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Adolescents’ Empathy and Prosocial Behavior in the Family Context: A Longitudinal Study

Abstract

Children’s empathy and prosocial behavior play an important role in their social competence. Of the influential factors, research has demonstrated that parental behaviors and the quality of the parent–child relationship are important correlates of children’s development of empathy and prosocial behavior. The current study examined the associations between different types of parental behaviors (i.e., parental knowledge, parental solicitation, and parental psychological control), “balanced connectedness” in the parent–child relationship, which allows for both closeness and autonomy, and empathy and prosocial behavior in adolescents. The participants were 335 married couples (more than 80 % European American) and their adolescent child (49.0 % female; 10–13 years). Data were collected at three time points for parental behaviors, balanced parent–child connectedness, and adolescents’ empathy and prosocial behavior, respectively. The results of structural equation modeling suggested that adolescents’ perceptions of parental solicitation and parental psychological control may be associated with their empathy and prosocial behavior through their perceived balanced connectedness with parents. These findings suggest that enhancing balanced connectedness in the parent–child relationship may contribute to promoting empathy and prosocial behavior in adolescents over time. Further, this study suggests that parental solicitation may play a role in adolescents’ empathic and prosocial development, possibly depending on the quality of the parent–child relationship.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this project was provided by a series of grants and donations from the College of Family, Home, and Social Science and the Family Studies Center at Brigham Young University. Generous funds were also contributed by several donors.

Author contributions

HY conceived of this research project and led this study as the first author, completing data analysis and writing the majority of the manuscript; XF guided HY throughout the research process by helping with data analysis and providing substantive feedback on each draft; RD is the primary investigator (PI) of the longitudinal research project on which the current study is based. He contributed to the completion of the manuscript by providing detailed information about the sample, measurements, and research agenda for each wave of the data.

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Correspondence to Hana Yoo.

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Yoo, H., Feng, X. & Day, R.D. Adolescents’ Empathy and Prosocial Behavior in the Family Context: A Longitudinal Study. J Youth Adolescence 42, 1858–1872 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9900-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9900-6

Keywords

  • Parental behaviors
  • Parent–child relationship
  • Empathy
  • Prosocial behavior