Coping with family conflict: What's helpful and what's not for low-income adolescents

Catherine Decarlo Santiago, Martha E. Wadsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Family conflict is exacerbated by poverty-related stress and is detrimental to adolescent mental health. Adolescent coping with family conflict has the potential to buffer or exacerbate the negative effects of family conflict on internalizing symptoms. We examined coping with family conflict among 82 low-income adolescents (53.7% female, mean age = 13.5 years at Time 1, SD = 1.98; range 11-18), and their primary caregivers (95% female, mean age = 34.9 years, SD = 7.45). Adolescents were 25.9% Caucasian, 28.4% African American, 38.3% Hispanic, and 7.4% Other (Multi-racial, Native American, or Asian). Results show that family conflict is more strongly associated with internalizing symptoms for adolescents under high levels of poverty-related stress. Regression analyses indicate that secondary control coping moderates the effects of family conflict on internalizing symptoms. In addition, analyses reveal that disengagement coping exacerbates symptoms across time for both adolescent girls and boys. Regression analyses also suggest that primary control coping is helpful for coping with family conflict, but only for girls. Results highlight the importance of examining coping concurrently and across time as well as including moderating effects of gender. Intervention efforts targeting low-income adolescents should incorporate the instruction of secondary control strategies for coping with family conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-202
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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