The characteristics of authoritative parenting, including high parental nurturance and appropriate control, are protective against adolescents’ delinquency. However, the mediating psychological mechanisms are not well understood. This three-wave longitudinal study with 704 adolescents (52% males; 76% African American) investigated empathy at age 13 as a mediator of the prospective association between authoritative parenting (child’s disclosure and parental nurturance) at age 11 with delinquency at age 18. The results of a structural equation model revealed a significant indirect effect of authoritative parenting on delinquency through empathy. Authoritative parenting at age 11 predicted increased empathy at age 13, which then predicted decreased delinquency at age 18. These findings suggest that authoritative parenting reduces adolescents’ delinquency by promoting empathy.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Arim, R. G., Dahinten, V. S., Marshall, S. K., & Shapka, J. D. (2011). An examination of the reciprocal relationships between adolescents’ aggressive behaviors and their perceptions of parental nurturance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 207–220
Barnes, G., Hoffman, J., Welte, J., Farrell, M., & Dintcheff, B. (2006). Effects of parental monitoring and peer deviance on substance use and delinquency. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 1084–1104
Barnes, G., Reifman, A., Farrell, M., & Dintcheff, B. (2000). The effects of parenting on the development of adolescents’ alcohol misuse: A six-wave latent growth model. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 175–186
Barnes, G., & Windle, M. (1987). Family factors in adolescent alcohol and drug abuse. Pediatrician, 14, 13–18
Barnow, S., Lucht, M., & Freyberger, H. J. (2005). Correlates of aggressive and delinquent conduct problems in adolescence. Aggressive Behavior, 31, 24–39
Batanova, M. D., & Loukas, A. (2012). What are the unique and interacting contributions of school and family factors to early adolescents’ empathic concern and perspective taking? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 1382–1391
Berman, A. H. (2005). The reasoning and rehabilitation program: assessing short and long-term outcomes among male Swedish prisoners. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 40, 85–103
Blakemore, S. J. (2008). The social brain in adolescence. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 267–277
Carlo, G., Mestre, M. V., Samper, P., Tur, A., & Armenta, B. E. (2011). The longitudinal relations among dimensions of parenting styles, sympathy, prosocial moral reasoning, and prosocial behaviors. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 116–124
Cham, H., Reshetnyak, E., Rosenfeld, B., & Breitbart, W. (2017). Full information maximum likelihood estimation for latent variable interactions with incomplete indicators. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 52, 12–30
Choe, S., Lee, J., & Read, S. (2020). Self-concept as a mechanism through which parental psychological control impairs empathy development from adolescence to emerging adulthood. Social Development, 29, 1–19
Crone, E. A., & Dahl, R. E. (2012). Understanding adolescence as a period of social-affective engagement and goal flexibility. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 636–650
Crocetti, E., Van der Graaf, J., Moscatelli, S., Keijsers, L., Koot, H., Rubini, M., Meeus, W., & Branje, S. (2016). A longitudinal study on the effects of parental monitoring on adolescent antisocial behaviors: The moderating role of adolescent empathy. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1726
Dahlberg, L. L., & Potter, L. B. (2001). Youth violence: Developmental pathways and prevention challenges. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 20, 3–14
Davis, M. H., & Begovic, E. (2014). Empathy-related interventions. In A. C. Parks & S. M. Schueller (Eds). The Willey blackwell handbook of positive psychological interventions. Wiley Blackwell. 111–134
Demaray, M. K., Ruffalo, S. L., Carlson, J., Busse, R. T., Olson, A. E., McManus, S. M., & Leventhal, A. (1995). Social skills assessment: A comparative evaluation of six published rating scales. School Psychology Review, 24, 648–671
De Kemp, R., Overbeek, G., De Wied, M., Engels, R., & Scholte, R. (2007). Early adolescent empathy, parental support, and antisocial behavior. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 168, 5–18
Elliott, D. S., Huizinga, D., & Ageton, S. S. (1985). Explaining delinquency and drug use. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications
Fletcher, A. C., Steinberg, L., & Williams-Wheeler, M. (2004). Parental influences on adolescent problem behavior: Revisiting Stattin and Kerr. Child Development, 75, 781–796
Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Branje, S., & Meeus, W. (2010). What parents don’t know and how it may affect their children: Qualifying the disclosure-adjustment link. Journal of Adolescence, 33, 261–270
Gresham, F. M., & Elliot, S. N. (1990). The social skills rating system. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service
