Demand/withdraw communication between parents and adolescents: Connections with self-esteem and substance use

John P. Caughlin, Rachel S. Malis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although there is a clear link between parent-adolescent conflict and undesirable outcomes such as poor self-esteem and drug use among adolescents, less is known about why some conflict between parents and adolescents is associated with negative health outcomes, whereas other conflict between parents and adolescents is not. This study examined this issue by focusing on the demand/withdraw pattern of conflict, which involves one person nagging or criticizing while the other person avoids the topic. A sample of 57 parent-adolescent dyads completed a study that included both self-reports of demand/withdraw and outside ratings of the extent to which the dyad engaged in demand/withdraw during audiotaped conversations. The topics of the conversations included issues important to the parent, issues important to the adolescent, and alcohol and drug use among teenagers. As expected, frequent demand/withdraw was associated with low self-esteem and high alcohol and drug use for both adolescents and parents. These findings are consistent with the notion that demand/withdraw between parents and adolescents tends to be associated with particularly destructive conflicts that have both indirect health implications (e.g., because low self-esteem is associated with health risk behaviors) and direct health implications (e.g., health risk behaviors like alcohol and drug use). The results also suggest that to prevent the more common pattern of parent-demand/adolescent-withdraw, it might be important for parents to be responsive (i.e., not withdraw) when adolescents want to discuss an issue, even if the issue is not particularly salient to the parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-148
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Demand/withdraw
  • Drug abuse prevention
  • Parent-adolescent conflict
  • Self-esteem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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