Parent relationships and adolescents' depression and social anxiety: Indirect associations via emotional sensitivity to rejection threat

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One prominent theory has proposed that rejection and other negative parenting practices prompt children's emotional sensitivity to the threat of rejection, often referred to as rejection sensitivity (RS). This emotional sensitivity is thought to result in social and emotional maladjustment. In the present study, we tested this model of parenting, emotional sensitivity, and maladjustment with 659 early adolescents (aged 9–13 years). The findings confirmed that adolescents who reported more negative parenting practices had elevated depression and social anxiety symptoms, heightened levels of RS, and more elevated sadness and withdrawal responses to rejection threat. In a final structural equation model, RS and withdrawal were uniquely associated with depressive symptoms, and RS, sadness, and withdrawal were uniquely associated with social anxiety. Moreover, negative parenting had significant associations with symptoms both directly and indirectly via RS, sadness, and/or withdrawal, with the effects mostly direct for depressive symptoms and mostly indirect for social anxiety symptoms. Interparental conflict was also implicated in adolescents' RS, reactions to rejection threat, and symptoms, but these correlational effects were almost entirely indirect via parenting practices. An alternate model of depression and anxiety predicting sensitivity to rejection threat was tested and found to be equally viable. The findings provide a more nuanced understanding of the links between rejection and adolescent emotional adjustment.

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