Marital problems in childhood affect teen adjustment

Marital discord is a significant social problem for children, sometimes leading to problems in health and well-being. A new longitudinal study finds that the impact of marital problems on children in their kindergarten years is long lasting and can lead to emotional problems that contribute to difficulties in adolescence.

The study, by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester, appears in the journal Child Development.

"The results further highlight the possibility that there will be persistent negative effects of children's early experiences when there is conflict between their parents, at least when their emotional insecurity increases as a result of the conflict," according to E. Mark Cummings, professor and Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, the study's lead author. "This study has important implications for clinicians and parents," he added.

Cummings and his colleagues examined 235 primarily middle-class mothers, fathers, and children over seven years, focusing on the links between marital conflict when the children were in kindergarten, children's emotional insecurity in the early school years, and subsequent problems when the children were teens. Children's about family ties is related to their sense of protection, safety, and security, and has implications for how they do socially and emotionally. The researchers observed parents discussing a topic they had identified as hard to handle, rating specific conflict behaviors. They also asked parents to report on their conflicts.

The study found that conflict between parents when their children are young predicted children's emotional insecurity later in childhood, which, in turn, predicted adjustment problems in adolescence, including depression and anxiety.

"Emotional insecurity appears to be an explanation for the effects of on children's later problems," Cummings explained. "This mechanism lasts across relatively long periods of time and across the transition between childhood and adolescence."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Parents' conflicts affect adopted infants' sleep

Aug 02, 2011

When parents fight, infants are likely to lose sleep, researchers report. "We know that marital problems have an impact on child functioning, and we know that sleep is a big problem for parents," said Jenae M. Neiderhiser, ...

Study uncovers clues to young children's aggressive behavior

Oct 26, 2011

Children who are persistently aggressive, defiant, and explosive by the time they're in kindergarten very often have tumultuous relationships with their parents from early on. A new longitudinal study suggests that a cycle ...

Recommended for you

User comments