The ability of adolescents to regulate their emotions and take advantage of their parents’ guidance may affect how they experience their transition to adulthood and their tendency to develop current and future mental health problems. The present study had two aims; first, to test the effectiveness of interpersonal emotion- regulation (ER) compared to self-ER. Second, to examine how interaction between parent/adolescent anxiety influences the effectiveness of interpersonal compared to self-ER.
39 couples of parents (13 males; 26 females, 39–61 years of age) and adolescents (17 males; 22 females, 13–18 years of age) participated in the study. Adolescents viewed negative emotional images with low or high intensity. For each image, they were instructed to either choose and apply a regulatory strategy (i.e., self ER) or to apply a regulatory strategy chosen by their parents (i.e., interpersonal ER).
It was found that in low anxiety parents- low anxiety adolescents, the effectiveness of self and interpersonal ER were equal. In low-anxiety parents- high-anxiety adolescents, on the other hand, there was a significant advantage to interpersonal compared to self-ER. In high-anxiety parents, there was a significant advantage to self, compared to interpersonal ER in reducing distress, independent of the level of anxiety experienced by the adolescent.
The study has significant clinical implications, providing a behavioral tool to decrease distress in highly anxious individuals during the challenging times of pre-adulthood.