Parents' Actions: Are They Related to Children's Self-Concepts, Evaluations of Parents, and to Each Other?
Parish, Thomas S., Necessary, James R., Adolescence
The importance of the family in promoting the psychosocial development of children has been well documented in the literature (e.g., Kagan, 1980; Parish, 1987). According to Byrne (1977), the family represents a basic human support system within which various needs are met, or go unmet. Thus, degree of family happiness has been found to be significantly related to individuals' subsequent level of self-esteem, as well as regard for others within the family (see Parish, Dostal, & Parish, 1981; Parish & Nunn, 1988).
That the family serves as a basic support system potentially associated with how individuals come to see themselves and other family members is important to understand, but another important issue is, "Don't parents' actions toward one another play a similar role?" To date, Parish (1988) has reported that college students' self-concepts were significantly related to how their fathers acted toward their mothers (r = .61, p [is less than] .01), and how their mothers acted toward their fathers (r = .58, p [is less than] .01), but Parish and Necessary (1993) failed to find similar relationships with high school students. With such disparate findings already available, one wonders what relationships could prevail with younger children (i.e., middle-schoolers) of either or both sexes, and do perceived actions by parents also directly relate to how these children evaluate their parents? Finally, is their a significant relationship between how parents act toward one another, i.e., does hatefulness truly beget hatefulness? These questions were addressed in the present study.
A total of 186 sixth- to eighth-grade students (98 females and 88 males) enrolled in a large midwestern middle school voluntarily participated in the study. Each student completed the following forms:
The Personal Attribute Inventory for Children (PAIC; Parish & Taylor, 1978). This survey consists of 48 words (24 positive and 24 negative adjectives), from which each student was instructed to select exactly 15 that best describe the target in question (Form A = themselves; Form B = their father; Form C = their mother). The score on each of the three forms of the PAIC is the number of "negative" words checked.
The Love/Hate Checklist for Children (L/HCC). This instrument was derived from the Love/Hate Checklist originally developed for adult populations by Parish (1988). The L/HCC consists of 30 words (15 loving and 15 hateful adverbs), from which each student was asked to select the 10 that best describe how one parent acts toward the other parent (Form A = how father acts toward mother; Form B = how mother acts toward father). The score on each of the two forms of the L/HCC is the number of "hateful" words checked.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
A series of Pearson product-moment correlations revealed several significant relationships between how fathers were perceived to act toward mothers, and vice versa, and how the children evaluated themselves, their fathers, and their mothers, as well as how their parents' perceived actions correlated with each other. Notably, these correlations varied markedly as a function of the gender of the respondent.
Regarding self-concepts, the findings from this study varied substantially from the findings reported earlier by both Parish (1988) and Parish and Necessary (1993). Specifically, while Parish (1988) found highly significant relationships between college students' self-concepts and their parents' actions, and Parish and Necessary (1993) found no TABULAR DATA OMITTED such relationship with high school students, in the present study there was only a modest significant correlation overall (r = .26, p [is less than] .01), and for each of the sex groups ([r.sub.m] = .23, p [is less than] .05; [r.sub.f] = .32, p [is less than] .05) between children's self-concepts and fathers' actions toward their wives. Regarding mothers' actions, they were significantly related only to their daughters' ratings of themselves ([r.sub.f] = .30, p [is less than] .005), but not to their sons' self-ratings ([r.sub.m] = -.06, p [is greater than] .05), nor the overall ratings of both sex groups (r = .11, p [is greater than] .05). It is curious that these findings varied so drastically from those reported by Parish (1988) and Parish and Necessary (1993), and should therefore be the subject of subsequent research to determine why this is so.
Regarding evaluation of fathers in the present study, they were found to be significantly related to how they were perceived to act toward their wives. These findings held across sex groups (r = .63, p [is less than] .001), as well as for each sex group individually ([r.sub.m] = .48, p [is less than] .001; [r.sub.f] = .76, p [is less than] .001). Evaluations of fathers also varied directly with how their wives acted toward them. This significant relationship prevailed when both sex groups were combined (r = .27, p [is less than] .01), and with daughters only ([r.sub.f] = .42, p [is less than] .001), but not with sons ([r.sub.m] = .09, p [is greater than] .05). These findings are similar to those reported by Parish and Necessary (1993) and seem to suggest that fathers' evaluations by their children are generally related to their actions toward their wives as well and their wives' actions toward them, at least for middle and high school students.
In contrast to fathers' evaluations, evaluations of mothers were not so generally related to how their husbands acted toward them across both sex groups (r = .13, p [is greater than] .05), nor for each sex group individually ([r.sub.m] = .14, p [is greater than] .05; [r.sub.f] = .12, p [is greater than] .05). However, mothers' actions toward their husbands were significantly correlated with their children's evaluations of them when the two sex groups were combined (r = .21, p [is less than] .01) and for their daughters only ([r.sub.f] = .42, p [is less than] .001), but not for their sons ([r.sub.m] = .11, p [is greater than] .05). These findings seem to indicate that mothers' ratings are more directly associated with what they do, much more so than what their husbands do to them. Once again, however, these findings applied only to the middle schoolers. The findings for the high school students reported by Parish and Necessary (1993) revealed that both parents actions related to how mothers were evaluated, yet according to Parish (1988), such was the case for college students.
Finally, the correlation between how fathers were perceived to act toward their wives, and how mothers were perceived to act toward their husbands, was found to be highly significant for both sex groups combined (r = .72, p [is less than] .0001), as well as for each sex group individually ([r.sub.m] = .66, p [is less than] .0001; [r.sub.f] = .77, p [is less than] .0001). This finding says a great deal about hatefulness begetting hatefulness, but just as much about lovingness begetting lovingness. Much can therefore be gleaned from this finding. For instance, based upon the perceptions of children, it seems safe to conclude that the more negatively we act toward our spouses, the more likely we will receive the same in return, but if we treat our spouses with the love they need and want, the more likely they are to reciprocate. More noncorrelational, causative research is recommended to confirm these findings.
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Publication information: Article title: Parents' Actions: Are They Related to Children's Self-Concepts, Evaluations of Parents, and to Each Other?. Contributors: Parish, Thomas S. - Author, Necessary, James R. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 29. Issue: 116 Publication date: Winter 1994. Page number: 943+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.