Observing Interactions between Children and Adolescents and their Parents: The Effects of Anxiety Disorder and Age.
Waite P., Creswell C.
Parental behaviors, most notably overcontrol, lack of warmth and expressed anxiety, have been implicated in models of the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders in children and young people. Theories of normative development have proposed that different parental responses are required to support emotional development in childhood and adolescence, yet age has not typically been taken into account in studies of parenting and anxiety disorders. In order to identify whether associations between anxiety disorder status and parenting differ in children and adolescents, we compared observed behaviors of parents of children (7-10 years) and adolescents (13-16 years) with and without anxiety disorders (n = 120), while they undertook a series of mildly anxiety-provoking tasks. Parents of adolescents showed significantly lower levels of expressed anxiety, intrusiveness and warm engagement than parents of children. Furthermore, offspring age moderated the association between anxiety disorder status and parenting behaviors. Specifically, parents of adolescents with anxiety disorders showed higher intrusiveness and lower warm engagement than parents of non-anxious adolescents. A similar relationship between these parenting behaviors and anxiety disorder status was not observed among parents of children. The findings suggest that theoretical accounts of the role of parental behaviors in anxiety disorders in children and adolescents should distinguish between these different developmental periods. Further experimental research to establish causality, however, would be required before committing additional resources to targeting parenting factors within treatment.