Marital conflict and adolescent distress: the role of adolescent awareness

Child Dev. 1997 Apr;68(2):333-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb01943.x.


The present longitudinal study (1989-1991) of seventh-grade adolescents (173 boys, 197 girls; M age = 12.7 in 1989) living in the rural Midwest examined the influence of children's awareness of marital conflict and reported level of parental hostility on symptoms of adolescent distress. The theoretical model guiding the research indirectly linked marital conflict to adolescent perceptions of parents' hostility through the mediating effects of parents' and observers' report of hostility toward the adolescent and through adolescent awareness of the frequency of interparental conflict. Controlling for earlier levels of psychological distress, we hypothesized a direct path between adolescent report of parent hostility and adolescent maladjustment. Maximum likelihood estimation of the proposed model showed that marital conflict was significantly related to parents' and observers' reports of parent hostility toward the adolescent and to adolescent awareness of conflict frequency. Both parent hostility and adolescent awareness of the frequency of marital conflicts were significantly related to adolescent perceptions of parent hostility. When controlled for earlier distress, adolescent report of parent hostility significantly predicted the later internalizing and externalizing symptoms of these teenagers. The model predicted externalizing problems for boys but not girls. Otherwise, there were no gender differences in the postulated causal processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acting Out
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Awareness*
  • Child
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Hostility
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychology, Adolescent*