Longitudinal Effects of Parental Bereavement on Adolescent Developmental Competence

David A. Brent, Nadine M. Melhem, Ann S. Masten, Giovanna Porta, Monica Walker Payne

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49 Scopus citations

Abstract

The aim of this study is to assess the impact of sudden parental bereavement on subsequent attainment of developmental competencies. This longitudinal study reports on 126 youth bereaved by sudden parental death (suicide, accident, or natural death) and 116 demographically similar nonbereaved controls assessed at 9, 21, 33, and 62 months after parental death, and at comparable times in controls. Half were female and 84.7% Caucasian. Youths and care-giving parents were assessed on psychiatric disorders, psychological characteristics, and contextual variables antecedent and subsequent to bereavement. At Month 62, at which time youth on average aged 18.4 years (SD = 3.1), participants were assessed on developmental competence using an adaptation of the Status Questionnaire, peer attachment using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment, and educational aspirations using the Future Expectations Scale. The bereaved and nonbereaved groups were compared using univariate and multivariate statistics, including path analyses. On univariate analyses, bereaved youth had more difficulties at work, less well-elaborated plans for career development, lower peer attachment, and diminished educational aspirations. The effects of bereavement were most commonly mediated via its effects on offspring and caregiver functioning and family climate, even after adjusting for the impact of predeath characteristics. Outcomes were unrelated to age at the time of parental death, gender of the deceased parent, or cause of death. Children who lost a parent to sudden death evidenced lower competence in work, peer relations, career planning, and educational aspirations, primarily mediated by the impact of bereavement on child and parental functioning and on family climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-791
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Volume41
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this project was provided by NIMH grants MH065368 (Dr. Brent; P.I.) and MH077930 (Dr. Melhem; P.I.), and an AFSP grant to Dr. Melhem. We acknowledge the contributions of Emily Hogan, MS, and William McKenna, BS, at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic for their contributions in the acquisition of data for this study, and of Robin Martin, BA, for her assistance with the preparation of this manuscript, for which they received compensation. We also thank the excellent and thoughtful reviews of four anonymous reviewers, and the children and families for their participation.

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