Distinguishing Behavioral and Cognitive Dimensions of Parental Social Coaching: A Focused Examination of Parents' Social and Psychological Influence During Early Adolescence
Type of DegreeDissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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As peer stress and internalizing problems rise around the transition to adolescence, parents often want to intervene to promote positive peer experiences and psychological well-being. However, there is a paucity of empirical research on the utility of detailed suggestions parents can give young adolescents facing peer challenges. The present study examined the effectiveness of parental social coaching about peer challenges for supporting young adolescents’ social and psychological adjustment. Two studies were conducted to test hypotheses across diverse samples, measures, and contexts. Study 1 included 80 young adolescents and one parent per adolescent. Parental social coaching (i.e., behavioral advice and cognitive framing) and adolescent social-behavioral and social-cognitive skills were observed and reported during a lab-based peer-evaluative conversation task and subsequent parent-adolescent coaching discussion about negative peer evaluation. Study 2 included 123 young adolescents, along with one parent and teacher per adolescent, assessed at two occasions ten months apart. At Time 1, parents gave open-ended reports about their social coaching in response to three hypothetical peer stress scenarios. Parents and teachers also reported about adolescents’ social-behavioral skills, peer acceptance, and internalizing problems at both time points. Additionally, adolescents completed questionnaires about their social-cognitive skills at Time 1 and Time 2. Analyses revealed that behavioral and cognitive dimensions of coaching were distinct, and social-behavioral and social-cognitive dimensions of adolescent skills were related but not redundant constructs. Although a modest pattern of effects emerged for independent associations between higher-quality coaching and better adolescent social skills or fewer internalizing problems, both prosocial behavioral advice and benign cognitive framing predicted higher prospective peer acceptance (controlling for earlier levels of peer acceptance). Furthermore, analyses indicated that adolescent social skills moderated the link between coaching and peer acceptance. As hypothesized, higher-quality coaching predicted better peer acceptance for adolescents with lower, but not higher, social-behavioral skills, consistent with a remediation model. Additionally, higher-quality coaching predicted better peer acceptance among youths with higher, but not lower, social-cognitive skills, consistent with a capitalization model. Results of the present study underscore the importance of behavioral and cognitive dimensions of parental social coaching for young adolescents’ social development, and suggest that optimal coaching strategies may depend on adolescents’ social skills strengths and weaknesses. Findings and implications for parental social coaching, as well as adolescent social and psychological adjustment, are discussed.