Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me: The development of friendships among adolescents who report verbal and emotional aggression by parents
Theoretical and empirical perspectives suggest that parental behaviors are closely associated with the development of friendships during adolescence. Through their interactions with parents, adolescents develop an understanding of themselves and others and learn specific patterns of behavior. Interactions with parents who utilize verbal and emotional aggression (e.g., insults, threats, love withdrawal) may thus place adolescents at risk for social difficulties with friends and other peers. The current study used observational data and multiple reporters to evaluate the relationship between verbal and emotional aggression and adolescent social development. Specifically, the primary goal of this study was to examine the role of parental aggression in predicting: (1) adolescent social acceptance, (2) adolescent social competence, (3) close friend characteristics, (4) the quality of friendships, and (5) positive friendships as a protective factor. Data were gathered from 178 adolescents, assessed annually at ages 13 and 14, in addition to their parents, friends, and peer group. Coded observations of adolescents and friends during supportive and conflict interaction tasks were conducted. As expected, adolescents receiving verbal and emotional aggression were less popular and more disliked by their peer group and described as more externalizing in their behavior. The close friends of aggressed adolescents were perceived as either less or more popular with the peer group, depending on the reporter. Adolescents in positive friendships were more likely to feel depressed when exposed to high verbal aggression by their fathers, as compared with adolescents in distant friendships. The majority of these results remained significant after accounting for other important parenting behaviors, including affection and attachment quality. Further, results were similar among adolescents experiencing the highest levels of verbal aggression in this community sample. Contrary to the hypotheses, there were no deficits in the interpersonal skills, close friendship qualities, or interaction behaviors of aggressed adolescents. Implications of these results are discussed in the context of prior research on the social functioning of verbally and physically abused adolescents. Suggestions for future research are provided in terms of prevention and intervention for psychological aggression, methodological issues, and aggressed adolescents' thoughts and feelings about intimate relationships.
0620: Developmental psychology
0451: Social psychology