Despite existing evidence on negative associations between parental autonomy support and children’s internalizing and externalizing problem behavior, it is difficult to draw conclusions on the effect that parents’ autonomy support has on children’s problem behavior. This study contributed to the existing literature by unraveling the temporal ordering of parental autonomy support and adolescent problem behavior. In addition, this study examined whether these linkages differed by parent’s sex, child sex, and reporter of autonomy support. Data of 497 adolescents (mean age at T1 = 13.03 years, percentage male = 56.9) and their parents from six annual waves of the Dutch study Research on Adolescent Development And Relationships (RADAR) were used. The results showed that stable differences between families explained most linkages between autonomy support and problem behavior. Adolescents with fewer problem behaviors have fathers (both child- and parent-reported) and mothers (only child-reported) who are more autonomy supportive. The results did not differ between boys and girls. The findings suggest that prior studies may have overstated the existence of a causal effect of parental autonomy support on adolescent problem behavior.

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Journal of Youth and Adolescence
Department of Sociology