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I'd rather not talk about it: Adolescents' and young adults' use of topic avoidance in stepfamilies

Tamara Dawn Golish, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A stepfamily often faces unique challenges, such as role and boundary ambiguity, loyalty conflicts, and a lack of family history, which can influence the strength of its bonds. One way in which stepfamily members adapt to these challenges is through communication. The purpose of this study is to shed light on the nature of communication in stepfamilies. More specifically, this research investigates adolescents' and young adults' use of topic avoidance in stepfamilies. This study also examines the relationship between topic avoidance and satisfaction in stepfamilies as well as the influence that parenting style has on avoidance. ^ Telephone interviews were conducted with 115 adolescents and young adults in stepfamilies. Guerrero and Afifi's (1995b) topic avoidance scales were used to assess the topics the participants avoided with their mother, father, and stepparent and the reasons for that avoidance. Open-ended responses were also included in the study to test the applicability of Guerrero and Afifi's (1995b) classification scheme to stepfamilies. A modified version of the Marital Opinion Questionnaire was administered to assess respondents' satisfaction in their stepfamily. Also, a revised version of the Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ) was used to determine participants' perceptions of their stepparent's parenting style. ^ The results of this study revealed that the types of topics avoided differed according to the type of parent-child relationship. Specifically, adolescents and young adults engaged in the most topic avoidance with their stepparents, followed by their fathers, and then their mothers. In addition, the more satisfied the participants were in their relationship with their mother, father, or stepparent, the less topic avoidance they were likely to employ. Similarly, the more satisfied adolescents and young adults were with their stepfamily overall, the less topic avoidance they used. The results also indicated that an authoritarian stepparenting style tended to increase the amount of topic avoidance, whereas permissive and authoritative styles decreased it. Perceptions of authoritarian stepparenting was also negatively associated with participants' satisfaction with their stepfamily. Finally, self protection and partner unresponsiveness were the primary motivators underlying topic avoidance in stepfamily relationships. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings, as well as directions for future research, are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Golish, Tamara Dawn, "I'd rather not talk about it: Adolescents' and young adults' use of topic avoidance in stepfamilies" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9942123.