Predictors of Adolescents’ Disclosure to Parents and Perceived Parental Knowledge: Between- and Within-Person Differences

Adolescents’ willingness to share information with parents is a central process through which parents gain knowledge of their adolescents’ lives. This paper addresses four questions important to understanding adolescents’ decisions to voluntarily disclose areas of parent-adolescent disagreement: What are the contribution of parent-adolescent agreement and adolescents’ non-disclosure of disagreement to adolescents’ perceptions of parental knowledge?; Which adolescents are most likely to disclose to parents in case of disagreement?; Under what conditions are adolescents more or less likely to disclose disagreement?; and What type of non-disclosure will different adolescents use and under what conditions? Self-report data from 120 adolescents (M age=15.8) revealed that failure to disclose disagreement, but not overall agreement, predicted perceived parental knowledge. Adolescents from authoritative homes and those less involved in disapproved leisure were more likely to disclose disagreement and less likely to lie. Within-person differences in disclosure were predicted by the presence of explicit rules and adolescents’ beliefs about required obedience.

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We gratefully acknowledge the work of Ian Burns, Katherine Hames, Kristen Jacobson, Teru Toyakawa, and the many undergraduate students involved in collecting, coding, and cleaning these data. We would like to express our gratitude to the adolescents who were interviewed for this project. Data collection was supported by a grant from College of Health and Human Development, the Pennsylvania State University.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nancy Darling.

Additional information

Dr. Darling is a developmental psychologist whose research focuses on social relationships during adolescence, with a special interest in contextual variation in developmental processes. Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Darling at

Dr. Cumsille is a developmental methodologist whose research focuses on adolescent well-being.

Dr. Caldwell's research focuses on the experience of adolescent leisure, with a particular interest in adolescent boredom and well-being.

Dr. Dowdy is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent social relations.

Appendix A

Appendix A

Issues rated in Strategic Disclosure Card Sort.

  1. 1.

    The type of TV shows or videos you watch

  2. 2.

    Where you go with your friends

  3. 3.

    Going to a movie alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend

  4. 4.

    Having friends over when parents aren't home

  5. 5.

    Doing homework

  6. 6.

    The type of movies you can go to

  7. 7.

    What chores you do

  8. 8.

    Smoking cigarettes

  9. 9.

    What you do after school

  10. 10.

    Who your friends are

  11. 11.

    How much time you spend with your friends

  12. 12.

    Talking on the phone with your boyfriend/girlfriend

  13. 13.

    What you do after dinner

  14. 14.

    Who you can date

  15. 15.

    Going to a friend's house when their parents aren't home

  16. 16.

    Where you can go with your boyfriend/girlfriend

  17. 17.

    How much time you spend on the telephone

  18. 18.

    The kind of clothes you wear when you go out

  19. 19.

    Seeing a friend whom parents do not like

  20. 20.

    Going to parties

  21. 21.

    When you can start dating

  22. 22.

    How you spend your time when your parents aren't home

  23. 23.

    How you spend your money

  24. 24.

    What time you come home

  25. 25.

    Riding in cars with teenage drivers

  26. 26.

    Drinking alcohol

  27. 27.

    Going places with your family

  28. 28.

    Going to parties where there aren't any adults present

  29. 29.

    What you do on weekends

  30. 30.

    How much time you can spend with your boyfriend/girlfriend

  31. 31.

    Inviting a boyfriend or girlfriend over when your parents are away

  32. 32.

    The grades you need to get

  33. 33.

    What music you listen to

  34. 34.

    Having a party when parents are away

  35. 35.

    Using drugs

  36. 36.

    Joining a club or activity

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Darling, N., Cumsille, P., Caldwell, L.L. et al. Predictors of Adolescents’ Disclosure to Parents and Perceived Parental Knowledge: Between- and Within-Person Differences. J Youth Adolescence 35, 659–670 (2006).

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  • parent-child relations
  • monitoring
  • parent-adolescent communication
  • lying
  • disclosure