The influence of parental attachment and coping style on the adjustment to college

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Alan Goldberg


College adjustment, Coping, Parental attachment

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology


Late adolescence is a period of the life-span involving extensive change. For some late adolescents these changes stimulate further growth. For others, the changes may be overwhelming and lead to developmental decline or problems. Often times, these developmental changes are played out in the context of a college education. The current study explores the influence of parental attachment and coping style on the adjustment to college for first-year students. This exploration is derived from the literature of attachment theory, stress and coping, and mental health and applied to the transition to college.

It was hypothesized that both parental attachment and coping style would predict the four subscales of adjustment: academic, social, personal-emotional, and institutional attachment. Two hundred sixty-six first-year students from a small Jesuit college in the Northeast completed three self-report measures (The Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire, The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment, and The COPE Scale) and a demographic questionnaire during the seventh week of their first semester.

The results of a stepwise multiple regression analysis indicate that both internal and external resources predicted academic and personal-emotional adjustment. These predictor variables did not significantly predict social adjustment or institutional attachment. The COPE emotion-focused and social support variables predicted academic adjustment with an inverse relationship between each predictor variable and academic adjustment. The COPE emotion-focused variable, peer attachment, and gender all predicted personal-emotional adjustment. As with academic adjustment, there was an inverse relationship between the COPE emotion-focused variable and personal-emotional adjustment. Parental attachment did not predict any of the adjustment subscales.

The current study provided limited support for adolescent development and college adjustment as relational processes. The parent-adolescent relationship, which was hypothesized to be an influential predictor of adjustment, turned out not to predict adjustment at all. The negative relationship between emotions and adjustment suggests that, for current students, an overemphasis on emotion-focused coping may serve as a barrier to successful integration into the college community. College counselors may suggest interventions designed to help students develop more cognitive and problem-focused coping skills.


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