Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 428–441 | Cite as

How Do I Feel About Feelings? Emotion Socialization in Families of Depressed and Healthy Adolescents

  • Erin C. Hunter
  • Lynn Fainsilber Katz
  • Joann Wu Shortt
  • Betsy Davis
  • Craig Leve
  • Nicholas B. Allen
  • Lisa B. Sheeber
Empirical Research


Emotional and cognitive changes that occur during adolescence set the stage for the development of adaptive or maladaptive beliefs about emotions. Although research suggests that parents’ behaviors and beliefs about emotions relate to children’s emotional abilities, few studies have looked at parental socialization of children’s emotions, particularly in families with depressed adolescents. The present study examined associations between parent and adolescent meta-emotion philosophies (MEP), defined as thoughts, reactions, and feelings about their own emotions. Additionally, adolescent depressive status was tested as a moderator of relationships between parents’ and adolescents’ MEP. One hundred and 52 adolescents, aged 14–18 (65.8% female), and their parents (148 mothers, 106 fathers) participated in a study on emotion socialization in families of depressed and healthy adolescents. Depressed adolescents (n = 75) and matched healthy adolescents (n = 77) were recruited based on research criteria for mental health status. The sample was largely Caucasian (82%) and of middle socioeconomic class status. Results indicated that mothers’ and fathers’ MEP about their children’s emotions were associated with adolescents’ MEP, although parents’ MEP about their own emotions was unrelated to adolescents’ MEP. Fathers’ MEP about children’s emotions made unique contributions to adolescents’ MEP across both adolescent groups. Adolescents’ depressive status moderated the relationship between mothers’ and adolescents’ MEP such that mothers’ MEP was particularly relevant for depressed adolescents. The continued influence of parents in the emotional lives of adolescents is discussed as well as differences in emotion socialization in families with depressed and healthy adolescents.


Depression Adolescents Meta-emotion Parental socialization MEP Emotion socialization 


