Feeling loved and connected to others is central to adolescent development (Bowlby, 1988). Although emotional love is understudied in youth, the benefits of feeling loved are expansive (Fredrickson, 2013; Shiota et al., 2017). Yet, little is known about why people feel more or less loved on a daily basis even though evidence suggests variability in feelings of love at hourly and daily levels (Trampe et al., 2015). The parent(or caregiver)-adolescent relationship is a primary source of love all the way into adulthood, with unconditional parental support as the most adaptive. However, with the increase of need for autonomy during adolescence, conflict between parent and adolescent is unavoidable and may be another important factor that influence adolescents’ feeling of love. More research is needed to examine how dyadic behaviors such as parental support and conflict explain daily fluctuations of feeling loved. Even after accounting for relationship closeness, we expected parental reported support and conflict to predict their adolescents’ felt love. Specifically, we expected that on days when parental support was high, conflicts with parents would have limited relation with adolescents’ felt love as this would indicate more of an unconditional type of love.
We tested parent-adolescent dyads in a sample of 151 families (Adolescent Mage =14.60; 61.6% female) over a 21-day period. At baseline, adolescents self-reported on parent-adolescent closeness. Then, using electronic daily diary surveys for 21 days, parents self-reported on providing support to adolescents and perception of conflict with adolescents. On those days, adolescents self-reported how loved they felt by their caregivers.
Data analysis was conducted by using a series of multilevel models. In step 1, we estimated parental support and conflict in relation to adolescents’ daily reports about felt loved by the parent at within-person and between-person levels. In step 2, we additional accounted for general parent-adolescent closeness effect. In step 3, interactions among predictors were added. At the between-person level, adolescents who in general received higher parental support and have higher closeness with parents felt more loved by parents; yet, general parent-adolescent conflict was not significantly associated with feeling loved. At the within-person level, even after accounting for general closeness, adolescents felt more loved on days when they received more support from parents and on days when they have less conflict with parents. A significant within-person level interaction indicated that the importance of days’ parental support was greater on high conflict days; but, when parents were highly supportive of their adolescents, the difference between high- and low-conflict days was negligible.
Conclusions and Implications
This is one of the first longitudinal studies to examine how daily experiences are linked to how loved some one feels. Although parent-adolescent closeness mattered, when adolescents’ felt loved was still linked to daily parental support and conflict. In particular, when daily parental support was high, daily parent-adolescent conflict did not matter for feelings of love. Given the within-person nature of this study, the implications suggest intervention points for parenting techniques that focus on support.