Parenting Adolescents: A Neurobiological Framework for Parent-focused Intervention

Caitlin Turpyn

Advisor: Tara Chaplin, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, James Thompson

David J. King Hall, #2064
April 27, 2018, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


Positive parenting and the parent-child bond are crucial for adaptive development and for the prevention of youth substance use. Although extensive literature emphasizes the importance of parenting, previous studies indicate prevention and interventions aimed to target parent behaviors are not effective for all families or sometimes show small effect sizes. Thus, in order to strengthen intervention approaches aimed to improve parenting, a richer understanding of the mechanisms of adaptive parenting and of parent-focused interventions is greatly needed.  The present dissertation examined twenty highly-stressed mothers of adolescents (ages 11 to 17) across two studies. Study one examined associations between mother affective neurobiology (assessed via functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] during an emotion image task) and observed parenting behaviors during a parent-adolescent conflict discussion and mothers’ report of the parent-adolescent bond. Findings from this investigation are among the first to connect functional brain processing with observed positive parenting behaviors for parents of adolescent children, and underscore the relative importance of affective neural processing in parenting older children. Study 2 examined the neural mechanisms of a parent-focused mindfulness intervention using fMRI task-based analysis of maternal neural response to an emotion image task and resting state functional connectivity. Findings from this investigation suggest that parent-focused mindfulness affects maternal emotional awareness, self-related processing, and regulation at a neurobiological level, with changes in maternal functional response and connectivity associated with decreased emotional reactivity in parenting interactions.  Together, these findings illuminate neurobiological targets for parenting interventions for caregivers of adolescents.