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Testing Alternative Explanations for the Associations Between Parenting and Adolescent Suicidal Problems


  • This research has most recently been supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (HD064687, HD051746, MH051361, and HD047573). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies. Support for earlier years of the study also came from multiple sources, including the National Institute of Mental Health (MH00567, MH19734, MH43270, MH59355, MH62989, and MH48165), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA05347), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD027724), the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health (MCJ-109572), and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Adolescent Development Among Youth in High-Risk Settings. An earlier version of this paper was part of the doctoral dissertation of the first author; subsequent work by the first author was supported by NIH Grant T32 MD018387. The author wishes to thank Betsy J. Feldman for her invaluable feedback and support related to the statistical analysis of these data; thanks also go to Carl C. Bell, Carolyn M. Aldwin, and Lenna L. Ontai for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Although studies have established associations between parenting characteristics and adolescent suicidality, the strength of the evidence for these links remains unclear, largely because of methodological limitations, including lack of accounting for possible child effects on parenting. This study addresses these issues by using autoregressive cross-lag models with data on 802 adolescents and their parents across 5 years. Observed parenting behaviors predicted change in adolescent suicidal problems across 1-year intervals even after controlling for adolescents' effects on parenting. Nurturant-involved parenting continued to demonstrate salutary effects after controlling for adolescent and parent internalizing psychopathology: over time, observed nurturant-involved parenting reduced the likelihood of adolescent suicidal problems. This study increases the empirical support implicating parenting behaviors in the developmental course of adolescent suicidality.