Maternal and Paternal Parenting during Adolescence: Forecasting Early Adult Psychosocial Adjustment
Jones, Deborah J., Forehand, Rex, Beach, Steven R. H., Adolescence
This study investigated the relationship of maternal and paternal parenting behavior (acceptance and firm control) during adolescence to four domains of early adult functioning (internalizing problems, externalizing problems, prosocial competence, and cognitive competence). Twenty-one females and 29 males from intact families, along with their mothers and fathers, participated. Assessments were conducted in adolescence and early adulthood, separated by approximately five and one-half years. Higher levels of maternal firm control during adolescence were associated with more secure early adult romantic attachment and lower levels of educational achievement. There were no main effects for fathers, but paternal parenting behavior interacted with maternal parenting behavior to predict both early adult romantic attachment and delinquency. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Adolescence has been referred to as a time of "storm and stress" (Hall, 1904; Montemayor, 1983). Although it is now recognized that this may be somewhat overstated (Gecas & Seff, 1990), there is little question that mothers and fathers find parenting during the adolescent period difficult (Epstein, Bishop, & Baldwin, 1982; Montemayor, 1983; Pasely & Gecas, 1984). Additionally, research has long provided convincing evidence that parenting behavior during this period is an important determinant of offspring outcomes (e.g., Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984).
In her seminal work on the socialization of competence, Baumrind (1968, 1971) reported that positive adjustment in children and adolescents is associated with authoritative parenting, which is characterized by acceptance (i.e., warmth, support, nurturance, love) and firm, consistent control (i.e., discipline, supervision, monitoring). Results of research in this area support Baumrind's work (Barber & Rollins, 1990; Baumrind, 1991a, 1991b; Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Peterson & Rollins, 1987). Parenting characterized by acceptance and firm control is associated, for adolescents, with enhanced school performance (Dornbusch, Ritter, Liederman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987; Forehand & Nousianen, 1993; Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992) and general psychosocial adjustment (Basic Behavioral Science Task Force of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1996; Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Weirson, 1990; Lamborn, Mounts , Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996). Conversely, parenting that lacks these qualities is linked to adolescent substance use (Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Baumrind, 1991a) and behavioral difficulties (Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Forehand, Miller, Dutra, & Chance, 1997; Forehand & Nousianen, 1993; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991; Patterson & Dishion, 1988; Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984; Steinberg et al., 1994).
While the correlation between parenting behavior and adolescent outcomes continues to be an important and worthwhile focus of study, far less research has been devoted to identifying long-term correlates of parenting behavior during adolescence. Specifically, early adulthood has been somewhat neglected in the parenting literature. Much still needs to be learned about the association between parenting during adolescence and early adult psychosocial adjustment.
Interestingly, while some studies suggest that parenting is an important predictor of early adult outcomes (e.g., Amato, 1994; Roberts & Bengtson, 1993, 1996), other studies have found that the effects of parenting diminish after adolescence (Sim & Vuchinich, 1996). Conflicting results may be due, at least in part, to methodological limitations. First, much of the research on the association between parenting and young adult adjustment has relied on retrospective accounts (Amato, 1994). Second, some of the research explored concurrent parenting behavior and early adult functioning (Roberts & Bengtson, 1993, 1996). Third, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Sim & Vuchinich, 1996), the same individual (i.e., the early adult) reported both parenting behavior and early adult outcomes (Roberts & Bengtson, 1993, 1996; Amato, 1994), and single indicators of early adult functioning were used. Fourth, researchers took the average of maternal and paternal parenting behaviors or used measures of general parenting (Rob erts & Bengtson, 1993, 1996; Sim & Vuchinich, 1996), rather than analyzing the separate contributions of maternal and paternal parenting behavior to early adult outcomes (an exception is Amato, 1994).
