Background: The present study extends existing studies on the role of differential parental treatment in explaining individual differences in adolescent problem behaviors above the absolute level of parenting and clarifies the function of gender of the child, birth rank and gender constellation of the sibling dyads.
Method: The absolute level of parenting practices and differential treatment were examined in a sample of 288 Dutch families consisting of two parents and two adolescents. Parents reported on adolescent internalizing and externalizing problem behavior and adolescents reported on parental warmth and coercive control.
Results: Parenting dimensions were related to problem behavior for same- and mixed-gender sibling pairs, with coercive control as the strongest predictor. No direct association was found between differential parental treatment and child outcomes above the absolute levels of parenting in same-gender sibling pairs. However, differential maternal and paternal control was related to internalizing behavior of girls and differential paternal warmth was linked to externalizing behavior of the older siblings in mixed-gender sibling pairs.
Conclusion: Differential parental treatment is uniquely associated with child problem behavior above the absolute level of parenting for girls and early-born children in mixed-gender sibling pairs. Any examination of the effects of differential treatment should not be undertaken without considering the gender and birth rank of the sibling pairs.