Parent-Adolescent Conflict and Adolescent Antisocial and Arosocial Behavior: A Longitudinal Study in a Chinese Context

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ABSTRACT

This longitudinal study examined the relationships between parent-adolescent conflict and antisocial and prosocial behavior in Chinese adolescents. Results showed that father-adolescent conflict and mother-adolescent conflict were concurrently related to adolescent antisocial and prosocial behavior. Longitudinal analyses showed that parent-adolescent conflict predicted antisocial behavior but not prosocial behavior. Adolescent antisocial and prosocial behavior was also found to be related to father-adolescent conflict across time. The findings suggest that the linkage between father-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior is stronger than that between mother-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior.

Theorists have proposed that conflict within the family plays an important role in shaping child and adolescent development, and parent-adolescent conflict is widely recognized by clinicians as an etiological factor in adolescent maladjustment (e.g., Foster & Robin, 1988; Hall, 1987). However, there has been limited research on the links between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent development. As noted by Rubenstein and Feldman (1993), "it is not known to what extent adolescent behavioral and emotional disorders are a function of the amount of conflict in the family" (p. 43).

A survey of the literature on parent-adolescent conflict shows it to be related to adolescent maladjustment, including depression (Forehand, Brody, Slotkin, Fauber, McCombs, & Long, 1988), injuries (Bijur, Kurzon, Hamelsky, & Power, 1991), unacceptable behavior (Tomlinson, 1991), problem behavior at school and academic performance (Forehand, Long, Brody, & Fauber, 1986), and anxiety and self-esteem problems (Slater & Haber, 1984). Studies have also found extensive parentchild conflict in the homes of disturbed children (Reich, Earls, & Powell, 1988) and runaway adolescents (Adams, Gullotta, & Clancy, 1985; Justice & Duncan, 1976).

There are several limitations to past studies on the linkage between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent development. First, these studies have mainly investigated the psychological well-being of adolescents, with few examining the relationship between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior. Second, the research on social behavior has primarily focused on the relationship between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescents' antisocial behavior; little attention has been paid to their prosocial behavior (Chase-Lansdale Wakschlag, & Brooks-Gunn, 1995). Only a few studies (e.g., Ma, Shek, Cheung, & Lee, 1996; Shek, Ma, & Cheung, 1994) have examined adolescent social relations, antisocial behavior, and prosocial behavior simultaneously. Third, few studies have been conducted on the direction of influences between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior. As noted by Cox and Paley (1997), empirical evidence is sparse with respect to the relationships among systemic function ing, dyadic relationships, and individual behavior in the family.

Regarding the direction of influences between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior, there are at least five possibilities: (1) parent-adolescent conflict influences adolescent social behavior; (2) adolescent social behavior influences parent-adolescent conflict; (3) parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior influence each other (i.e., bidirectional influence between the two domains); (4) parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent social behavior do not influence each other; and (5) the relationship between the two domains is spurious. Studies have primarily been guided by the first possibility, assuming that increased parent-adolescent conflict is conducive to negative social behavior in adolescents. In contrast, there has been much less research examining the second possibility (i.e., that adolescent social behavior is an antecedent of parent-adolescent conflict), and findings have been interpreted in terms of the influence of parent-adolescent conflict on antisocial behav ior (e. …