Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Adolescent Triangulation into Parental Conflicts: Longitudinal Implications for Appraisals and Adolescent-Parent Relations

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Adolescent Triangulation into Parental Conflicts: Longitudinal Implications for Appraisals and Adolescent-Parent Relations

Article excerpt

Although triangulation into parental conflict is a risk factor for child and adolescent maladjustment, little is known about how triangulation affects adolescents' functioning or the factors that lead children to be drawn into parental disagreements. This prospective study examined the relations between triangulation, appraisals of conflict, and parent-child relations in a sample of 171 adolescents, ages 14 to 19 years, at 2 time points. Cross-lagged path analyses revealed that youths who experienced greater threat in response to conflict reported increases in triangulation over time, and triangulation was associated with increased self-blame and diminished parent-adolescent relations. This study highlights links between intrapersonal, dyadic, and triadic processes and suggests a mechanism by which interparental discord spills over into parent-adolescent relations.

Key Words: cognition, fathers, interparental conflict, longitudinal method, mothers, parent-adolescent relations.

Family systems theory offers a framework for investigating how broader patterns of family interaction influence the effects of interparental conflict on children (Davies, Harold, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2002; El-Sheikh & Elmore-Staton, 2004; Grych, Raynor, & Fosco, 2004). The process of triangulation in particular has been highlighted by family theorists and researchers (Buchanan & Waizenhofer, 2001; Buehler, Lange, & Franck, 2007; Grych et al., 2004) because chronic, unresolved interparental discord can strain the coparental relationship and lead to children being drawn into parental conflict in an effort to resolve it or diffuse the resulting tension (Minuchin, 1974). Triangulation has been found to mediate the association between interparental conflict and child adjustment problems (Buehler et al.; Fosco & Grych, 2008), but little is known about the factors that predict when children will be triangulated or how being drawn into parental conflict leads to maladjustment.

Explicating the links between intrapersonal, dyadic, and triadic factors associated with child adjustment is an important step toward building more comprehensive models that explain how witnessing parental discord affects youths' development. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to investigate relations between triangulation into parental disagreements and two processes shown to be pathways through which interparental conflict affects youths' functioning: adolescents' appraisals of conflict and the quality of parent-child relationships. We measured triangulation as adolescent's subjective sense of feeling drawn into or caught in the middle of parental discord and utilized a short-term longitudinal design to investigate the associations between triangulation and two sets of mediators related to adolescent outcomes: (a) appraisals of threat, self-blame, and coping efficacy and (b) conflict and closeness in youths' relationship with each parent. Next, we provide the conceptual rationale for expecting triangulation to be associated with conflict appraisals and parent-adolescent relationships.

Triangulation and Adolescents ' Appraisals of Interparental Conflict

According to the cognitive-contextual framework (Grych & Fincham, 1990), children exposed to interparental conflict attempt to understand how the discord will affect them (threat), what they can do about the conflict (coping), and who is responsible for it (blame). Their appraisals are proposed to mediate the impact of conflict on their adjustment, and a recent metaanalysis confirmed that threat, coping, and blame appraisals consistently are linked with internalizing and externalizing problems (Rhoades, 2008). Children's conflict appraisals also are shaped by contextual factors that include broader patterns of interaction in the family. Being triangulated into parental disagreements is likely to make the conflict more threatening to children because they may become the target of parental hostility or aggression or feel torn between their loyalties toward each parent. …

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