A new study offers insight into how a mother’s communication apprehension can influence a child’s psychological development. The findings were published in Psychological Reports.
Social learning theory, coined by Albert Bandura in 1977, maintains that people learn by observing and imitating behaviors that are modeled by those around them. For children, parents are the primary models through which they learn attitudes, values, and behaviors. Study authors Timothy Curran and team wanted to investigate an unexplored topic — how a mother’s anxiety and fears surrounding communication might influence a child’s development.
A survey was conducted among 154 undergraduate students and their mothers. Both mothers and their adult children completed measures of communication apprehension, and the young adults completed additional measures of resilience, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms.
First, the researchers found that a mother’s communication apprehension was linked to their adult child’s communication apprehension — suggesting that uneasiness surrounding communication can be transmitted from one generation to the next. This is a troubling finding, given that communication apprehension has been linked to many negative outcomes, including social difficulties and trouble navigating new life changes such as starting college.
Next, young adults’ communication apprehension was linked to increased depressive symptoms, and lower resilience and self-esteem. The researchers discuss how fears surrounding communication can lead to coping difficulties among youth, saying, “young adults who are apprehensive may not have the social skills needed to seek social support during times of stress and adversity, which may put them at risk for lower levels of coping and resilience.”
What’s more, the researchers found that mothers’ communication apprehension had an indirect effect on the young adults’ depressive symptoms, resilience, and self-esteem, through the young adult’s own communication apprehension. This finding offers support for a pathway from a mother’s communication apprehension to a child’s development issues, through the child’s own uneasiness with communication.
Curran and team say their findings fall in line with the argument that family plays a crucial role in a young adult’s development of resilience. The findings also highlight the link between communication apprehension and poor psychological outcomes. As the authors say, some research theories posit that people tend to build on their self-worth through their interactions with others. It follows, then, that those who struggle in social situations experience a hit to their self-esteem.
The study was limited in that it involved a sample of relatively well-adjusted individuals, and the findings cannot be generalized to all populations.
The researchers suggest that improving communication apprehension may offer a way to boost one’s well-being and resilience. They suggest that one future avenue of research would be to examine whether social support seeking plays a role in the link between communication apprehension and psychological distress.
The study, “Associations Between Mother–Child Communication Apprehension, and Young Adult Resilience, Depressive Symptoms, and Self-Esteem”, was authored by Timothy Curran, John Seiter, Mengfei Guan, and Taylor White.