The Success of Caucasian Mothers in Guiding Adolescents

Article excerpt

Mothers across ethnic backgrounds report that their role becomes more worrisome when a child goes through adolescence than during any of the earlier developmental stages (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995). One reason for this common anxiety is that mothers can no longer rely on memories of their own adolescence as the basis for giving advice to teenagers, because the environment has become more complicated. Parental feelings of uncertainty are reinforced by messages from experts on television and in print who suggest widely disparate methods for raising children (Apter, 2001).

Studies of African American, Mexican American, and Japanese mothers have identified parenting competence and learning needs for each ethnicity (Strom, Dohrmann, et al., 2002; Strom, Strom, Strom, Makino & Morishima, 2000). Mothers and adolescents in each culture relied on the same criteria to assess maternal (a) communication, (b) use of time, (c) teaching, (d) frustration, (e) satisfaction, and (f) need for information about adolescents.


Effective communication skills help mothers convey beliefs and values while reciprocally becoming aware of their adolescents' priorities (Ferrucci, 2001). Mothers are in agreement that communicating with adolescents is more difficult than communicating with younger children (Galinsky, 1999; Lewis, 2000). Adolescents more often misinterpret comments of parents, seem overly sensitive to criticism, and are inclined to express disagreement. They crave privacy, maintain secrecy about things they do, and appear less willing to disclose their feelings compared with when they were younger. In combination, these factors make it difficult to communicate with teenagers (Giannetti & Sagarese, 1997).

One consequence of a decline in ease of communication is that many mothers become insufficiently informed to provide adequate guidance. Still, mothers represent a resource regarded as essential from the adolescent point of view. For example, Otto (2001) examined perceptions of youth regarding parental influence on career choice, a developmental task that is encountered by every generation (Havighurst, 1972). Three hundred fifty high school juniors in North Carolina were asked whom they spoke with most often about their occupational plans. Mothers were identified by 81% of the students, followed by peers (80%) and fathers (62%). Mothers were acknowledged as being the preferred resource by both genders and across ethnic groups. Even though a greater proportion of fathers had jobs than did mothers and were more experienced in the workplace, students saw mothers as more willing to listen and therefore regarded them as better acquainted with their interests and abilities than anyone else.

Use of Time

Mothers in a fast-paced environment must cope with a shortage of time as they attempt to balance the competing demands of work and family (Daly, 2001). When asked to identify the most difficult aspects of raising adolescents, 83% of a random sample of mothers reported that it was being too busy, lacking control of their schedule at work, and making themselves available to the family when needed (Shellenberger, 1999). Further, spending more time together during the high school years could counteract negative peer influence. Research indicates that, as amount of time adolescents and parents spend together increases, delinquent behavior decreases (Klein, Forehand, Armistead & Long, 1997).

Academic achievement also correlates with time together. When other factors known to affect classroom performance, such as parents' level of education, income, race, and family size, are held constant, adolescents whose parents spend greater amounts of time with them are less likely to quit school than are peers lacking such support. Moreover, students whose parents participate in school events, establish conditions that are conducive to doing homework, and monitor out-of-school behavior are more likely to get better grades, exhibit greater academic motivation, and less often engage in disruptive classroom behavior (Darling & Steinberg, 1999). …