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Family structure and interparental conflict: Effects on adolescent drinking

Joan Gettert Gilbreth, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study investigated how parents' relationships with each other affect their relationship with their children and how these relationships affect adolescent drinking. A developmental perspective was taken to consider how the effects of family relationships differ by age of the adolescent. Social control theory and Emery's (1982) interparental conflict perspective provided the theoretical orientation. The sample came from a midwestern state and included cross-sectional responses from 715 parent/guardian and adolescent pairs. Interparental relationships were assessed by measures of family structure and interparental conflict. Social controls of family attachment, parental monitoring, and normative regulation are the measures of child-parent relationships. The dependent variable had four categories: no alcohol use ever, occasional use, one to three problems resulting from alcohol use, and four or more problems reported from alcohol use. Because adolescent drinking was measured in four categories, ordinal regression techniques were used to assess the model. ^ Results revealed that interparental conflict does disrupt the social control processes. Conflict is related to lower levels of family attachment, parental monitoring, and normative regulation. Adolescents living in single-parent families and stepfamilies reported lower levels of family attachment, but family structure was not significantly related to the other two social control variables. Lower levels of attachment and monitoring were significant predictors of adolescent drinking when measured both with and without the parental relationship variables. The effects of family structure on adolescent drinking can be explained by levels of interparental conflict, and the effects of interparental conflict appear to work through decreased levels of attachment and monitoring. Implications of this study emphasized the need for parents to reduce levels of conflict between each other and to work at strengthening attachment bonds and monitoring. These efforts will serve to not only delay or prevent the initiation of adolescent drinking but also limit their child's movement through the stages of drinking behaviors. These results are consistent across the age range. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Health Sciences, Public Health|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Gilbreth, Joan Gettert, "Family structure and interparental conflict: Effects on adolescent drinking" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9976992.