Parental meta-emotion, attachment to parents, and personal agency in adolescents


Filipa Nunes, University of Porto, Portugal
Catarina Pinheiro Mota, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro; University of Porto, Portugal
Tiago Ferreira, University of Porto, Portugal
Ingrid Schoon, University College London, UK
Paula Mena Matos, University of Porto, Portugal


The capacity to shape one’s own life course is a great challenge but also an important resource for young people during adolescence. Although the importance of parents on adolescents’ development has long captured the attention of researchers, only a few studies sought to understand adolescent’s sense of personal agency in the family microcontext. The quality of the relationship between parents and adolescents and the way parents manage to help adolescents regulate their emotions may play an important role in the development of sense of personal agency.


Guided by attachment theory, we tested in the present study the links between parental emotion-coaching, attachment to parents, and adolescent’s sense of agency. Further, we examined a possible mediating role of adolescent’s attachment to parents in the association between parental emotion-coaching and adolescent’s sense of agency. All models controlled for cumulative psychosocial risk, and adolescents’ sex and age, and took into account the reports of both mothers and fathers. The sample included 501 families comprising adolescents, their mothers, and their fathers. Adolescents (ages ranged from 15 to 18) reported on their attachment to parents, sense of personal agency (using a new multidimensional assessment model), and cumulative psychosocial risk, whereas mothers and fathers independently completed a questionnaire assessing their meta-emotion skills.


The results indicate that both mothers’ and fathers’ emotional-coaching are positively associated with the quality of adolescent’s attachment to parents. Nonetheless, parental emotion-coaching is not directly associated with sense of agency. The quality of emotional bond with father is linked to a more positive sense of agency, while relationships characterized by mother’s inhibition of adolescent’s exploration and individuality are associated with less positive perceptions of agency. Parental emotion-coaching is associated with sense of personal agency through the quality of attachment to parents.


Although adolescence is characterized by the process of reorganizing the attachment network and the beginning of the separation–individuation process towards parents, our results highlight the importance of the emotional bond with parents and parental meta-emotion skills on the development of sense of agency. The present study highlights also an important differential pattern regarding the role of attachment to mother and father. The robustness of these findings is underlined by the inclusion of reports from both parental figures and adolescents, the use of a large sample, the testing of measurement invariance and by controlling for psychosocial risk factors, sex, and age of adolescents.


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