The Role of Parents in the Social World of Adolescence (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Treating responsiveness and demandingness as two distinct dimensions, three other categories of parenting style can be derived. Besides authoritative, there are authoritarian, permissive (also called indulgent), and neglecting (also called uninvolved or dismissive) styles (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Authoritarian parents are low on responsiveness but high on demandingness. Permissive parents are high on responsiveness but low on demandingness, and neglecting or dismissive parents are essentially disengaged, scoring low on both dimensions. Baumrind (e.g., 1991) assessed the behavior of parents and their young adolescents and found that “authoritative parents put out exceptional effort . . . and their adolescents were exceptionally competent (mature, prosocial, high internal locus of control, low internalizing and externalizing problem behavior, low substance use)” (1993, p. 1308). In the large-scale study of 14- to 18-year-olds by Steinberg and his colleagues, parenting style was linked to four aspects of teens’ adjustment: psychosocial development, school achievement, internalized distress, and problem behavior. The children of authoritative parents scored best on the majority of these indicators, and those of neglectful parents scored worst (Lamborn et al., 1991). After 1 year, the adolescents’ adjustment status was reassessed. Parenting style was predictive of patterns of change over the year. For example, adolescents from authoritative homes showed increases in self-reliance, whereas other adolescents showed little change or, if they had neglectful parents, actually declined somewhat (Steinberg et al., 1994).

In general, research on parenting styles from as early as the 1940s (e.g., Baldwin, 1948) has produced results that are consistent with the large-scale studies of today, supporting the notion that both responsiveness and demandingness are beneficial. Overall, responsiveness seems more closely tied to adolescents’ self-confidence and social competence, and demandingness is more closely associated with “good” behavior and self-control. Recent work indicates that it can be useful to consider responsiveness as comprising separable factors: acceptance is being affectionate, praising the child, being involved in the child’s life, and accepting the child’s strengths and limitations, showing concern for the child’s needs, and it is correlated with children’s self-esteem and social adjustment. Democracy is the degree to which parents encourage children’s psychological autonomy by soliciting their opinions or encouraging self-expression, and it is most closely linked to children’s self-reliance, self-confidence, willingness to work hard, and general competence (Steinberg, 1990, 1996). Whether we construe there to be two or three primary dimensions of parenting style, few would deny that the parenting characteristics they comprise are highly desirable. But, relatively speaking, how powerful a role can such parental behaviors actually play by adolescence, when the influence of peers has been found to be so great?

An important key to answering this question is to recall, again, that multiple determinants interact to affect outcomes at every developmental stage. Let’s reconsider, for example, school achievement in the teen years. When authoritative parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ schooling by attending school programs, helping with course selection, and monitoring student progress, their children are more likely to achieve (Gutman, Sameroff, & Eccles, 2002; Mounts & Steinberg, 1995; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch et al., 1992). However, as we have seen, an adolescent’s crowd affiliation also impacts school achievement. Steinberg (1996) found that teens who began with similar academic records showed change over time in school performance consistent with their crowd membership, indicating the importance of peer influence despite parental efforts. But parents can affect crowd membership. First, characteristic behaviors of the child are probably important in determining crowd membership, and a child’s behaviors are associated with parenting style. Steinberg (1996) describes parenting as “launching” children on a trajectory through adolescence. That launching may directly influence what crowd a teenager joins. Mounts and Steinberg (1995) found that specific parenting practices, such as monitoring and encouraging achievement, were correlated with children’s choice of more academically oriented peers. Walker-Barnes and Mason (2001) found that urban parents who show high levels of monitoring and involvement have kids who tend to steer clear of joining delinquent groups or gangs.

But the availability of crowds is also important. If, for example, all crowds value high academic achievement, or if none do, the child’s trajectory with regard to school performance will be much less affected by authoritative parents who value academic excellence than if there is a diversity of crowds. Here is a clue to other ways in which parenting style may influence behavior. Steinberg proposes that authoritative parents, who are heavily involved in their children’s lives, may do things to help structure the child’s peer group options and thus indirectly affect achievement by affecting the accessibility of peers. Does the local high school have few, if any, academically oriented students? Parents may arrange for their children to go elsewhere; they might move, or put their children in private schools, or choose to home school. It is not uncommon for parents who live in dangerous environments to send their children to live for brief periods with relatives. Such behavior, of course, depends on income and on the availability of such options, but it also depends on parental involvement. Authoritative parents are invested parents, often making personal sacrifices to maintain their commitment to their view of good parenting (Greenberger & Goldberg, 1989).

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