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Adolescents' Avoidance Tendencies and Physiological Reactions to Discussions about Their Parents' Relationship: Implications for Postdivorce and Nondivorced Families

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A model was constructed to test the argument that when the topic of the parents' relationship is introduced in conversations between parents and 'adolescents, adolescents from divorced families may be especially likely to feel caught between their parents due to a need for protection (of themselves, their parent, and their relationship), which should make them anxious (i.e., self-reported anxiety) and physiologically aroused (i.e., changes in skin conductance levels or SCL). When adolescents feel aroused, we argued that they should attempt to avoid talking about their parents' relationship with their parent. Self-report and observational data, as well as physiological data, were collected from 112 parent-adolescents dyads. The results revealed that divorce predicted adolescents' feelings of being caught, which influenced their need for protection. This need for protection, in turn, predicted adolescents' self-reported anxiety and changes in SCL. Unlike what was hypothesized, SCL was not associated with adolescents' avoidance tendencies. Nevertheless, self-reported anxiety was associated with adolescents' self-reported topic avoidance. The implications of these results, and a new observational coding scheme for avoidance, are discussed.
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Keywords: Avoidance; Divorce; Feeling Caught; Parent-Adolescent Relationships; Physiological Arousal

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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