Objective: Anxiety disorders are most prevalent among psychological disorders with an onset between mainly early teens and late twenties. In the frame of Barlow’s triple vulnerability model (TVM) of anxiety the current prospective study examined internalizing symptoms, perceived dysfunctional parenting style and parental worry assessed in childhood as potential risk factors of anxiety in young adults. Furthermore, the mediating effects of self-efficacy and recalled dysfunctional parenting style on anxiety were investigated at early adulthood.
Method: A total of 1597 young adults aged 19 to 27 years (M=22.4; SD=2.32) of a German population-based sample were re-contacted 9 years after participating in the last survey of a series of four annual assessments (W1-W4). Information on the outcome was gathered in a follow-up examination (W5) with the 7-item General Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) measuring the severity of symptoms. According to the authors of the questionnaire. The scores were dichotomized to represent a proxy diagnosis of a general anxiety disorder. Also, the parenting style as recalled by the children and self-efficacy were assessed at this point of time. Mediation analysis was performed with Hayes’ PROCESS tool for SPSS.
Results: Controlling for age and gender, clinically relevant anxiety in early adulthood was significantly predicted by internalizing symptoms, perceived dysfunctional parenting style and parental worry in childhood. These relations were significantly mediated by self-efficacy and recalled dysfunctional parenting style assessed at follow-up.
Conclusion: Results suggest that childhood and parental factors, i.e. early symptoms of anxiety, shyness and depressive mood in childhood as well as perceived parenting style marked by restriction, reproach, inconsistency and worrying significantly influence the manifestation of clinically relevant anxiety in young adults. This effect is mediated by the recalled perception of the parent’s behavior by the children. These findings can be utilized in psychological counseling of parents of children with internalizing symptoms in childhood or adolescence.