Hanson, R. K. (2003). Empathy deficits of sexual offenders: A conceptual model. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 9, 13–23
Harden, K. P., Quinn, P. D., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2012). Genetically influenced change in sensation seeking drives the rise of delinquent behavior during adolescence. Developmental Science, 15, 150–163
Hoeve, M., Blokland, A., Dubas, J., Loeber, R., Gerris, J., & Van der Laan, P. H. (2008). Trajectories of delinquency and parenting styles. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 223–235
Hoeve, M., Dubas, J., Eichelsheim, V., Van der Laan, P., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. (2009). The relationship between parenting and delinquency: A meta-analysis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 749–775
Jolliffe, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2004). Empathy and offending: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behvaior, 9, 441–476
Jolliffe, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2007). Examining the relationship between low empathy and self-reported offending. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 12, 265–286
Jolliffe, D., Farrington, D. P., Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., Hill, K. G., & Kosterman, R. (2003). Predictive, concurrent, prospective and retrospective validity of self-reported delinquency. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 13, 179–197
Kapetanovic, S., Boele, S., & Skoog, T. (2019). Parent-adolescent communication and adolescent delinquency: Unraveling within family processes from between family differences. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48, 1707–1723
Keijsers, L., Branje, S., Hawk, S. T., Schwartz, S. J., Frijns, T., Koot, H. M., van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. (2012). Forbidden friends as forbidden fruit: Parental supervision of friendships, contact with deviant peers, and adolescent delinquency. Child Development, 83, 651–666
Keijsers, L., Branje, S., Van der Valk, I., & Meeus, W. (2010). Reciprocal effects between parental solicitation, parental control, adolescent disclosure, and adolescent delinquency. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 88–113
Keijsers, L., Frijns, T., Branje, S. J., & Meeus, W. (2009). Developmental links of adolescent disclosure, parental solicitation, and control with delinquency: Moderation by parental support. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1314–1327
Keijsers, L., & Poulin, F. (2013). Developmental changes in parent-child communication throughout adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 49, 2301–2308
Klevens, J., & Hall, J. (2014). The importance of parental warmth, support, and control in preventing adolescent misbehavior. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior, 2, 121
Krohn, M. D., Thornberry, T. P., Gibson, C. L., & Baldwin, J. M. (2010). The development and impact of self-report measures of crime and delinquency. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 26, 509–525
Laible, D. J., Carlo, G., & Roesch, S. C. (2004). Pathways to self-esteem in late adolescence: the role of parent and peer attachment, empathy, and social behaviors. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 703–716
Leitjen, P., Overbeek, G., & Janssens, J. (2012). Effectiveness of a parent training program in (pre)adolescence: Evidence from a randomized control trial. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 833–842
Lovett, B., & Sheffield, R. (2007). Affective empathy deficits in aggressive children and adolescents: A criticial review. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 1–13
Marceau, K., Ram, N., & Susman, E. J. (2014). Development and lability in the parent-child relationship during adolescence: Associations with pubertal timing and tempo. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 25, 474–489
Maxwell, S. E., Cole, D. A., & Mitchell, M. A. (2011). Bias in cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal mediation: Partial and complete mediation under an autoregressive model. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 46, 816–841
Meeus, W. (2016). Adolescent psychosocial development: A review of longitudinal models and research. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1969–1993
Mesurado, B., & Richaud, M. C. (2017). The relationship between parental variables, empathy and prosocial-flow with prosocial behavior toward strangers, friends, and family. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18, 843–860
Miklikowska, M., Duriez, B., & Soenens, B. (2011). Family roots of empathy-related characteristics: The role of perceived maternal and paternal need support in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1342–1352
Neumann, D. L., Chan, R. C. K., Boyle, G. J., Wang, Y., & Westbury, H. R. (2015). Chapter 10 – Measures of empathy: Self-report, behavioral, and neuroscientific approaches. In G. J. Boyle, D. H. Saklofske & G. Matthews (Eds). Measures of personality and social psychological constructs (257–289). Academic Press
Pinquart, M. (2017). Associations of parenting dimensions and styles with externalizing problems of children and adolescents: An updated meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 53, 873–932
