Study Shows Father's Rejection Triggers Anxiety in Teens

Research shows unhealthy father-teen relationships increase social anxiety.

Posted Dec 18, 2017

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Forming and maintaining positive, reciprocal relationships plays an integral role in the emotional development of adolescents, and this process begins at home. Not only do adolescents take their cues from parents when it comes to friendship skills, but a sense of belonging and connection within the family gives adolescents the confidence they need to achieve independence and cultivate healthy relationships outside of the family unit.

While looking to the parenting style of the mother to understand problematic adolescent behavior and/or struggles with mental health is commonplace, a new study shows that it’s essential to look at family climate as a whole. Researchers from Penn State’s Prevention Research Center looked at how parental rejection and family climate affects adolescent friendships and loneliness related to social anxiety. The research team focused on 687 families (comprised of a mother, a father, and an adolescent) during a three-year period (sixth, seventh, and eighth grade) to determine how these factors impact adolescents over time.

Results showed that while mother rejection, father rejection, and overall climate predicted changes in peer friendship quality and loneliness, father rejection also predicted changes in social anxiety. Father rejection in sixth grade was associated with increases in social anxiety in seventh grade and loneliness in eighth grade. 

The defining feature of social anxiety disorder is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in social or performance environments. Not only does social anxiety affect an adolescent’s ability to form and maintain healthy friendships, but it can also result in poor school performance, difficulty performing on the field or in other areas of occupational functioning, and social isolation. Left untreated, avoidance behaviors can result in chronic loneliness and symptoms of depression.

This study sheds critical light on the importance of building strong bonds at home. While not all poor father-child relationships will result in adolescent social anxiety, some will. Given that adolescence does mark a period of emerging independence, it’s crucial for parents to evaluate and strengthen their bonds with their kids and pay close attention to their own patterns of behavior. 

As it turns out, the old advice often given to parents of toddlers also holds true for parents of teens: Model the skills and behaviors you hope to see in your kids. 

Prioritize empathy.
It’s no big secret that adolescence is fraught with change, but how you handle change plays an important role in building a positive relationship with your teen. Empathy is one of the building blocks of positive, healthy, and reciprocal relationships. Though your teen might pull away, push every button, and test every limit, he is relying on you to remain calm and tap into empathy when the chips are down.

Prioritizing empathy doesn’t mean engaging in passive parenting. Tapping into empathy with your adolescent means connecting on a deeper level, listening more than you lecture, and conveying true understanding and compassion for your child. When parents do this, teens learn to handle their peer relationships with care.

Make time.
In this digitally connected, hyper-competitive, and extraordinarily busy world, actual face time is on the decline. Your tweens and teens need you to put in the time. Find the thing that you both love, whether it’s traveling the state in search of the best grilled cheese sandwich or playing basketball in the driveway, and carve out time to focus on your adolescent.

What adolescents need most from their parents is uninterrupted (put away the distractions) time together, active listening, and understanding. 

Solve problems together.
Growing up has never been easy, and arguing with parents is often viewed as a hallmark of adolescence. It’s important to remember that, much like younger children, teens save their biggest emotions for their parents. And just like their younger selves, they don’t always ask for help in the most direct manner.

Adolescence is an important time for learning to solve problems independently, but this means that parents should ignore cries for help. The best way to teach your teen problem-solving skills is to work with your teen. Ask questions. Brainstorm solutions together. Provide emotional support as your teen works through the problem. When parents provide support and unconditional love, teens learn to work through their obstacles.

Talk it out.
It’s natural for parents and teens to experience ups and downs. As much as teens are working on independence and carving out their own futures, parents are working on the difficult task of letting go and playing a supporting role. It can be difficult to give up that director’s chair. 

The key to building positive relationships both at home and in out in the world is utilizing open and honest communication. Distraction-free time to talk and work through the bumps together helps strengthen the parent-adolescent bond and plants the seeds for healthy relationship building for years to come.


Penn State. (2017, December 13). Father's rejection may increase child's social anxiety, loneliness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2017 from