Differences between Fathers and Mothers in the Treatment of, and Relationship with, Their Teenage Children: Perceptions of Chinese Adolescents

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ABSTRACT

Chinese adolescents' perceptions of differences between mothers and fathers in parenting styles, parent-adolescent communication (frequency and related feelings), and quality of the parent-adolescent relationship were assessed via questionnaires and individual interviews. Fathers, as compared with mothers, were perceived to be less responsive, less demanding, to demonstrate less concern, but to be more harsh, and paternal parenting was less liked. There was less communication with fathers, and adolescents reported more negative feelings when communicating with fathers than with mothers. They evaluated the father-adolescent relationship more negatively than they did the mother-adolescent relationship. Adolescent females, as compared with males, perceived their parents to be more demanding but less harsh. Parenting characteristics were rated less favorably across time.

The prevailing belief is that the socialization practices of fathers and mothers are different (Shek, 1995). The extent to which any differences between fathers and mothers in the treatment of, and relationships with, their teenage children are perceived by the adolescents themselves is less clear.

A review of the literature revealed that, while the number of studies in the area of parental differences is growing, the results have not been definitive. Some studies have shown that paternal and maternal parenting styles are different (e.g., Clausen, 1996; Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993; Noller & Callan, 1990; Paulson & Sputa, 1996). Others have emphasized the similarities (e.g., Baumrind, 1991b; Smetana, 1995; Stice & Barrera, 1995).

Darling and Steinberg (1993) conceptualized parenting characteristics in terms of global parenting style and specific parenting behavior. However, few studies have included both measures (Shek, 1998a). Furthermore, while parenting characteristics have been rated (e.g., Ginsburg, McGinn, & Harburgh, 1970; Lainborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991), inclusion of adolescents' subjective evaluation has been far less common (e.g., liking or disliking their parents' attributes).

With a few exceptions (e.g., Paulson & Sputa, 1996), findings on parenting differences have been based on cross-sectional data. Even in some longitudinal studies, only cross-sectional findings on parental differences have been presented (Clausen, 1996). Thus, little is known about parenting characteristics across time.

Further, most of the studies on differences in parenting styles have been conducted in Western contexts, and there has been limited research involving the Chinese culture (e.g., Ho, Spinks, & Yeung, 1989; Spinks & Ho, 1993). However, results suggest that Chinese fathers and mothers have different parenting characteristics (Lau, Lew, Hau, Cheung, & Berndt, 1990; Shek, 1995, 1998b). For example, the saying, "strict father, kind mother" (Wilson, 1974), is still popular in Chinese culture (Ho, 1987). Studies with Chinese samples generally have been cross-sectional in design, with global measures of parenting style commonly employed.

The question of whether male and female adolescents have different perceptions of paternal and maternal parenting characteristics has not been conclusively answered. In some studies (e.g., Paulson & Sputa, 1996), gender of the adolescent was not analyzed. Some researchers found no gender differences in the perceptions of parenting characteristics (e.g., Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993; Smetana, 1995), whereas others noted a main effect of adolescent gender (e.g., Baumrind, 1991a; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987) or an interaction effect of adolescent and parent gender (e.g., Lau et al., 1990).

Besides distinctions in parenting characteristics, differences between fathers and mothers regarding parent-adolescent communication (Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987) and the parent-adolescent relationship (Youniss & Smollar, 1985) need to be considered. …