Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 503–515 | Cite as

Prospective Relations between Family Conflict and Adolescent Maladjustment: Security in the Family System as a Mediating Process

  • E. Mark Cummings
  • Kalsea J. Koss
  • Patrick T. Davies


Conflict in specific family systems (e.g., interparental, parent–child) has been implicated in the development of a host of adjustment problems in adolescence, but little is known about the impact of family conflict involving multiple family systems. Furthermore, questions remain about the effects of family conflict on symptoms of specific disorders and adjustment problems and the processes mediating these effects. The present study prospectively examines the impact of family conflict and emotional security about the family system on adolescent symptoms of specific disorders and adjustment problems, including the development of symptoms of anxiety, depression, conduct problems, and peer problems. Security in the family system was examined as a mediator of these relations. Participants included 295 mother-father-adolescent families (149 girls) participating across three annual time points (grades 7–9). Including auto-regressive controls for initial levels of emotional insecurity and multiple adjustment problems (T1), higher-order emotional insecurity about the family system (T2) mediated relations between T1 family conflict and T3 peer problems, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Further analyses supported specific patterns of emotional security/insecurity (i.e., security, disengagement, preoccupation) as mediators between family conflict and specific domains of adolescent adjustment. Family conflict was thus found to prospectively predict the development of symptoms of multiple specific adjustment problems, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct problems, and peer problems, by elevating in in adolescent’s emotional insecurity about the family system. The clinical implications of these findings are considered.


Adolescence Anxiety Depression Conduct Problems Peer Problems Emotional Security Family Conflict 



This research was supported by grant R01 MH57318 from the National Institute of Mental Health awarded to Patrick T. Davies and E. Mark Cummings. Support was provided to Kalsea J. Koss by a National Institute of Mental Health training grant (T32 MH015755, PI: Dante Cicchetti) during the preparation of this article. The authors are grateful to the families who participated in this project and the staff and students who assisted on various stages of the project at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester, in particular to Jana Lam for her assistance with the observational coding.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Mark Cummings
    • 1
  • Kalsea J. Koss
    • 2
  • Patrick T. Davies
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychology204 Brownson Hall University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.University of RochesterRochesterUSA

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