Early exposure to parents' relationship instability: implications for sexual behavior and depression in adolescence.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Examine the effects of the timing of parents' relationship instability on adolescent sexual and mental health.


We assessed whether the timing of parents' relationship instability predicted adolescents' history of sexual partnerships (SP) and major depressive episodes. Multivariate logistic regression analyses controlled for potential mediators related to parenting and the family, including parent knowledge of activities, parent-child relationship quality, number of parents' post-separation relationship transitions, and number of available caregivers. Participants were assessed annually from age 5 through young adulthood as part of a multisite community sample (N = 585).


Participants who experienced parents' relationship instability before age 5 were more likely to report SP at age 16 (odds ratio [OR](adj) = 1.58) or an episode of major depression during adolescence (OR(adj) = 2.61). Greater parent knowledge at age 12 decreased the odds of SP at age 16, but none of the hypothesized parenting and family variables statistically mediated the association between early instability and SP or major depressive episode.


These results suggest that experiencing parents' relationship instability in early childhood is associated with sexual behavior and major depression in adolescence, but these associations are not explained by the parenting and family variables included in our analyses. Limitations of the current study and implications for future research are discussed.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Donahue, KL; D'Onofrio, BM; Bates, JE; Lansford, JE; Dodge, KA; Pettit, GS

Published Date

  • December 2010

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 47 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 547 - 554

PubMed ID

  • 21094431

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC2993005

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1879-1972

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1054-139X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.04.004


  • eng