Psychosocial Adjustment in Adolescence: The Importance of the Family Ecology

Open Access
Baril, Megan E
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 20, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Ann Caverly Crouter, Committee Chair
  • Susan Marie Mc Hale, Committee Member
  • Jennifer Lianne Maggs, Committee Member
  • D Wayne Osgood, Committee Member
  • Christy Buchanan, Committee Member
  • family relationships
  • well-being
  • adolescence
Adolescence is a period of development associated with a host of biological, psychological, cognitive, and social changes, and it has been widely acknowledged that the family is a persistent and powerful context in which these changes occur. To further understand the links between the family ecology and youth well-being, each of the three studies comprising this dissertation examined how distinct aspects of family ecology were related to youths’ psychosocial adjustment. Study 1 used a sample of high school students from the National Study of Adolescent Health (N = 7,786) to identify patterns of positive development and examine the role family capital played in these patterns. A four-profile solution revealed Average, High Self-Esteem, Below Average, and High Achiever Profiles. Multinomial logistic regressions revealed that parent human and economic capital predicted increased odds of being in the High Achiever Profile, and social capital predicted increased odds of being in the High Self-Esteem Profile. Moderator analyses produced evidence of cumulative promotive effects by revealing that family social capital exacerbated the benefits of other types of family capital for positive development. Studies 2 and 3 focused on parental knowledge, which refers to the degree to which parents are informed about their youths’ daily experiences. Study 2 explored how youth gender, age, and family members’ relationship quality predicted five sources of mothers’ and fathers’ knowledge in a relatively understudied population: two-parent African American families with two youth (N = 187). Multilevel models revealed that older siblings disclosed less to parents than younger siblings. A quadratic youth age pattern indicated that fathers asked youth fewer questions in early adolescence compared to childhood and later adolescence, which coincided with higher levels of relying on spouse and siblings. Warmer parent-child relationships predicted higher levels of relying on multiple sources of knowledge for mothers and fathers, including child disclosure and solicitation. Drawing from family systems perspective, warmer marital relationships predicted relying on spouse, and warmer parent-sibling relationships predicted relying on siblings for information. Study 3 took an in depth look at conceptualization and measurement of parental knowledge. Whereas some researchers have measured parents’ or youths’ perceptions of knowledge, others have examined daily knowledge. We therefore examined multilevel models that included three distinct parental knowledge indicators in a sample of European American families with two adolescent youth (N = 175). Mothers’, fathers’, and youths’ perceived knowledge were each negatively related to youths’ risky behavior, and youth reported fewer depressive symptoms when mothers and fathers were seen by youth as more knowledgeable. Independent of perceived knowledge, however, when fathers’ daily knowledge was higher, youth reported fewer depressive symptoms. Moreover, when youth perceived fathers to be more knowledgeable, fathers’ daily knowledge was not linked to youths’ risky behavior, but when youth saw their fathers as less knowledgeable, fathers’ daily knowledge was related to less engagement in risky behavior. Studies conclude with a discussion of limitations of the research and implications for future research, policy, and intervention work.