Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Transmission of Familial Boundary Dissolution: Observations and Psychosocial Outcomes in Adolescence

Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Transmission of Familial Boundary Dissolution: Observations and Psychosocial Outcomes in Adolescence

Article excerpt

This study investigated the transmission of boundary dissolution (BD) in parent-child relationships from parental behaviors observed in early childhood to adolescent behaviors observed at age 13 and relations to adolescent psychosocial adaptation. The goals of the study are (a) to examine the developmental relation of early childhood BD to several measures of adolescent BD observed in 13-year-olds ' behavior, (b) to compare two types of BD in adolescence and their associations with early childhood BD and subsequent psychosocial outcomes, and (c) to test the mediating role of adolescent BD between early childhood BD and later adolescent functioning. Participants were drawn from a study of 196 children followed since birth. Two forms of adolescent BD, role equalization and sexualized behavior, were observed during parent-adolescent structured interactions. Early BD childhood predicted observations of adolescent BD. Role equalization mediated relations to self-worth and externalizing problems. Implications regarding multiple types of adolescent BD are discussed.

Key Words: boundary dissolution, developmental psychopathology, family systems, parent-adolescent relationships.

Boundary dissolution (BD) is a broad term that refers to instances in which the roles of parent and child become blurred, distorted, or even reversed. Many terms have been used to describe BD, such as parentification, intrusiveness, and enmeshment (Kerig, 2005), reflecting the ways in which parent-child boundaries can be disturbed. These disturbances in family relations are not uncommon; very little empirical research, however, has addressed the implications of BD for later adaptation. This study prospectively assesses psychosocial outcomes of multiple types of BD that occur in childhood and early adolescence. In doing so, the present study expands the developmental study of this family process from early development to boundary problems that occur during early adolescence, an age period that represents a transitional stage in parent-child relationships. As adolescence is a time of increasing autonomy, the renegotiation of parent-child boundaries may be particularly salient during this age period.

BD has primarily been understood with reference to family systems theory, which presents an organized view of the interdependence of family members and family relationships (Cox & Paley, 1997; Parke, 2004). In particular, family systems theory specifies the role of clear intergenerational boundaries as integral to healthy family functioning (Kerig, 2005). A family system comprises multiple subsystems, such as the spousal subsystem or parent-child subsystem, and the boundaries between these subsystems are often conceptualized as the operating rules that define interaction within and among subsystems (Minuchin, 1974). BD is not usually a transient phenomenon; an early history of BD has been shown to persist in family relationships over multiple years (e.g., Sroufe, Jacobvitz, Mangelsdorf, DeAngelo, & Ward, 1985). Shortterm continuity has also been demonstrated in adolescence, as measures of parentification were shown to be stable over the course of 1 year in a recent study (Peris, Goeke-Morey, Cummings, & Emery, 2008). No previously published research has established the continuity of BD from early childhood to adolescence as it is transmitted from parent behavior to the behavior of the adolescent.

Experiences of BD are associated with negative outcomes for children, both in the short term as well as over time (Kerig, 2005; McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Sroufe et al., 1985). Externalizing problems have been consistently related to histories of BD in family relationships (e.g., Jacobvitz & Sroufe, 1987; Jouriles & Norwood, 1995). Using prospective developmental data, Carlson, Jacobvitz, and Sroufe (1995) demonstrated that intrusive/overstimulating maternal parenting behavior during infancy and early childhood, including the dissolution of physical and psychological boundaries in the motherchild relationship, was related to increased hyperactivity in middle childhood. …

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