  1. Ackard, D. M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Perry, C. (2006). Parent-child connectedness and behavioral and emotional health among adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30, 59–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newberry Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  3. Aldao, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 217–237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allison, P. D. (2002). Missing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Asarnow, J. R., Jaycox, L. H., Duan, N., LaBorde, A. P., Rea, M. M., Tang, L., et al. (2005). Depression and role impairment among adolescents in primary care clinics. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37(6), 477–483.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychology research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blakemore, S. J., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: Implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 296–312.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brody, L. R., & Hall, J. A. (2000). Gender, emotion, and expression. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (Vol. 2, pp. 338–349). New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cleary, R. P., & Katz, L. F. (2008). Family-level emotion socialization and children’s comfort with emotional expressivity. The Family Psychologist, 24, 7–13.Google Scholar
  10. Cole, P. M., Tamang, B. L., & Shrestha, S. (2006). Cultural variations in the socialization of young children’s anger and shame. Child Development, 77, 1237–1251.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dahl, R. E. (2001). Affect regulation, brain development, and behavioral/emotional health in adolescence. CNS Spectrums, 6, 1–12.Google Scholar
  12. Denham, S. A., Cook, M., & Zoller, D. (1992). Baby looks very sad: Implication of conversations about feelings between mother and preschooler. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10, 301–315.Google Scholar
  13. Denham, S., & Kochanoff, A. (2002). Parental contributions to preschoolers’ understanding of emotion. Marriage & Family Review, 34, 311–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Denham, S. A., Mitchell-Copeland, J., Strandberg, K., Auerbach, S., & Blair, K. (1997). Parental contributions to preschoolers’ emotional competence: Direct and indirect effects. Motivation and Emotion, 21, 65–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 241–273.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., & Murphy, B. C. (1996). Parents’ reactions to children’s negative emotions: Relations to children’s social competence and comforting behavior. Child Development, 67, 2227–2247.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Murphy, B., Maszk, P., et al. (1995). The role of emotionality and regulation in children’s social functioning: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 66, 1360–1384.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Shepard, S. A., Guthrie, I. K., Murphy, B. C., & Reiser, M. (1999). Parental reactions to children’s negative emotions: Longitudinal relations to quality of children’s social functioning. Child Development, 70(2), 513–534.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eisenberg, N., Zhou, Q., Spinrad, T. L., Valiente, C., Fabes, R. A., & Liew, J. (2005). Relations among positive parenting, children’s effortful control, and externalizing problems: A three-wave longitudinal study. Child Development, 76, 1055–1071.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Essau, C. A. (2004). The association between family factors and depressive disorders in adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33, 365–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Galaif, E. R., Sussman, S., Chou, C., & Wills, A. (2003). Longitudinal relations among depression, stress, and coping in high risk youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 243–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Garber, J., Braafladt, N., & Weiss, B. (1995). Affect regulation in depressed and nondepressed children and young adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 7, 93–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Georgiades, K., Lewinsohn, P. M., Monroe, S. M., & Seeley, J. R. (2006). Major Depressive Disorder in adolescence: The role of subthreshold symptoms. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45, 936–944.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1997). Meta-emotion: How families communicate emotionally. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  25. Halberstadt, A. G. (1991). Towards an ecology of expressiveness: Family expressiveness in particular and a model in general. In R. S. Feldman & B. Rime (Eds.), Fundamentals in nonverbal behavior (pp. 106–160). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Helsen, M., Vollebergh, W., & Meeus, W. (2000). Social support from parents and friends and emotional problems in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(3), 319–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hessler, D. M., Hunter, E. C., Katz, L. F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2005). The child and adolescent meta-emotion coding system. Unpublished manuscript, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  28. Hessler, D. M., & Katz, L. F. (2010). Brief report: Associations between emotional competence and adolescent risky behavior. Journal of Adolescence, 33, 241–246.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hunter, E. C., Hessler, D. M., Katz, L. F., Hooven, C., & Mittman, A. (2006). The parent meta-emotion coding system. Unpublished manuscript, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  30. Jacobs, R. H., Reinecke, M. A., Gollan, J. K., & Kane, P. (2008). Empirical evidence of cognitive vulnerability for depression among children and adolescents: A cognitive science and developmental perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 28, 759–782.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Katz, L. F., & Gottman, J. M. (1986). The meta-emotion interview. Unpublished manual, University of Washington, Department of Psychology, Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
  32. Katz, L. F., & Gottman, J. M. (1997). Buffering children from marital conflict and dissolution. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 26, 157–171.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Katz, L. F., & Hunter, E. C. (2007). Maternal meta-emotion philosophy and adolescent depressive symptomatology. Social Development, 16, 343–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Katz, L. F., Mittman, A., & Hooven, C. (1994). The Parent Meta-Emotion Coding System. Unpublished manuscript. University of Washington.Google Scholar
