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Objectives

Parental appraisals of an adolescent may have an effect upon the adolescent's well-being and likelihood of emotional problems. However, the impact of these parental appraisals is likely to be partly determined by the young person's self-appraisal. It was predicted that a discrepancy in self- and parent appraisals of positive, prosocial qualities would be associated with an increased risk of emotional problems.

Design

The study employed a cross-sectional design within a large sample of adolescent and caregiver dyads (= 3,976, aged 11–17 years), drawn from the ‘Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004’ survey.

Method

Two separate measures of prosociality were used to ensure that effects were not specific to one measure. The analysis explored the discrepancy in parent and self-ratings on these measures via interactions within a logistic regression framework. Potential confounds, including gender, parental mental health, conduct and hyperkinetic problems were controlled for in the analysis.

Results

The logistic regression analyses demonstrated significant interactions between self- and parent ratings of prosocial qualities in predicting the odds of emotional disorder (i.e., depression and anxiety). This effect occurred across both measures of prosocial qualities whilst controlling for confounds. The pattern of the interactions suggested that low parental appraisals had a more detrimental effect on well-being when self-appraisals were highly positive.

Conclusions

The results suggest that moderately high self-appraised positive traits may carry a cost of leaving young people more vulnerable to discrepant, negative parental appraisals. This has important implications for the meaning attributed to self-appraised positive traits in clinical contexts.

Practitioner points

  • Clinicians should be aware that the association between parental perceptions of a child's prosociality and emotional disorder may be influenced by the adolescents' self-perceptions.
  • Clinicians should therefore endeavour to assess both parental and adolescent appraisals.
  • Discrepancies may be clinically meaningful, in terms of the risk of emotional problems, rather than simply being a nuisance.
  • This study is cross-sectional, so although discrepancies may be linked to risk of emotional problems, the direction of this effect requires elucidation.
  • The current study only focusses on the parent–adolescent dynamic and so may not extend to discrepancy effects in other areas of positive functioning or in other relational contexts.