How are parent-child conflict and childhood externalizing symptoms related over time? Results from a genetically informative cross-lagged study

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Abstract

The present study attempted to determine the direction and etiology of the robust relationship between childhood externalizing (EXT) symptoms and parent-child conflict using a genetically informative longitudinal model and data from the ongoing Minnesota Twin Family Study. Participants consisted of 1,506 same-sex twins assessed at ages 11 and 14, and their parents. The relationship between EXT and parent-child conflict from ages 11 to 14 was examined within a biometrical cross-lagged design. The results revealed three primary findings: first, the stability of conflict and externalizing over time is largely, although not solely, a result of genetic factors. Second, there appears to be a bidirectional relationship between conflict and EXT over time, such that both conflict and EXT at 11 independently predict the other 3 years later. Finally, the results are consistent with the notion that parent-child conflict partially results from parental responses to their child's heritable externalizing behavior, while simultaneously contributing to child externalizing via environmental mechanisms. These results suggest a "downward spiral" of interplay between parent-child conflict and EXT, and offer confirmation of a (partially) environmentally mediated effect of parenting on child behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-165
Number of pages21
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2005

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