Child, Parent, and Contextual Influences on Perceived Parenting Competence among Parents of Adolescents

Article excerpt

Belsky's (1984) model of the determinants of parenting was examined among 666 pairs of White mothers and adolescents and 510 pairs of White fathers and adolescents. When parents reported higher perceived parenting competence, sons and daughters reported more parental monitoring and responsiveness and less parental psychological control. Moreover, sons and daughters of competent parents reported higher levels of most measures of academic and psychosocial competence. For mothers and fathers, the best correlates of perceived competence in parenting were adolescent openness to socialization and stress in parenting this particular child, followed by parental sensitivity (for mothers) and marital or partner support (for fathers). Implications suggest expanding Belsky's model to include goodness-of-fit between parent and child.

Key Words: adolescence, child effects, gender, goodness-of-fit, parenting competence.

The long history of research on the parent-child relationship has focused almost exclusively on how parents influence the development of their offspring. Overall, these studies suggest that competent parenting promotes attachment security, cooperation, compliance, and achievement in children, whereas incompetent parenting fosters uncooperative and problematic behavior (see Belsky, 1990; Guidubaldi & Cleminshaw, 1989; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Even among children as old as adolescents, those with competent parents perform better across a variety of domains, including psychological development, prosocial behavior, and academic competence (Baumrind, 1967, 1989, 1991; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991; Steinberg, 1990; Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts,1989).

The consistency of these findings over time and across developmental periods has led to claims that further research on the benefits of competent parenting is unwarranted (Steinberg, 1990), that what is needed instead is a systematic attempt to disentangle what contributes to competent parenting-those specific components and processes that explain individual differences in parental functioning (Belsky, 1984, 1990). Yet, few studies of parenting competence are conducted with normative populations (Belsky, 1984), especially parents of adolescents. Knowledge and theorizing about the determinants of competent parenting are extrapolated primarily from studies of young children, with a predominant emphasis on dysfunctional parenting (e.g., child-abusing families). Far more attention is devoted to the parenting role of mothers than of fathers, despite evidence of the importance of the same-sex parent during adolescence (Hetherington, 1989; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1987).

Furthermore, the predominant determinants of competent parenting are presumed to be parental characteristics or the social context (Belsky, 1984). There is a lacunae of research that examines children's influences on the quality of parenting they receive. Emerging studies of child characteristics focus primarily on how younger children affect mothers. These studies virtually ignore fathers and older children, despite preliminary evidence that a child's influence becomes more substantial during adolescence (Ambert, 1992; Lerner, 1982).

In this article, perceived parenting competence is conceptualized as parents' self-evaluation (Gibaud-Wallston & Wandersman, 1978) of their ability to perform a range of well-accepted and valued behaviors related to optimum adolescent development. Following the lead of Blechman (1984), we do not contend that perceived competence is a stable, enduring trait of parents, but rather reflects their ability to adapt to the changing demands of parenting at a particular point in their adolescent's development. Moreover, if perceived parenting competence is to be a meaningful construct, it should have predictive ability (Blechman, 1984), reflected in adolescents' academic and psychosocial competence. …