Recent studies suggest that fathers, not just mothers, make important contributions to the health and well-being of their children (for reviews, see Lamb, 1997; Phares & Compas, 1992). The relationship with father during adolescence and early adulthood is associated with several aspects of early adult psychosocial adjustment (Summers, Forehand, Armistead, & Tannenbaum, 1998). Fathers' parenting appears to be an important correlate of adolescent behavior (Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Forehand & Nousianian, 1993), and paternal parenting is associated with early adult adjustment independent of the effects of maternal parenting (Amato, 1994).
The purpose of the present study was to explore maternal and paternal parenting behavior during early adolescence (ages 11-15 years) in relation to psychosocial adjustment during early adulthood (19 years and above), using multiple indicators of adjustment. It was hypothesized that higher levels of acceptance and firm control would be associated with more optimal early adult psychosocial adjustment.
Additionally, this investigation explored whether fathers' parenting behavior would contribute to greater understanding of early adult outcomes than knowledge of mothers' parenting behavior alone. Based on the literature (e.g., Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993; Lamb, 1997; Phares & Compas, 1992; Summers et al., 1998), it was predicted that paternal parenting would account for unique variance in early adult outcomes.
Finally, it was proposed that combinations of parenting behaviors (acceptance and/or firm control), for the same parent or between parents, would differentially predict early adult outcomes. Consistent with the literature on authoritative parenting, it was hypothesized that, for one parent, higher levels of acceptance and firm control during adolescence would predict optimal early adult adjustment. Similarly, it was hypothesized that compensatory parenting behaviors between mothers and fathers (for example, higher levels of acceptance by one parent and higher levels of firm control by the other parent) would be associated with superior early adult outcomes.
Previous research (Forehand et al., 1994; Summers et al., 1998) has highlighted four areas of psychosocial adjustment as particularly relevant in early adulthood: prosocial competence (i.e., interpersonal relationships), internalizing problems (i.e., emotional distress), externalizing problems (i.e., criminal offenses), and cognitive competence (i.e., educational achievement). Interpersonal relationships become increasingly important during early adulthood (Duck, 1983), especially romantic relationships. Thus, in the present study, both general interpersonal skills and degree of secure attachment were assessed. In regard to psychological adjustment, Regier et al. (1988) reported a higher incidence of mental disorders (e.g., anxiety) in young adults than in their older counterparts. Further, Jessor, Donovan, and Costa (1991) noted that, during young adulthood, critical decisions are made about engaging in conventional versus antisocial behaviors. Therefore, two measures of psychological adjustment were employ ed here: criminal offenses as an indicator of externalizing problems, and emotional distress as an indicator of internalizing problems. Finally, young adults must make decisions about education that have ramifications for later employment opportunities and standard of living (Jessor et al., 1991). Accordingly, young adult educational achievement was assessed.
First assessment (adolescence). Fifty-two adolescents (22 females and 30 males) from intact families, along with their mothers and fathers, participated in this study (they were drawn from a larger project examining the association between parental marital status and adolescent psychosocial adjustment). At the time of the initial assessment, the adolescents ranged in age from 11 to 16 years, with a mean age of 13 years, 10 months (SD = 1.14). Socioeconomic status (SES) of each family was determined using the Myers and Bean (1968) two-factor index of social position (family status is based on father's educational and occupational levels). Lower scores indicate higher social position, with scores ranging from 11 (professional) to 77 (welfare recipient). The mean SES of the families participating in the present study was 32.92 (SD = 15.74; range = 11 to 66), indicating that the average family was lower middle to middle class.
Second assessment (early adulthood). The second assessment occurred, on average, five and one-half years after the first assessment. Fifty young adults (29 males and 21 females) participated (a retention rate of 96%). Sources of attrition included failure to return the questionnaire packet and inability to locate the participant. All of the young adults were at least 19 years old or out of high school for at least one year. Their mean age was 19 years, 2 months (SD = 0.52).
First assessment (adolescence). Demographic information (socioeconomic status, age and gender of the adolescent) was obtained from a questionnaire completed by the parents.
