Parent-Adolescent Relations and Adolescent Functioning: Self-Esteem, Substance Abuse, and Delinquency

By Parker, Jennifer S.; Benson, Mark J. | Adolescence, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Parent-Adolescent Relations and Adolescent Functioning: Self-Esteem, Substance Abuse, and Delinquency


Parker, Jennifer S., Benson, Mark J., Adolescence


A substantial amount of research indicates that parents play an important role in the lives of children and adolescents (Henricson & Roker, 2000; Liddle, Rowe, Dakof, & Lyke, 1998; Maccoby, 1992; Smetana, 1999), although there have been claims to the contrary (Harris, 1998). According to recent research, supportive parenting is linked to adolescent self-esteem (Dekovic & Meeus, 1997; Spoth, Redmond, Hockaday, & Yoo, 1996; Rice, 1990; Hoelter & Harper, 1987). Conversely, lack of parental support is cited as a strong correlate of adolescent substance problems and delinquent behavior (Barnes, Farrell, & Cairns, 1986; Hundleby & Mercer, 1987; Simons, Lin, & Gordon, 1998).

Barber (1992) has linked poor parental supervision to adolescent problem behavior. Frick (1993) has reported the association of low parental supervision and lack of knowledge of the adolescent's activities with adolescent behavior problems. Similar findings linking poor parental monitoring and adolescent behavior problems were also reported by Ary and colleagues (1999) and Dishion and McMahon (1998). Forehand, Miller, Dutra, and Chance (1997) found an association between parental monitoring and lower levels of adolescent deviant behavior.

Perception plays an important role in behavior. Research suggests that the adolescent's perception of the parenting behavior may have greater influence on adolescent behavior. For example, researchers have found that a mother's report of her disapproval was only weakly linked to lower teen sexuality. Instead, the daughter's perception of the mother's views was related more powerfully to the daughter's delaying sex (Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 1998).

Similar studies examining these differences have found the adolescent's perception of the parent's behavior to be more valid and predictive of adolescent behavior. Gonzales, Cauce, and Mason (1996) examined agreement between mothers and daughters of maternal support and maternal control against independent observer ratings. It was found that adolescent ratings of these maternal behaviors were more valid than those reported by the mother.

Adolescent exploratory behavior involving positive and negative risks can engender stress or insecurity and prompt the need for "felt security" (Sroufe & Waters, 1977). One of the critical dimensions of this felt security is the support provided by parents. Bowlby (1973) explicitly referred to parental support as essential to firmly establish healthy autonomy. According to Bowlby, "the family experience of those who grow up to become relatively stable and self-reliant is characterized by unfailing parental support" (p. 322). Thus, parental support, though narrower in scope, reflects attachment bonds. The adolescent's internalized schema of parental support during adolescence facilitates the adolescent's ability to safely negotiate autonomy toward healthy, adaptive functioning.

In addition to support, perceptions of monitoring also coincide with concepts in Bowlby's (1969, 1980) theory. Bowlby posits a second class of behaviors related to attachment, which he labeled caregiving behavior. Bowlby (1980) defines caregiving as "serving a complementary function, that of protecting the attached individual" (p. 40). Bowlby (1969) refers to caregiving parents as likely to keep a watchful eye" and "ready to act at the shortest notice" (p. 240). In adolescence, increased exploration and autonomy require parental monitoring as reflected in knowledge of their adolescent's daily activities and peer relationships. Parental monitoring, then, provides guidance in navigating the environmental opportunities and dangers.

The present study was designed to examine parental support and monitoring as they relate to self-esteem and behavior problems during adolescence. It was hypothesized that parental support and monitoring, as perceived by the adolescent, would be associated with higher self-esteem and less risky behavior. …

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