Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 952–963 | Cite as

Externalizing Symptoms Moderate Associations Among Interpersonal Skills, Parenting, and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents Seeking Mental Health Treatment

  • Erin M. Rodriguez
  • Geri R. Donenberg
  • Erin Emerson
  • Helen W. Wilson
  • Shabnam Javdani
Empirical Research


Adolescents’ interpersonal skills are associated with fewer teen depressive symptoms and more positive parenting, but little is known about how teens’ externalizing problems moderate these relationships. This study examines links among teens’ interpersonal skills, parenting, and withdrawn-depressed symptoms in adolescents seeking outpatient psychiatric treatment with elevated or non-elevated externalizing problems. Adolescents (N = 346; 42 % female; 61 % African–American) ages 12–19 years old (M = 14.9; SD = 1.8) and parents completed assessments at baseline and 6 months. At baseline parents and teens reported on teen withdrawn-depressed and externalizing symptoms, and were observed interacting to assess teen interpersonal skills. At 6 months adolescents reported on parenting, and parents and teens reported on teen withdrawn-depressed symptoms. Structural equation modeling tested two models (one with teen reported symptoms and one with parent reported symptoms). Model fit was better for youth with elevated externalizing problems regardless of reporter. For youth with elevated externalizing problems, baseline teen positive interpersonal skills were not directly associated with 6-month withdrawn-depressed symptoms, but more positive parenting was associated with fewer withdrawn-depressed symptoms. In the teen report model, more positive teen interpersonal skills were associated with more positive parenting, and there was a trend for parenting to indirectly account for the relationship between interpersonal skills and withdrawn-depressed symptoms. The findings extend research on the role of externalizing problems in teens’ depression risk. Interventions for depression that target interpersonal skills may be particularly effective in youth with elevated externalizing problems.


Adolescent Interpersonal skills Parenting Depression Externalizing 



This research was supported by R01 MH58545, the Warren Wright Adolescent Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Intramural Grants Program. The authors gratefully acknowledge the Healthy Youths Program staff and the families who participated. We thank the administrators and staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Cook County Bureau of Health, and the Institute for Juvenile Research.

Author contributions

All authors have contributed to this manuscript in a meaningful way. Specifically, ER participated in developing the research question, performed the statistical analysis and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript; GD and EE conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, participated in developing the research question, and helped to draft the manuscript; and HW and SJ participated in developing the research question and interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin M. Rodriguez
    • 1
  • Geri R. Donenberg
    • 2
    • 3
  • Erin Emerson
    • 3
  • Helen W. Wilson
    • 4
  • Shabnam Javdani
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of MedicineUniversity of Illinois, ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.School of Public HealthUniversity of Illinois, ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  5. 5.Department of Applied PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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