Mother's and father's parenting styles were measured using the short form of the Child's Report of Parental Behavior Inventory (CRPBI; Schludermann & Schludermann, 1970). The CRPBI is a self-report measure that yields scores on three dimensions of parenting behavior: acceptance versus rejection, psychological control versus psychological autonomy, and firm control versus lax control. The acceptance and firm control scales were employed in this investigation. Each contains ten statements (statements are rated as "a lot like," "somewhat like," or "not like" the parent). The acceptance statements gauge parental acceptance of, and closeness to, the adolescent; for example, "My mother spends very little time with me." The firm control statements address the degree to which the parent regulates and monitors activities; for example, "My mother sticks to a rule instead of allowing a lot of exceptions." Internal consistency (alphas of .87 and .74 for acceptance and control, respectively) and adequate convergent and discriminant validity have been demonstrated (Schwartz, Barton-Henry & Pruzinsky, 1985). Furthermore, Fauber et al. (1990) found that when parents and adolescents completed the CRPBI, factor loadings were similar. Thus, mothers and fathers completed appropriately reworded versions of the ORPBI.
Second assessment (early adulthood). Demographic data were again gathered, and four domains of individual functioning during early adulthood were assessed: internalizing problems, externalizing problems, prosocial competence, and cognitive competence. Early adults completed measures of psychosocial adjustment in three of the four domains, whereas the reports of both early adults and mothers were utilized in the domain of externalizing problems.
Internalizing problems were assessed using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI; Derogatis & Spencer, 1982), which is a global measure of psychological symptomatology. The BSI is essentially a short form of the SCL-90 (Derogatis, 1975, 1977). The BSI yields scores on nine symptom dimensions. Reliability coefficients for these nine symptom dimensions range from .68 to .91, and adequate validity has been reported (Derogatis, Rickels, & Rock, 1976; Kremer, Atkinson, & Ignelzi, 1981). Each item is rated on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from "not at all" to "extremely." The average of three symptom dimensions (depression, anxiety, and phobic anxiety) was used as the measure of internalizing problems in the present investigation.
The National Youth Survey (NYS; Dunford & Elliott, 1984) was used to assess early adult externalizing problems. The NYS is designed to tap criminal behavior. Items are grouped together based on the nature and severity of the acts. General delinquency, which includes twenty-two forms of criminal activity (e.g., auto theft, gang fights, sexual assault, breaking and entering), was used in this study. The reports of both early adults and mothers were used to gauge early adults' externalizing problems (the number of criminal behaviors reported). Acceptable reliability and validity have been noted for the NYS (Elliott, Ageton, Huizinga, Knowles, & Canter, 1983; Elliott & Huizinga, 1983).
Two measures of prosocial competence were employed. The Interpersonal Competence Questionnaire (ICQ; Buhrmester, Furman, Wittenberg, & Reis, 1988) was used to assess general interpersonal skills. The ICQ taps competency in five domains: initiating contact with others, asserting displeasure with others' actions, self-disclosure, providing emotional support, and managing interpersonal conflict. Responses are made on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from "I'm poor at this" to "I'm extremely good at this." Buhrmester et al. (1988) reported adequate reliability (i.e., test-retest reliability for the ICQ subscales across four weeks averaged .78) and validity (i.e., the ICQ significantly correlated with the Levenson and Gottman, 1978, Dating and Assertiveness Questionnaire and the Jones and Russel, 1982, Social Reticence Scale). The five subscales of the ICQ were significantly intercorrelated, and scores were summed to create an overall measure of general interpersonal competence. The total scale demonstrated ade quate internal reliability (alpha coefficient of .74).
Prosocial competence was also measured via a questionnaire assessing attachment in romantic relationships (Simpson, 1990). Responses are made on a seven-point Likert scale, ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." Simpson (1990) reported adequate internal reliability for the three indices of attachment style (secure, avoidant, and anxious), as well as strong correlations between each of these indices and other measures of commitment, interdependence, trust, and satisfaction. As the interest here was prosocial competence, only the secure attachment style was examined (higher scores reflect more secure attachment).
