"I'd rather not talk about it": Adolescents' and young adults' use of topic avoidance in stepfamilies

T. Golish, J. Caughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined adolescents' and young adults' use of topic avoidance with their mothers, fathers, stepmothers, and stepfathers. The types of topics avoided differed according to the type of parent-child relationship. Specifically, adolescents and young adults engaged in the most topic avoidance with their stepparents (regardless of whether the stepparent was a stepmother or stepfather), followed by their fathers, and then their mothers. Quantitative measures indicated that sex was the most frequently avoided topic across all relationship types. Open-ended responses revealed additional commonly avoided topics, including talking about the other parent/family, deep conversations, and money (e.g., child support payments). The most frequently reported reasons for this avoidance were self protection, relationship protection, and conflict. This research suggests that children in stepfamilies face unique decisions about topic avoidance. Communication Boundary Management Theory (Petronio, 1991) was used to explain how adolescents and young adults might engage in topic avoidance to regulate their personal boundaries, constructing relatively impermeable boundaries with some adults while maintaining looser boundaries with others. Finally, numerous practical suggestions are offered for understanding the balance between openness and closedness in stepfamilies and for promoting healthy stepfamily functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-106
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Communication Boundaries
  • Privacy
  • Stepfamilies
  • Topic Avoidance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics


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