Family-of-Origin Interaction and Adolescent Mothers' Potential for Child Abuse

By McCullough, Mona; Scherman, Avraham | Adolescence, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Family-of-Origin Interaction and Adolescent Mothers' Potential for Child Abuse


McCullough, Mona, Scherman, Avraham, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

This study examined the relationship between family-of-origin interaction and environment and the potential for young mothers to abuse their children. Females aged 14 to 21 from three teen parenting programs completed the Teen Parenting Questionnaire, the Family Environment Scale, and the Child Abuse Potential Inventory. Low scores on family cohesion were found to correlate with high scores on child abuse potential. This suggests that providing the teenager with an accepting and supportive atmosphere may assist her in building a positive identity as a mother. Increased understanding of how family-of-origin issues contribute to young mothers' potential to abuse their children will aid school and community professionals in providing better services for this population.

Adolescent pregnancy and child abuse are two major problems in American society. A national incidence study of child abuse and neglect (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1988) has estimated that nearly one million children experienced demonstrable harm as a result of maltreatment in 1986. According to the same study, if children at risk for, or threatened with, harm were included in this estimate, it would rise to almost 1.5 million children nationwide. Although sexual abuse remains the least frequent type of abuse, the study found that 133,600 children, or 2.1 per 1,000, were sexually abused. Together with child abuse, which continues to rise each year, the incidence of adolescent pregnancy in the U.S. leads that of all other countries in the industrialized world (Franklin, 1988). From 1973 to 1987, the pregnancy rate for young adolescents aged 10-14 increased by 23% (Takanishi, 1993).

When adolescents become parents, they are faced with the challenge of providing for their own children while scarcely out of childhood themselves (Lie. & Moroney, 1992). The outcomes of early parenthood are long lasting, affecting both adults and children. Adolescent parents are less likely to complete high school, attend college, find stable employment, marry, or be self-supporting than are those who have children later (Clewell, Brooks-Gunn, & Benasich, 1989; Peterson & Crockett, 1992; Testa, 1992). Their children are more at risk for a variety of problems, including developmental delays. Having a teenage mother has been shown to be associated with behavioral problems in middle adolescence. These problems were directly linked to mothers' experiences in managing the transition to adulthood. As the mothers' lives changed over time, for better or worse, their children's behavior improved or deteriorated accordingly (Furstenberg, Hughes, & Brooks-Gunn, 1992).

While child abuse has been studied within both societal and family contexts, studies of adolescent pregnancy have usually been concerned with outcomes of existing programs. A variety of programs to reduce the individual and societal costs of early childbearing have been developed and implemented in communities across the country. These programs have provided services to pregnant and parenting teenagers to meet their immediate health and subsistence needs and to improve the well-being of their children. Many have also sought to enhance adolescents' motivation to become mature and economically self-sufficient individuals and sensitive, responsible parents (Clewell et al., 1989; Furstenberg et al., 1992; Hayes, 1987).

Although not specifically focused on adolescent parenting, many studies have addressed adolescent developmental issues within the family context. Attachment and autonomy have been of special interest to researchers exploring early- and late-adolescent development (Daniels, 1990; Kobak, Cole, Ferentz-Gillies, Fleming, & Gamble, 1993; Quintana & Lapsley, 1990). There has been considerable investigation into family interaction patterns that place adolescents at risk for maladaptive behavior. Conversely, a number of protective characteristics have been found that enhance a family's ability to respond positively when stressors occur, such as coping skills, open communication among family members, and effective problem-solving skills (Reis & Heppner, 1993; Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1993). …

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