Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 43, Issue 11, pp 1861–1876 | Cite as

Self-Concept Clarity Across Adolescence: Longitudinal Associations With Open Communication With Parents and Internalizing Symptoms

  • Marloes P. A. Van Dijk
  • Susan Branje
  • Loes Keijsers
  • Skyler T. Hawk
  • William W. HaleIII
  • Wim Meeus
Empirical Research


Higher self-concept clarity is related to several adjustment indices and may be promoted by open communication with parents, while problems with self-concept clarity development could enhance internalizing problems (i.e., depressive and anxiety symptoms) in adolescence. This longitudinal study examined linkages between self-concept clarity, adolescents’ open communication with parents, and adolescent depressive and anxiety symptoms. Dutch youths (N = 323; 51.1 % girls; mean age Time 1 = 13.3 years) reported on these constructs over four consecutive annual measurements. Concurrent positive links between open communication and self-concept clarity were found at Time 1. Over time, higher levels of open communication with parents predicted higher self-concept clarity only in middle adolescence (mean age between 14 and 15 years). We also found concurrent associations between self-concept clarity and both depressive and anxiety symptoms. Longitudinally, lower self-concept clarity predicted relatively higher levels of depressive symptoms across all waves, and also higher anxiety levels from Time 1 to Time 2. Conversely, higher levels of anxiety also predicted lower levels of self-concept clarity during the first three waves. Self-concept clarity did not mediate the longitudinal associations between open communication and internalizing symptoms. This study is one of the first to investigate self-concept clarity across adolescence. It highlights the possible importance of both anxiety symptoms and communication with parents in understanding the development of a clear self-concept, and demonstrates an association between lower self-concept clarity and higher levels of later depressive and anxiety symptoms.


Adolescence Self-concept clarity Open communication Internalizing problems 



This study was supported by grants to Wim Meeus and Susan Branje from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Author contributions

M.P.A.D. conceived of the study, performed the statistical analyses, interpreted the results, and wrote the manuscript. S.B. participated in the conceiving of the study, the data analysis, the interpretation of the results and the drafting of the manuscript. L.K. helped with the statistical analyses and participated in the interpretation of the results and in the drafting of the manuscript. W.M. participated in the interpretation of the results and revised the manuscript. W.M. is also the principal investigator of the CONAMORE project and is responsible for the data collection. S.T.H. participated in the drafting of the manuscript, and S.T.H. and W.W.H. revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