  35. Katz, L.F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2002). The child/adolescent meta-emotion interview. Unpublished manuscript, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  36. Katz, L. F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2004). Parental meta-emotion philosophy in families with conduct-problem children: Links with peer relations. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 385–398.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Katz, L. F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2006). Domestic violence, emotion coaching, and child adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 56–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Klimes-Dougan, B., Brand, A. E., Zahn-Waxler, C., Usher, B., Hastings, P. D., Kendziora, K., et al. (2007). Parental emotion socialization in adolescence: Differences in sex, age, and problem status. Social Development, 16, 326–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. LaBounty, J., Wellman, H. M., Olson, S., Lagattuta, K., & Liu, D. (2008). Mothers’ and fathers’ use of internal state talk with their young children. Social Development, 17, 757–775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lewinsohn, P. M., Hops, H., Roberts, R. E., Seeley, J. R., & Andrews, J. A. (1993). Adolescent psychopathology: I. Prevalence and incidence of depression and other DSM-III-R disorders in high school students. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 133–144.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lovejoy, M. C., Graczyk, P. A., O’Hare, E., & Neuman, G. (2000). Maternal depression and parenting behavior: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 561–592.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Magaro, M. M., & Weisz, J. R. (2006). Perceived control mediates the relation between parental rejection and youth depression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 863–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., & Robinson, L. R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social Development, 16, 361–388.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Nahm, E. Y. (2007). A cross-cultural comparison of Korean American and European American parental meta-emotion philosophy and its relationship to parent-child interaction. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 67, 4136.Google Scholar
  45. Orvaschel, H., & Puig-Antich, J. (1994). Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Aged ChildrenEpidemiologic Version 5 (K-SADS-E). Nova Southeastern University.Google Scholar
  46. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ramsden, S. R., & Hubbard, J. A. (2002). Family expressiveness and parental emotion coaching: Their role in children’s emotion regulation and aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30, 657–667.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reeb, B. T., & Conger, K. J. (2009). The unique effect of paternal depressive symptoms on adolescent functioning: Associations with gender and father-adolescent relationship closeness. Journal of Family Psychology, 23I, 758–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rubin, D. B. (1976). Inference and missing data. Biometrika, 63, 581–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Saarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  51. Sheeber, L. B., Allen, N., Davis, B., & Sorensen, E. D. (2000). Regulation of negative affect during mother-child problem-solving interactions: Adolescent depressive status and family processes. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 467–479.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sheeber, L. B., Allen, N. B., Leve, C., Davis, B., Shortt, J. W., & Katz, L. F. (2009). Dynamics of affective experience and behavior in depressed adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 1419–1427.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sheeber, L. B., Davis, B., Leve, C., Hops, H., & Tildesley, E. (2007). Adolescents’ relationships with their mothers and fathers: Associations with depressive disorder and subdiagnostic symptomatology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 144–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sheeber, L. B., Johnston, C., Chen, M., Leve, C., Hops, H., & Davis, B. (2009). Mothers’ and fathers’ attributions for adolescent behavior: An examination in families of depressed, subdiagnostic, and nondepressed youth. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 871–881.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shortt, J., Stoolmiller, M., Smith-Shine, J. N., Eddy, J. M., & Sheeber, L. (2010). Maternal emotion coaching, adolescent anger regulation, and siblings’ externalizing symptoms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. (in press).Google Scholar
  56. Smith, M., & Walden, T. (1998). Developmental trends in emotion understanding among a diverse sample of African-American preschool children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19, 177–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Steinberg, L. (2005). Cognitive and affective development in adolescence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 69–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stice, E., Ragan, J., & Randall, P. (2004). Prospective relations between social support and depression: Differential direction of effects for parent and peer support? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 113, 155–159.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stocker, C. M., Richmond, M. K., Rhoades, G. K., & Kiang, L. (2007). Family emotional processes and adolescents’ adjustment. Social Development, 16, 310–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wong, M. S., McElwain, N. L., & Halberstadt, A. G. (2009). Parent, family, and child characteristics: Associations with mother-and father-reported emotion socialization practices. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 452–463.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zeman, J., & Shipman, K. (1997). Social-contextual influences on expectancies for managing anger and sadness: The transition from middle childhood to adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 33, 917–924.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin C. Hunter
    • 1
  • Lynn Fainsilber Katz
    • 2
  • Joann Wu Shortt
    • 3
    • 4
  • Betsy Davis
    • 3
  • Craig Leve
    • 3
  • Nicholas B. Allen
    • 5
  • Lisa B. Sheeber
    • 3
    • 6
  1. 1.Wells CollegeAuroraUSA
  2. 2.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Oregon Research InstituteEugeneUSA
  4. 4.Oregon Social Learning CenterEugeneUSA
  5. 5.University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  6. 6.EugeneUSA

Personalised recommendations