In a recent study of Swiss adolescents, researchers found that parental involvement significantly increases prosocial behavior in teens, but does not necessarily reduce internalizing problems. The study, published in the Journal of Early Adolescencealso found an unexpected bidirectional 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 such as self-control and parental involvement influence young people’s social behavior and emotional well-being. Previous studies have suggested that self-control and positive parental involvement can play a crucial role in promoting prosocial behavior (actions that benefit others) and reducing internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression.
However, these previous studies often had limitations, such as small sample sizes or a limited focus on short periods of time in adolescence. The new research aimed to fill these gaps by examining these relationships over a longer period of time, from early to late adolescence.
“Early adolescence, characterized by the confluence of biological, psychological and social challenges, may be a crucial developmental period for the onset of both positive and negative consequences in later years, such as prosociality and internalizing problems (including anxiety and depression),” said study author Fabiola Silletti (@FabiolaSilletti), a PhD candidate at the University of Bari Aldo Moro, who is currently also working as a researcher 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 consequences for social-emotional development and health, with possible repercussions in later years, including the likelihood that internalizing problems will persist into adulthood.”
“Therefore, identifying those factors (e.g., self-control and parental involvement) that, as risk and resilience research postulates, may promote prosociality and hinder internalizing problems during adolescence is of great value in promoting youth’s adjustment to both the short and long term. .”
The study was based on 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 years old. and 17 years old. A significant number of adolescents, 1,523 in total, were part of this detailed analysis.
One of the most important revelations was the role of parental involvement. The researchers found that when parents were more involved in their adolescents’ lives – through activities such as open communication, support and showing interest in their children’s activities – the young people tended to exhibit more prosocial behavior as they got 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 increases in prosocial behavior two years later. This finding underlines the importance of parents remaining actively involved in their children’s lives throughout adolescence, and not just during early childhood.
Another interesting finding was the link 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 highlight the relevance of parental involvement as a tool that can promote prosociality and self-control during adolescence,” Silletti told PsyPost.
Contrary to some expectations, the study found that greater self-control in early adolescence did not necessarily lead to more prosocial behavior or fewer internalizing problems later. Internalizing problems refer to a broad category of emotional and psychological problems that are primarily experienced internally, such as anxiety and depression. This challenges the traditionally accepted 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 have internalizing problems, and vice versa.
“Our findings show that high prosociality is developmentally positively associated with increased internalizing problems and vice versa, which seems to suggest the need for a healthy balance between self-interest and concern for others,” Silletti said.
Although these findings provide valuable insights into adolescent development, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the study. The study was conducted in Zurich, a city with unique cultural and socio-economic characteristics, which may not be representative of all adolescent experiences.
Furthermore, reliance on self-reported data from adolescents raises questions about possible biases in their responses. Future research could benefit from more diverse cultural representation and the inclusion of different data collection methods, 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,” written by Fabiola Silletti, Nicolò M. Iannello, Sonia Ingoglia, Cristiano Inguglia, Rosalinda Cassibba, Manuel Eisner, Denis Ribeaud and Pasquale Musso.