  1. Adams, G. R., & Marshall, S. K. (1996). A developmental social psychology of identity: Understanding the person-in-context. Journal of Adolescence, 19, 429–442.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnett, J. J. (1999). Adolescent storm and stress, reconsidered. American Psychologist, 54, 317–326.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aron, A. (2003). Self and close relationships. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 442–461). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, H. L., & Olson, D. H. (1985). Parent-adolescent communication and the circumplex model. Child Development, 56, 438–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bell, R. Q. (1968). A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialization. Psychological Review, 75, 81–95.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bell, N. J., Wieling, E., & Watson, W. (2004). Self-reflecting in developmental context: Variations in level and patterning during the first 2 university years. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 165, 451–465.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bigler, M., Neimeyer, G. J., & Brown, E. (2001). The divided self revisited: Effects of self-concept clarity and self-concept differentiation on psychological adjustment. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 396–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Birmaher, B., Brent, D. A., Chiappetta, L., Bridge, J., Monga, S., & Baugher, M. (1999). Psychometric properties of the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders Scale (SCARED): A replication study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 1230–1236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Birmaher, B., Khetarpal, S., Brent, D., Cully, M., Balach, L., Kaufman, J., et al. (1997). The Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED): Scale construction and psychometric characteristics. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 545–553.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bollen, K. A. (1989). Structural equations with latent variables. New York, NY: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Branje, S. J. T., Hale, W. W., III, Frijns, T., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2010). Longitudinal associations between perceived parent–child relationship quality and depressive symptoms in adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 751–763.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Brenning, K., Soenens, B., Braet, C., & Bal, S. (2012). The role of parenting and mother–adolescent attachment in the intergenerational similarity of internalizing symptoms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 802–816.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burt, K. B., & Roisman, G. I. (2010). Competence and psychopathology: Cascade effects in the NICHD study of early child care and youth development. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 557–567.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 538–549.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell, J. D., Assanand, S., & Di Paula, A. (2003). The structure of the self-concept and its relation to psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality, 71, 115–140.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Campbell, J. D., Trapnell, P. D., Heine, S. J., Katz, I. M., Lavallee, L. F., & Lehman, D. R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Craighead, W. E., Smucker, M. R., Craighead, L. W., & Ilardi, S. S. (1998). Factor analysis of the children’s depression inventory in a community sample. Psychological Assessment, 10, 156–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Crocetti, E., Klimstra, T., Keijsers, L., Hale, W. W., III, & Meeus, W. (2009). Anxiety trajectories and identity development in adolescence: A five-wave longitudinal study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 839–849.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. De Goede, I. H. A., Branje, S. J. T., Delsing, M. J. M. H., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2009). Linkages over time between adolescents’ relationships with parents and friends. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1304–1315.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Donahue, E. M., Robins, R. W., Roberts, B. W., & John, O. P. (1993). The divided self: Concurrent and longitudinal effects of psychological adjustment and social roles on self-concept differentiation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 834–846.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Enders, C. K., & Bandalos, D. L. (2001). The relative performance of full information maximum likelihood estimation for missing data in structural equation models. Structural Equation Modeling, 8, 430–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.Google Scholar
  25. Finkenauer, C., Engels, R. C. M. E., & Meeus, W. (2002). Keeping secrets from parents: Advantages and disadvantages of secrecy in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 123–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Finkenauer, C., Frijns, T., Engels, R. C. M. E., & Kerkhof, P. (2005). Perceiving concealment in relationships between parents and adolescents: Links with parental behavior. Personal Relationships, 12, 387–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Frijns, T., & Finkenauer, C. (2009). Longitudinal associations between keeping a secret and psychosocial adjustment in adolescence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 33, 145–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Branje, S., & Meeus, W. (2010). What parents don’t know and how it may affect their children: Qualifying the disclosure–adjustment link. Journal of Adolescence, 33, 261–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grotevant, H. D. (2001). Developing new insights from a process approach to adolescent development. Human Development, 44, 55–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Grotevant, H. D., & Cooper, C. R. (1985). Patterns of interaction in family relationships and the development of identity exploration in adolescence. Child Development, 56, 415–428.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Habermas, T., & Bluck, S. (2000). Getting a life: The emergence of the life story in adolescence. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 748–769.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hair, E. C., Moore, K. A., Garrett, S. B., Ling, T., & Cleveland, K. (2008). The continued importance of quality parent-adolescent relationships during late adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18, 187–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hale, W. W., III, Crocetti, E., Raaijmakers, Q. A. W., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2011). A meta-analysis of the cross-cultural psychometric properties of the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52, 80–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hill, J. P., & Holmbeck, G. N. (1986). Attachment and autonomy during adolescence. Annals of Child Development, 3, 145–189.Google Scholar