Pratt, M. W., Skoe, E. E., & Arnold, M. L. (2004). Care reasoning development and family socialization patterns in later adolescence: A longitudinal analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28, 139–147
Robinson, R., Roberts, W. L., Strayer, J., & Koopman, R. (2007). Empathy and emotional responsiveness in delinquent and non-delinquent adolescents. Social Development, 16, 555–579
Rohner, R. P. (2005). The parental “acceptance-rejection syndrome”: Universal correlates of perceived rejection. American Psychologist, 59, 830–840
Satorra, A., & Bentler, P. M. (2010). Ensuring positiveness of the scaled difference chi-square test statistic. Psychometrika, 75, 243–248
Schaffer, M., Clark, S., & Jeglic, E. L. (2008). The role of empathy and parenting style in the development of antisocial behaviors. Sage Journals Crime and Delinquency, 55, 586–599
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2012). Promoting children’s prosocial behavior in school: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” program on the social and emotional competence of school aged children. School Mental Health, 4, 1–21
Simons, R. L., Gordon-Simons, L., Chen, Y. F., Brody, G. H., & Lin, K. H. (2007). Identifying the psychological factors that mediate the association between parenting practices and delinquency. Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 45, 481–517
Singer, T. (2006). The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research. Neurosocience & Bioberhavioral Reviews, 30, 855–863
Soenens, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Luyckx, K., & Goossens, L. (2006). Parenting and adolescent problem behavior: An integrated model with adolescent self-disclosure and perceived parental knowledge as intervening variables. Developmental Psychology, 42, 305–318
Sroufe, A. (2005). Attachment and development: A prospective, longitudinal study from birth to adulthood. Attachment and Human Development, 7, 349–367
Stattin, H., & Kerr, M. (2000). Parental monitoring: A reinterpretation. Child Development, 71, 1072–1085
Strayer, J., Fraser, S., & Roberts, W. (2004). Children’s anger, emotional expressiveness, and empathy: Relations with parents’ empathy, emotional expressiveness, and parenting practices. Social Development, 13, 229–254
Van Aar, J., Leitjen, P., Orobio de Castro, B., & Overbeek, G. (2017). Sustained, fade-out or sleeper effects? A systematic review and meta-analysis of parenting interventions for disruptive child behavior. Clinical Psychology Review, 51, 153–163
Van der Graaff, J., Branje, S., De Wied, M., Hawk, S., & Van Lier, P. (2014). Perspective taking and empathic concern in adolescence: Gender differences in developmental changes. Developmental Psychology, 50, 881–888
Van der Graaff, J., Branje, S., De Wied, M., & Meeus, W. (2012). The moderating role of empathy in the association between parental support and adolescent aggressive and delinquent behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 38, 368–377
Van Langen, M. A. M., Wissink, A. B., Van Vugt, E. S., Van der Stouve, T., & Stams, G. J. J. M. (2014). The relation between empathy and offending: A meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19, 179–189
Van Lissa, C., Hawk, S., Branje, S., Koot, H., Van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. (2015). Divergence between adolescent and parental perceptions of conflict in relationship to adolescent empathy development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44, 48–61
Van Lissa, C., Hawk, S., De Wied, M., Koot, H., Van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. (2014). The longitudinal interplay of affective and cognitive empathy within and between adolescents and mothers. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1219–1225
Windle, M., Brener, N., Cuccaro, P., Dittus, P., Kanouse, D. E., & Murray, N., et al. (2010). Parenting predictors of early-adolescents’ health behaviors: Simultaneous group comparisons across sex and ethnic groups. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 39, 594–606
Zhou, Y. Q., Gan, D. Z. Q., Hoo, E. C. C., Chong, D., & Chu, C. M. (2018). Evaluating the violence prevention program: group and individual changes in aggression, anger, self-control, and empathy. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 2, 265–287
This research was supported by grants R49-CCR418569 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and K01DA024700 from the National Institutes of Health.
M. G. conceived of the study, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript. S. M. contributed to the study design, helped with statistical analyses and interpretation, and revised manuscript content. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Data Sharing and Declaration
This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
All study procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Goering, M., Mrug, S. Empathy as a Mediator of the Relationship between Authoritative Parenting and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence. J Youth Adolescence 50, 1308–1318 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01445-9
- Authoritative parenting