Discrepancies between Perceptions of the Parent-Adolescent Relationship and Early Adolescent Depressive Symptoms

Stefanie A. Nelemans


Stefanie A. Nelemans, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, and KU Leuven, Belgium;
Susan Branje, Utrecht University, The Netherlands;
Bill Hale, Utrecht University, The Netherlands;
Luc Goossens, KU Leuven, Belgium;
Hans Koot, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
Tineke Oldehinkel, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands;
Wim Meeus, Utrecht University and Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Adolescence is a critical period for the development of depressive symptoms and lower quality of the parent-adolescent relationship has been consistently associated with higher levels of adolescent depressive symptoms. However, adolescents and their parents often differ in their views of the parent-adolescent relationship, especially in early adolescence. For example, adolescents tend to perceive the parent-adolescent relationship more negatively than their parents do. Such discrepancies between adolescents and parents in their perception of the parent-adolescent relationship may be particularly important to consider as a risk for the development of adolescent depressive symptoms. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed to examine how discrepancies in adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of the parent-adolescent relationship were associated with early adolescent depressive symptoms, both concurrently and longitudinally over a 1-year period.

Participants in this two-wave longitudinal community study were 497 adolescents (57% boys, Mage T1 = 13.03 years) and both parents, who all completed several questionnaires on two occasions with a 1-year interval. Adolescents reported on their depressive symptoms and all informants (i.e., adolescents, mothers, and fathers) reported on quality of the parent-adolescent relationship. Data are part of the young cohort of the Research on Adolescent Development and Relationships (RADAR) study. For our statistical analyses, we followed recent recommendations (Laird & De Los Reyes, 2013; see also Edwards, 1994, 2002) to use polynomial regression analysis including tests of moderation between perceptions of different informants rather than difference scores. Using interaction terms in regression analysis, we tested whether associations between adolescent-perceived quality of the parent-adolescent relationship and early adolescent depressive symptoms varied as a function of higher (or lower) mother/father-perceived quality of the parent-adolescent relationship.

Results and Conclusion
Results suggested the highest levels of concurrent early adolescent depressive symptoms when both mothers and adolescents reported low mother-adolescent relationship quality (i.e., a correspondence effect), but also when adolescents reported low father-adolescent relationship quality and fathers reported high father-adolescent relationship quality (i.e., a discrepancy effect). However, parent-adolescent correspondence or discrepancies were not significantly associated with changes in early adolescent depressive symptoms over a 1-year period, suggesting that associations appear to be more short-term than long-term. Altogether, the pattern of findings in our study suggest that using a more sophisticated methodology like polynomial regression analysis, rather than difference score analyses, can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of risk factors (in the parent-adolescent relationship) for early adolescent depressive symptoms.

Contact: stefanie.nelemans@kuleuven.be

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