  35. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cut-off criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jackson, S., Bijstra, J., Oostra, L., & Bosma, H. (1998). Adolescents’ perceptions of communication with parents relative to specific aspects of relationships with parents and personal development. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 305–322.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jung, E. (2013). Delineation of a threefold relationship among communication input variables, identity gaps, and depressive symptoms. Southern Communication Journal, 78, 163–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Keijsers, L., Branje, S. J. T., Van der Valk, I. E., & Meeus, W. (2010). Reciprocal effects between parental solicitation, parental control, adolescent disclosure, and adolescent delinquency. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 88–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kerr, M., & Stattin, H. (2000). What parents know, how they know it, and several forms of adolescent adjustment: Further support for a reinterpretation of monitoring. Developmental Psychology, 36, 366–380.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kerr, M., & Stattin, H. (2003). Parenting of adolescents: Action or reaction? In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Children’s influence on family dynamics: The neglected side of family relationships (pp. 121–151). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  41. Kerr, M., Stattin, H., & Trost, K. (1999). To know you is to trust you: Parents’ trust is rooted in child disclosure of information. Journal of Adolescence, 22, 737–752.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  43. Lee-Flynn, S. C., Pomaki, G., DeLongis, A., Biesanz, J. C., & Puterman, E. (2011). Daily cognitive appraisals, daily affect, and long-term depressive symptoms: The role of self-esteem and self-concept clarity in the stress process. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 255–268.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Little, R. J. A. (1988). A test of missing completely at random for multivariate data with missing values. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 83, 1198–1202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551–558.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McLean, K. C., Pasupathi, M., & Pals, J. L. (2007). Selves creating stories creating selves: A process model of self-development. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 262–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Meeus, W. H. J., Akse, J., Branje, S. J. T., Ter Bogt, T. F. M., Crommelin, P. M., Delsing, M. J., et al. (2006). Codebook of the research project conflict and management of relationships (CONAMORE). Unpublished manuscript. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Utrecht University.Google Scholar
  48. Meeus, W., Iedema, J., Maassen, G., & Engels, R. (2005). Separation-individuation revisited: On the interplay of parent-adolescent relations, identity and emotional adjustment in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 28, 89–106.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Meeus, W., Oosterwegel, A., & Vollebergh, W. (2002). Parental and peer attachment and identity development in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 25, 93–106.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Meeus, W., Van de Schoot, R., Keijsers, L., Schwartz, S. J., & Branje, S. (2010). On the progression and stability of adolescent identity formation. A five-wave longitudinal study in early-to-middle and middle-to-late adolescence. Child Development, 81, 1565–1581.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  52. Nezlek, J. B., & Plesko, R. M. (2001). Day-to-day relationships among self-concept clarity, self-esteem, daily events, and mood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 201–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Panayiotou, G., & Kokkinos, C. M. (2006). Self-consciousness and psychological distress: A study using the Greek SCS. Personality and Individual Differences, 41, 83–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pearsall Smith, L. (1931). Age and Death. Afterthoughts. London, England: Constable.Google Scholar
  55. Satorra, A., & Bentler, P. M. (1994). Corrections to test statistics and standard errors in covariance structure analysis. In A. von Eye & C. C. Clogg (Eds.), Latent variables analysis: Applications for developmental research (pp. 399–419). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  56. Satorra, A., & Bentler, P. M. (2001). A scaled difference Chi square test statistic for moment-structure analysis. Psychometrika, 66, 507–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schwartz, S. J., Klimstra, T. A., Luyckx, K., Hale, W. W., III, Frijns, T., Oosterwegel, A., et al. (2010). Daily dynamics of personal identity and self-concept clarity. European Journal of Personality, 25, 373–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schwartz, S. J., Klimstra, T. A., Luyckx, K., Hale, W. W., III, & Meeus, W. H. J. (2012). Characterizing the self-system over time in adolescence: Internal structure and associations with internalizing symptoms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 1226–1239.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shaw, C. L. M. (1997). Personal narrative: Revealing self and reflecting other. Human Communication Research, 24, 302–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 213–240.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tilton-Weaver, L., & Marshall, S. (2008). Adolescents’ agency in information management. In M. Kerr, H. Stattin, & R. C. M. E. Engels (Eds.), What can parents do? New insights into the role of parents in adolescent problem behavior. Chichester, West Sussex, England: Wiley.Google Scholar
  62. Valde, G. A. (1996). Identity closure: A fifth identity status. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 157, 245–254.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Van Doorn, M. D., Branje, S. J., & Meeus, W. H. (2007). Longitudinal transmission of conflict resolution styles from marital relationships to adolescent–parent relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 426–434.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Van Eijck, F. E. A. M., Branje, S. J. T., Hale, W. W., III, & Meeus, W. H. J. (2012). Longitudinal associations between perceived parent–adolescent attachment relationship quality and generalized anxiety disorder symptoms in adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 40, 871–883.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  65. Waizenhofer, R. N., Buchanan, C. M., & Jackson-Newsom, J. (2004). Mothers’ and fathers’ knowledge of adolescents’ daily activities: Its sources and its links with adolescent adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 348–360.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Widaman, K. F. (2006). III. Missing data: What to do with or without them. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71, 42–64.Google Scholar
  67. Youniss, J., & Smollar, J. (1985). Adolescent relations with mothers, fathers, and friends. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marloes P. A. Van Dijk
    • 1
  • Susan Branje
    • 1
  • Loes Keijsers
    • 1
  • Skyler T. Hawk
    • 1
  • William W. HaleIII
    • 1
  • Wim Meeus
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Research Centre Adolescent DevelopmentUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Developmental Psychology, School of Social and Behavioral SciencesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations