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Lubyov Popivker, Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D.

Emotion Regulation as a Mediator of the Link Between Parental Psychological Control and Adolescent Depression

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Studies have shown that both parental psychological control (Barber & Harmon, 2002; Barber, Stolz, & Olsen, 2005) and emotion regulation (Finkenaure, Engels, & Baumeister, 2005; Phillips & Power, 2007) play an important role in contributing to the onset of adolescent depression and that parental psychological control is also a predictor of emotion regulation (Finkenaure et al., 2005; Moilanen, 2007). While these findings suggest that parental psychological control relates to adolescent depression through its association with emotion regulation, there has been a scarcity of research testing emotion regulation as a mediator of that relation. The main hypothesis of this study was that parental psychological control exerts an indirect effect on depression through four emotion regulation strategies. A secondary aim of the study was to assess whether the hypothesized pathways are invariant across parent gender and so the mediator model was run separately for fathers and mothers. In order to examine this relationship, one hundred and seventy-three 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, who attended one of seven Catholic schools, completed questionnaires in their classrooms assessing their experiences with parental psychological control, emotion regulation, and depressive symptoms. Student’s perception of parental psychological control was measured using the Psychological Control Scale–Youth Self-Report (PCS-YSR; Barber, 1996). Emotion regulation was measured by the Regulation of Emotions Questionnaire (REQ; Phillips & Power, 2007) and depressive symptoms were assessed by the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI; Kovacs, 2001). The proposed parallel mediation model was tested following the approach developed by Hayes (2013), using his SPSS PROCESS macro.

Findings were consistent with previous research in that parental psychological control was associated with all the four emotion regulation strategies. Specifically, parental psychological control was negatively correlated with internal functional (i.e., reappraising negative thoughts) and external functional (i.e., reaching out to others) emotion regulation, and positively correlated with internal dysfunctional (i.e., dwelling on negative thoughts) and external dysfunctional (i.e., taking it out on others) emotion regulation. Increased parental psychological control was also related to more depressive symptoms in participants. The Hayes macro tested for the indirect effect at an alpha set to .05. Parental psychological control was found to have an indirect effect on depression, but only through internal dysfunctional emotion regulation and not through the other three emotion regulation strategies. Further, this study found that emotion regulation, specifically internal dysfunctional emotion regulation, is a mediator in the relationship between fathers’ psychological control and adolescent depressive symptoms, but not for mothers’ psychological control.

This study’s findings represent important areas to focus on in prevention and intervention school programs, parenting classes, and psychotherapy. This study emphasized the need to address internal dysfunctional emotion regulation as a way of preventing the negative outcomes of experiencing parental psychological control and the development of more serious depressive symptoms. The study’s cross-sectional design is a limitation because it prevents inferences about the direction of the predictions involved. Further research is recommended to explore the mechanisms by which parental psychological control relates to depressive symptoms in adolescents, particularly for mothers’ psychological control.

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