The differential impact of parental warmth on externalizing problems among triangulated adolescents

Rebecca G. Etkin, Kalsea J. Koss, E. Mark Cummings, Patrick T. Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Triangulation is a family-wide process in which children are inappropriately involved in interparental conflict, placing them at heightened risk for adjustment problems. A common form of triangulation occurs by parents pressuring their children to take sides, which may result in feelings of being torn between parents. Externalizing behaviors in particular may develop as adolescents feel caught in the middle of conflict and forced to choose a side. However, the nature of the triadic process of triangulation may be impacted by dyadic-level relationships within the family. The authors thus explored how positive parenting processes may alter the relations between triangulation and adolescent externalizing problems. Mothers, fathers, and adolescents (n = 301 families) provided assessments of adolescent externalizing problems, triangulation, and maternal and paternal warmth. Analyses revealed a 3-way interaction among triangulation and maternal and paternal warmth predicting adolescent externalizing problems; child gender also moderated these relations. Among highly triangulated youth, boys displayed increased externalizing problems when both parents exhibited low or high warmth, whereas girls showed increased behavior problems in the context of low maternal but high paternal warmth. These findings indicate the importance of examining the broader family context and gender when considering the impact of triangulation during adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118-133
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Genetic Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (R01 MH57318) awarded to Patrick T. Davies and E. Mark Cummings.


  • Adolescence
  • Externalizing behaviors
  • Gender differences
  • Parental warmth
  • Triangulation


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