Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 10, pp 3402–3412 | Cite as

Explaining the Relationship between Parenting and Internalizing Symptoms: The Role of Self-Esteem Level and Contingency

  • Sofie WoutersEmail author
  • Hilde Colpin
  • Koen Luyckx
  • Karine Verschueren
Original Paper


Internalizing symptoms, such as depressive and anxiety symptoms are prevalent in adolescence. We examined the mediational role of two self-esteem dimensions, that is, level and contingency, in comprehensive models linking parenting to adolescent internalizing symptoms. Using a cross-sectional design, a large sample of secondary school students (N = 1958; 56.28% female; mean age = 15.31 years) completed questionnaires on maternal responsiveness, psychological control, conditional regard, as well as on their own self-esteem, depressive and anxiety symptoms. Analyses yielded both direct and indirect effects of adolescent-reported parenting on internalizing symptoms. More perceived responsiveness was uniquely associated with higher self-esteem level which, in turn, predicted less depressive and anxiety symptoms. Perceived conditional negative and positive regard and psychological control were uniquely related to self-esteem level (negative relations) and contingency (positive relations) which, in turn, predicted more internalizing symptoms. In general, our study supported the mediational role of self-esteem level and contingency in the link between parenting and internalizing symptoms. Whereas low self-esteem increased adolescents’ vulnerability for both depressive and anxiety symptoms, high self-esteem contingency appeared as a unique vulnerability factor for anxiety symptoms.


Parenting Self-esteem level Self-esteem contingency Depression Anxiety 



Preparation of this manuscript was supported by Grant 12P3415N from the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO; Belgium), which identified the first author of this manuscript as a Postdoctoral Fellow of the FWO.

Author Contributions

S.W. conceived and designed the study, collected the data, performed the statistical analyses, interpreted the data, and took the lead in writing up the manuscript; H.C., K.L., and K.V. participated in the conception and design of the study, in data interpretation and critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors. The Social and societal ethics committee of the KU Leuven provided IRB approval for the study.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School Psychology and Development in ContextFaculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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