In a recent study involving Swiss adolescents, researchers discovered that parental involvement significantly increases prosocial behavior in teens but does not necessarily decrease internalizing problems. The study, published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, also found an unexpected two-way relationship between prosocial behavior and internalizing problems, challenging previous assumptions about adolescent development.
To understand the complexities of adolescent development, researchers have long been interested in how factors like self-control and parental involvement impact young people’s social behavior and emotional well-being. Previous studies have suggested that self-control and positive parental involvement might play crucial roles in promoting prosocial behavior (acts that benefit others) and reducing internalizing problems like anxiety and depression.
However, these earlier studies often had limitations, such as small sample sizes or a narrow focus on short periods of adolescence. The new study aimed to fill these gaps by exploring these relationships over a longer period, from early to late adolescence.
“Early adolescence, as marked by the confluence of biological, psychological, and social challenges, may be a pivotal developmental period for the onset of both positive and negative outcomes in later years, such as prosociality and internalizing problems (including anxiety and depression),” said study author Fabiola Silletti (@FabiolaSilletti), a Ph.D.candidate at the University of Bari Aldo Moro who also currently serves as a research scholar at the Resilience and Health Laboratory and the Developmental Risk and Cultural Resilience Laboratory.
“Prosociality is related to both health and psychological well-being. Internalizing problems in adolescence can have negative impacts on social-emotional development and health with possible repercussions in later years, including the likelihood that internalizing problems persist into adulthood.”
“Hence, identifying those factors (e.g., self-control and parental involvement) that, as research on risk and resilience postulates, may promote prosociality and hinder internalizing problems during adolescence is of great value in promoting youth adjustment in both the short and long term.”
The study drew upon data from the Zurich Project on the Social Development of Children and Youths, an ongoing multi-rater longitudinal study that began in 2004. The researchers focused on data collected during four waves when the participants were approximately 11, 13, 15, and 17 years old. A substantial number of adolescents, totaling 1,523, were part of this detailed analysis.
One of the most significant revelations was the role of parental involvement. The researchers found that when parents were more involved in their adolescents’ lives – through activities like open communication, support, and showing interest in their children’s activities – the youths tended to exhibit more prosocial behavior as they grew older. This positive influence of parental involvement was consistent from early to mid-to-late adolescence.
The data showed that higher levels of parental involvement at ages 11, 13, and 15 predicted an increase in prosocial behavior two years later. This finding underscores the importance of parents staying actively engaged in their children’s lives throughout adolescence, not just during early childhood.
Another interesting outcome was the connection between parental involvement and self-control. The study found that greater parental involvement predicted improvements in self-control over time, indicating that parents play a crucial role in helping their children develop self-regulation skills.
“The findings of this study emphasize the relevance of parental involvement as a resource that may promote prosociality and self-control during adolescence,” Silletti told PsyPost.
Contrary to some expectations, the study found that higher self-control in early adolescence did not necessarily lead to increased prosocial behavior or decreased internalizing problems later on. Internalizing problems refer to a broad category of emotional and psychological difficulties that are primarily experienced internally, such as anxiety and depression. This challenges the traditionally held view that self-control is a primary driver of positive development during these years.
Another intriguing aspect of the study was the relationship between prosocial behavior and internalizing problems. The researchers found that adolescents who were more prosocial were also more likely to experience internalizing problems, and vice versa.
“Our findings reveal that high prosociality is developmentally positively associated with increased internalizing problems and vice versa, which seems to suggest a need for a healthy balance between self-interest and concern for others,” Silletti said.
While these findings offer valuable insights into adolescent development, it’s important to recognize the study’s limitations. The research was conducted in Zurich, a city with its unique cultural and socioeconomic characteristics, which might not be representative of all adolescent experiences.
Additionally, the reliance on self-reported data from the adolescents raises questions about potential biases in their responses. Future research could benefit from a more diverse cultural representation and the inclusion of different methods of data collection, such as parental reports or observational studies.
The study, “Do Self-Control and Parental Involvement Promote Prosociality and Hinder Internalizing Problems? A Four-Wave Longitudinal Study From Early to Mid-To-Late Adolescence“, was authored by Fabiola Silletti, Nicolò M. Iannello, Sonia Ingoglia, Cristiano Inguglia, Rosalinda Cassibba, Manuel Eisner, Denis Ribeaud, and Pasquale Musso.