Parental Relations, Mental Health, and Delinquency in Adolescents

Article excerpt

It is commonly maintained that a poor relationship with parents is significantly associated with the development of psychosocial problems in children and adolescents. In particular, thorough studies have been carried out on the relationship between an early experience of loss and psychopathology, frequently stimulated by Bowlby's (1951) hypothesis on the negative consequences of maternal deprivation.

Rutter (1972, 1981), however, assessed about fifty studies based on this hypothesis, and modified Bowlby's conclusions. Rutter maintains that it is only under certain conditions that maternal deprivation has long-term effects. On the other hand, he also maintains that there are a number of other aspects to the relationship with both parents that are probably significant. Rutter concludes that a study should be made of the children's perception of their parents to determine whether this provides additional insight into the etiology of different psychosocial problems.

A number of studies have, in fact, also concluded that depressed people often have experienced both poor care and overprotection in childhood (Perris 1966, Blatt, Wein, & Cherron, 1979). A common psychoanalytic interpretation has been that depressed people continually recapitulate previous disappointments, thus disposing them to a feeling of helplessness and subsequently to depression (Bibring, 1953). Anxiety also can be associated with pathogenic relationships with the parents and disturbances in attachments and bonds (Bowlby, 1977). However, few empirical studies have investigated special aspects of the parents' pattern of upbringing in those who develop conditions characterized by anxiety. Taken as a whole, however, the literature indicates that disturbed relationships with parents result in generally increased vulnerability to both mild and more serious psychopathology (Rutter, 1981; Burbach & Borduin, 1986).

The connection between relationship with parents and delinquency also has been studied. Adams, Gulotta, & Clancy (1985) found that a considerable proportion of young people who ran away from home had a very negative perception of their parents. In addition, early sexual debut and teenage pregnancies have been connected with neglect by the mother (Cubis, Levin, & Raphael, 1985). And a number of studies have concluded that delinquency in a wider sense is related to problematic relationships with parents, and that youths with this kind of problem often come from disorganized families where both care and structure are lacking (Robins, 1966; Rutter & Giller, 1983; Kay & Kay 1986). DSM-III-R, e.g., mentions rejection by the parents, an inconsistent pattern of upbringing with hard discipline, and growing up in an institution as being among the risk factors connected with the diagnosis of conduct disorder (APA, 1980).

Obviously a major problem with research on parental relationships is that the concepts are difficult to define and measure. Thus, the terminology used in attempts to determine the central dimensions in these relationships has also varied. Important pairs of concepts such as warm/rejecting, invasive/tolerant, along with concepts such as dominance, autonomy, stimulation, and psychological control have been used (Roe & Siegelmann, 1963; Schaefer, 1965; Raskin, Boothe, Reatig & Schulterbrandt, 1975; Ross, Campbell, & Clazer, 1982). Several factor analyses indicate, however, that parents' behavior and attitudes can to a large extent be made operational along two primary dimensions. The first appears as a distinct care dimension, while the other--which is not quite as unambiguous--is connected with the concepts of control and overprotection (Roe & Siegelmann, 1963; Perris et al., 1980).

An early, and subsequently classical contribution to the clarification of the concept of overprotection was presented by Levy (1943). He studied twenty mothers of children with different mental health problems, concluding that the attitudes and habits of the mothers were harmful and overprotective. …