Timing of Adolescent Emotional Disclosures: The Role of Maternal Emotions and Adolescent Age

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Abstract

Adolescent disclosure is a positive feature of parent–adolescent relationships, though disclosure to parents typically declines across adolescence. However, little is known about parental emotions that facilitate or inhibit real-time adolescent disclosures about their emotions and how parents respond to such disclosures during parent–adolescent interactions. The present study tested (1) whether maternal emotions were associated with the time to adolescents’ spontaneous emotional disclosures and (2) whether these associations varied as a function of adolescent age. Adolescents (N = 49, Mage = 14.84 years) and their mothers participated in a 10-min conflict discussion. Adolescent emotional disclosures and maternal emotions were coded moment-to-moment. Results from survival analysis demonstrated that older adolescents whose mothers expressed high levels of negative affect or high levels of validation were more likely to make emotional disclosures earlier in the discussion than were older adolescents whose mothers expressed low negative affect or low validation. There were no differences in associations between maternal emotions and the timing of emotional disclosures for younger adolescents. Findings suggest that a range of maternal emotions (validation and negative affect) might be features of high-quality mother–adolescent relationships in older adolescence, when parent–adolescent relationships are more egalitarian and negative emotions may be more readily expressed. Implications for applying observational methodologies and dynamic statistical techniques to the adolescent disclosure literature are discussed.

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