A Longitudinal Examination of the Association Between Parenting Behavior, Social-Emotional Coping, and Adolescent Disordered Eating

Laura Martinson

Advisor: Christianne Esposito-Smythers, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Robyn Mehlenbeck, Sarah Fischer

Off-Campus Location, 10340 Democracy Lane, Suite 303, Room F
May 15, 2015, 02:15 PM to 11:15 AM


The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the role that parent-related environmental risk factors (poor parental monitoring and mental health) and adolescent social-emotional coping skills play in the development of disordered eating behaviors and attitudes (DEBA) in a clinical sample of adolescents. These questions were explored using an existing dataset collected to examine the efficacy of an adjunctive adolescent suicide, substance abuse, and HIV prevention program. The first study examined whether parental monitoring predicts more or less favorable trajectories of DEBA, particularly among females. It was hypothesized that lower parental monitoring would predict increases in DEBA over time. Participants included 87 adolescents (61% female, 46.5% Caucasian, 34.9% African-American, and 18.6% Other, mean age = 15.5, SD = 1.4) in mental health treatment and their parents. Data were collected at baseline as well as 6-month and 12-month follow-ups. Individual growth curve (IGC) analyses were used to examine growth or change in DEBA over the course of one year. Parental monitoring predicted between-person change in DEBA. Adolescents who reported lower parental monitoring showed trajectories characterized by increases in DEBA. The same pattern emerged when using parent report of monitoring, though only a trend was evident. When analyses were restricted to females, the main effect of parental and adolescent report of monitoring on DEBA were equally strong. Results may suggest that parents who are less knowledgeable about their adolescents' daily lives, may be less aware of DEBA, and thus less likely to intervene.

The second study examined whether adolescent social-emotional coping skills moderate the association between parental mental health and adolescent DEBA. It was hypothesized that the association between parental mental health (depression and anxiety) and adolescent DEBA would be stronger among youth with relatively poorer social-emotional coping skills (emotional awareness/expression, emotion regulation, adaptability). Data were collected from the same 87 parent-adolescent dyads described above. A series of linear regression analyses were used to examine study hypotheses. Higher parental depression and anxiety were only found to be associated with greater DEBA among adolescents who reported poorer (versus stronger) emotional awareness/expression skills and less (versus greater) ability to regulate emotions. Results may suggest that adolescents who lack the ability to effectively recognize, express, and manage negative emotions that arise in the context of a more challenging home environment, may be more likely to engage in maladaptive coping behaviors, such as disordered eating, relative to those who possess stronger social-emotional coping skills. A different pattern of results emerged when adaptability was examined as a moderator. Lower parental anxiety was found to predict lower DEBA among youth with stronger (but not weaker) adaptability skills. No association was found with parental depression. Hence, adaptability, or perceived problem solving skills, protect against DEBA, but only when parental anxiety is minimal. Overall, results suggest that parent monitoring and mental health play a significant role in adolescent DEBA and should be addressed in eating disorder prevention efforts with youth and families. Bolstering adolescent social-emotional coping skills may also help protect against adolescent DEBA.