adolescents’ friendship competence during middle adolescence through their relations with youth externalizing problems and/or perceptions of emotional security with parents. Examining this model contributes to the literature in two important ways: (a) by examining the unique effects of two parenting behaviors in early adolescence on adolescents’ ability to develop competent friendships during middle adolescence; and (b) by examining two processes by which parenting may affect friendship competence.” (p.462)

Youths’ Emotional Insecurity

Under the above title, the authors explain: “Emotional insecurity with parents may affect adolescents’ capacities to form competent relationships with friends (Bowlby, 1988; Ducharme et al., 2002). Emotional security is defined as individuals’ feelings or appraisals that they can trust in, and be supported by, an attachment figure and is thought to guide individuals’ cognitions and expectancies of self and others in interpersonal relationships (Ainsworth, 1989). Emotional security, as measured in the current study with adolescents’ perceptions of communication, alienation, and trust, has been used by others to represent attachment (El-Sheikh & Elmore-Staton, 2004; Engels et al., 2001), relational schemas (Smith, Welsh, & Fite, 2010), and parent–child relationship quality (Linder, Crick, & Collins, 2002). Theoretically, the development of emotional security with a caregiver affects relationships with peers by providing a secure base that supports exploration of the social environment and by affecting relationships with friends through individuals’ cognitions about security in relationships (Kerns, 1998). Adolescents who have strained relationships with parents may find it difficult to negotiate new developmental tasks, such as developing supportive friendships, because they do not have a secure base to rely upon when encountering new arenas (Ainsworth, 1989; Call & Mortimer, 2001). Furthermore, adolescents’ perceptions of parents as a supportive and available resource may affect the development of emotional security that governs feelings about parents, self, how they expect to be treated, and how they plan to behave in future interactions with others such as friends or romantic partners (Davies & Cummings, 1994; Weimer, Kerns, & Oldenburg, 2004).” (p.464)

Explaining this study more succinctly, Cook, Buehler and Fletcher write:

There is accumulating evidence that negative parenting behaviors affect youths’ friendship competence during adolescence. However, the processes by which parenting affects adolescents’ friendship competence are not understood. The findings from the current study make a significant contribution to understanding why adolescents have trouble in friendships.
Accordingly, the current study tests two important hypotheses:
(1) Parental hostility and parental psychological control during early adolescence are associated negatively with adolescents’ friendship competence during middle adolescence.
(2) Adolescents’ externalizing problems and emotional insecurity with parents fully mediate the prospective associations between negative parenting behaviors and adolescents’ friendship competence.” (p.465)

In their discussion, they write:

“Parents help shape adolescents’ behavioral and social development (Collins & Laursen, 2004). Yet, few studies have examined the prospective relationship between parenting behaviors during early adolescence and friendship competence with agemates during middle adolescence, a developmental period within which friendships are central. Even fewer researchers have examined why these links might exist. The current study addressed these gaps and found that psychological control but not parental hostility was associated with adolescents’ friendship competence and that when both mediators were included in the model, emotional insecurity was the only intervening variable that explained the relationship between parenting and adolescents’ friendship competence. This focus on uncovering the mechanisms by which parenting affects friendship competence is important for informing theory and practice regarding interpersonal relationships during adolescence.” (p.474)

“These findings suggested that psychological control partly predicted friendship competence, because it contributed to adolescents’ externalizing problems, which then lead to problems with friendship competence.
One potential explanation is that adolescents who experience psychological control may have learned behavioral tendencies through interactions with parents, which might impair conflict management (i.e., use of relational aggression and frequency of conflict) and supportiveness in close friendships. Parental hostility also was indirectly associated with friendship competence, suggesting that although it was not directly associated with friendship competence during middle adolescence, it was associated with adolescents’ externalizing problems, which created difficulties with friendship competence. The finding that parental psychological control and parental hostility exert an influence on friendship competence through externalizing problems is consistent with past research suggesting that parents affect adolescents’ social development through the transmission of behavior patterns learned in the context of the family to new social environments (Capaldi & Clark, 1998; Cui et al., 2002). Our findings extend past research by highlighting the deleterious nature of intrusive control patterns within families that might then transcend familial boundaries into youths’ social relationships with friends.” (p.475)

Emotional insecurity also was an important explanatory mechanism. As expected, the relationship between psychological control and friendship competence was fully mediated by emotional insecurity. Parental hostility was indirectly associated with friendship competence through emotional insecurity. These findings contribute to the growing body of research that suggests parents indirectly affect certain aspects of adolescents’ adjustment through important transmission mechanisms, emotional insecurity, and that during adolescence one reason that parenting behaviors are important to friendship development is because they may affect youths’ cognitions about relationships that are applied to interactions with friends. Furthermore, adolescents who feel more insecurely connected to parents may feel that they can not trust and rely on their parents for support, and thus they have more trouble developing new skills needed for friendship competence.” (p.475)

Cook, Buehler and Fletcher’s results also suggested that “adolescents’ cognitions [-p.476] about relationships may be more important than the behaviors that adolescents’ enact within relationships.” (pp.475-476) The authors observe that “Future studies should replicate these findings, as well as examine other possible intervening variables such as rejection sensitivity and self-efficacy.” (p.476)

They also acknowledge that: “The generalizability of findings may be influenced by characteristics of the sample. Participants represented married families of largely European-American descent. Thus, these results may not be applicable to adolescents from different ethnic groups and family structures. To date, few studies have examined whether adolescents’ friendship processes differ based on ethnicity or family structure. Tangential research suggests that the effect of parenting behaviors on adolescents’ adjustment varies by ethnicity (Avenevoli, Sessa, & Steinberg, 1999; Collins & Laursen, 2004). Given that psychological control emerged as the primary parenting predictor of adolescents’ friendship competence, it will be especially important to examine whether this parenting behavior is as detrimental to the friendship competence of youth of other ethnicities and those having various family structures.” (p.477)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Emily C. Cook, Cheryl Buehler and Anne C. Fletcher (2012) A Process Model of Parenting and Adolescents’ Friendship Competence. Social Development, 21, 3, pp.461-481

This study examined the prospective relationship between negative parenting behaviors and adolescents’ friendship competence in a community sample of 416 two-parent families in the Southeastern USA. Adolescents’ externalizing problems and their emotional insecurity with parents were examined as mediators. Parents’ psychological control was uniquely associated with adolescents’ friendship competence. When both mediators were included in the same model, adolescents’ perceptions of emotional insecurity in the parent–adolescent relationship fully mediated the association between parents’ psychological control and adolescents’ friendship competence. Parental hostility was associated with friendship competence indirectly through adolescents’ emotional insecurity. Results contribute to identifying the mechanisms by which parenting affects youths’ friendship competence, which is important in informing theory and practice regarding interpersonal relationships in adolescence.


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