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.
Bibliographical noteFunding 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.
- Externalizing behaviors
- Gender differences
- Parental warmth