Saturday, January 17, 2009: 8:00 AM
Balcony I (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Background and Purpose: Numerous studies over the past three decades have investigated the effects of maternal depression on their children's functioning, but very little is known about the role of father involvement in this context, particularly for teenaged youth. The aim of our research was to examine the effects of father involvement, with a specific focus on the extent to which involvement has independent and moderating effects on outcomes for adolescents. We examined a broad constellation of resiliency increasing and decreasing outcomes including mental health problems, behavioral problems, social (affiliating) skills, and academic outcomes. Father involvement was hypothesized to be resiliency increasing, having both direct and indirect effects moderating or buffering the risks associated with maternal mental health problems. Methods: The study design included maternal, child, and teacher report. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to establish the fit of three measurement models: 1) maternal mental health problems—including maternal functioning, maternal functioning hassles, maternal depression, and maternal symptomatology; 2) father involvement—including youth report about father's/stepfather's helpfulness with personal problems, helpfulness with money, the extent to which he is fun to be with, and the quality of the relationship; and 3) youth outcomes: risky behavior—including delinquency and drinking/smoking; internalizing mental health problems— including depression, anxiety, and internalizing behaviors; academic outcomes—including GPA and teacher report of positive and negative behaviors; and affiliating skills—including youth report of initiating friendship skills, empathy, and openness/disclosure skills. SEM was used to test for a direct path between maternal mental health (MMH) and each of the youth outcomes, a direct path between father involvement and the each of the youth outcomes, and a path between the latent construct representing the interaction between father involvement and mother involvement on each of the youth outcomes. We used the unconstrained approach to model the latent interaction. Results: Our analyses identified independent direct effects of MMH and father involvement on adolescent outcomes. Specifically, MMH had a negative effect on academic outcomes and a positive effect on affiliating skills. Father involvement had a negative effect on risky behavior and a positive effect on academic outcomes. Father involvement also moderated the effect of MMH on affiliating skills (positive relationship between MMH and affiliating skills existing primarily in situations of low father involvement). Conclusions and Implications: The current study demonstrates that father involvement exerts a positive influence on adolescent children of mothers with mental health problems (less risky behavior and better academic performance). Maternal mental health, however, has differential effects on adolescents depending on the outcomes assessed, with negative effects on academic outcomes and positive effects on affiliating skills. The negative relationship with academic outcomes may be explained by the relationship to permissive parenting (cf., Oyserman, Bybee, Mowbray, and Hart-Johnson, 2004). The positive relationship with affiliating skills, particularly in the context of low father involvement, is not completely surprising and possibly explained by youth parentification, increased opportunity to practice empathy or disclose personal problems.