Single Mothers of Early Adolescents: Perceptions of Competence

Article excerpt

Parents today face unprecedented challenges that sometimes exceed their ability to respond effectively. There is growing awareness that children from every background in a technological society are being exposed to significant risks and dangers. Nevertheless, there is general reluctance to acknowledge that all families have limitations which may require greater external support in order to succeed in the current environment (Levine, 2006). A common perception has been that children at risk can be identified by family structure or level of parents' income (Kim & Brody, 2005). When these narrow criteria are applied, poor and nonnuclear households are considered the only groups to need support (Hymowitz, 2006). A more informed outlook recognizes that low income families can also be resilient and that affluence does not always protect children from trouble (Luthar & Ansary, 2005; Luthar & Becker, 2002; Levine, 2006; Minuchin, Colapito, & Minuchin, 2007). Further, assumptions regarding uniformity of groups do not accurately reflect variation of dynamics that obtain in single, blended, nuclear, and extended families (Clunis & Green, 2003; Gabe & Lipmen-Blumen, 2004; Schoon, 2006). There is abundant evidence that family structure and household income are less influential factors in adolescent development than parent behavior and access to community support (Apter, 2006; Kohn, 2006).

Developmental Assets

One reason that rates of morbidity, the incidence of illness and disease, are lower in technological societies than others is the practice of protecting children by immunizing them (Garrett, 2007). In a similar way, the concept of "developmental assets" provides community resources to support healthy choices that can influence student success and respect for others while offering protection from exposure to dangers of drugs, violence, sexual activity, abuse, and academic failure (Books, 2007; Rose, 2006). Based on many studies that have explored risk behavior and resiliency, augmented by survey responses of two million adolescents, researchers at the Search Institute in Minneapolis identified forty building blocks of human development that generalize across gender, race/ethnicity, geography, and community size (Benson, Scales, Hamilton, & Sesma, 2006; Scales & Leffert, 2004). The percentage of students in grades 6-12 that experience each asset is presented on the institute Web site at] assets.

The concept of developmental assets and asset-building calls upon socializing systems of communities to actualize their enormous capacity for promoting strengths. Attainment of this goal requires greater balance of two paradigms in order that concerns about reducing deficits and building assets can take place together with equal enthusiasm. This shift is more likely to occur when the public recognizes that deficit reduction and asset building depend upon different resources and processes (Lerner & Benson, 2005). In applying the deficit paradigm, interventions to decrease substance abuse, dropout, teen pregnancy, bullying, and gang formation are developed and monitored by professionals acting to implement priorities of the federal and state government or private foundations. In these initiatives, "top down" changes supported by external funding focus only on helping youth in low income or minority families (Minuchin, Colapinto, & Minuchin, 2007).

In contrast, the developmental assets paradigm which mobilizes the capacity of communities to nurture strengths places everyone in the socializing systems of family, school, neighborhood, youth organizations, and religious institutions at the hub of action. The guiding strategy for this approach includes far more emphasis on collective efficacy, social trust, social capital, a shared vision of helping youth to thrive, and a broad base of commitment than on the energy generated from funding or government policy (Putnam, 2000; 2004; Putnam & Feldstein, 2003). …