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Adolescents’, mothers’, and fathers’ gendered coping strategies during conflict: Youth and parent influences on conflict resolution and psychopathology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2015

Kristine Marceau*
Brown University Rhode Island Hospital
Carolyn Zahn-Waxler
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff
Iowa State University
Jane E Schreiber
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Paul Hastings
University of California, Davis
Bonnie Klimes-Dougan
University of Minnesota
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kristine Marceau, 121 South Main Street, Room 413, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI 02903; E-mail:


We observed gendered coping strategies and conflict resolution outcomes used by adolescents and parents during a conflict discussion task to evaluate associations with current and later adolescent psychopathology. We studied 137 middle- to upper-middle-class, predominantly Caucasian families of adolescents (aged 11–16 years, 65 males) who represented a range of psychological functioning, including normative, subclinical, and clinical levels of problems. Adolescent coping strategies played key roles both in the extent to which parent–adolescent dyads resolved conflict and in the trajectory of psychopathology symptom severity over a 2-year period. Gender-prototypic adaptive coping strategies were observed in parents but not youth, (i.e., more problem solving by fathers than mothers and more regulated emotion-focused coping by mothers than fathers). Youth–mother dyads more often achieved full resolution of conflict than youth–father dyads. There were generally not bidirectional effects among youth and parents’ coping across the discussion except boys’ initial use of angry/hostile coping predicted fathers’ angry/hostile coping. The child was more influential than the parent on conflict resolution. This extended to exacerbation/alleviation of psychopathology over 2 years: higher conflict resolution mediated the association of adolescents’ use of problem-focused coping with decreases in symptom severity over time. Lower conflict resolution mediated the association of adolescents’ use of angry/hostile emotion coping with increases in symptom severity over time. Implications of findings are considered within a broadened context of the nature of coping and conflict resolution in youth–parent interactions, as well as on how these processes impact youth well-being and dysfunction over time.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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