To evaluate cognitive competence, the early adult indicated the highest educational level attained on a scale ranging from 1 (ninth grade or less) to 12 (advanced degree). Because age was a possible confound (i.e., the early adults ranged in age from 18 to 22 years at the time of the second assessment), educational attainment was dichotomized: 0 (high school or less) or 1 (completed at least some college).
Families were first screened for eligibility in terms of the adolescent's age and parents' marital status. Families were then scheduled for an assessment at a local university and separately administered a packet of questionnaires. As compensation for participation, families were paid a total of $50.
Approximately five and one-half years after the initial assessment, the families were contacted by telephone and invited to take part in a follow-up. As participants were scattered across the United States, early adults and their mothers were mailed a packet of questionnaires. Both early adults and their mothers were paid $40 for their participation.
The first question addressed was whether parenting behavior during adolescence was associated with early adult psychosocial functioning. In particular, this study sought to determine whether maternal parenting style forecasted the psychosocial functioning of early adult offspring. Further, it investigated whether paternal parenting behavior accounted for additional variance in psychosocial functioning.
Table 1 presents the mean scores for, and correlations between, the predictor and outcome measures. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted for the measures of internalizing problems, prosocial competence, and externalizing problems. Logistic regression analysis was conducted for the dichotomized measure of cognitive competence. In both sets of analyses, adolescent's age and gender were entered in the first block as control variables, maternal and paternal parenting (acceptance and firm control) were entered in the second block, and interaction terms were entered in the third block. In order to reduce the possibility of multicollinearity, each of the parenting variables was centered prior to conducting the regression analyses. The results are presented in Tables 2 and 3.
In regard to the second block of variables, higher levels of maternal acceptance during adolescence were associated with lower levels of early adult internalizing problems. Higher levels of maternal firm control during adolescence were associated with more secure early adult romantic attachment and lower levels of educational achievement. Parenting by the father did not forecast any aspect of early adult functioning.
The third block of variables was entered to address the question of whether maternal and paternal parenting behaviors interacted during adolescence to forecast early adult psychosocial functioning. First, however, analyses were conducted to examine whether adolescent/early adult gender qualified the associations between parenting during adolescence and early adult psychosocial adjustment. To address this question, another block of variables was added to each regression in which gender interacted with maternal and paternal parenting variables. This block of variables, which is not displayed in Tables 2 or 3, was subsequently dropped from the regression equations because all findings were nonsignificant.
The third block consisted of the following four interaction terms: maternal acceptance by maternal firm control, paternal acceptance by paternal firm control, maternal firm control by paternal acceptance, and paternal firm control by maternal acceptance. As shown in Table 2, paternal firm control interacted with maternal acceptance to forecast early adult attachment, and maternal firm control interacted with paternal acceptance to forecast early adult mother-reported delinquency. The most secure romantic attachment in early adulthood was associated with higher levels of both paternal firm control and maternal acceptance. The highest level of delinquency was associated with lower levels of both paternal acceptance and maternal firm control.
The purpose of this investigation was to explore the relationship of parenting behavior during adolescence to later psychosocial adjustment. Results indicated that higher levels of maternal acceptance during adolescence forecasted lower levels of early adult internalizing problems. Additionally, higher levels of maternal firm control during adolescence were associated with more secure early adult romantic attachment and, surprisingly, lower levels of educational achievement. There were no main effects for fathers, but paternal parenting behavior interacted with maternal parenting behavior to predict two early adult outcomes. The most secure attachment in early adulthood was associated with higher levels of both paternal firm control and maternal acceptance. The highest level of delinquency, as reported by mothers, was associated with lower levels of both paternal acceptance and maternal firm control.
These findings suggest that parental acceptance and firm control, independently and in combination, are important correlates of young adult adjustment. The longitudinal association between maternal acceptance and young adult internalizing problems is consistent with earlier cross-sectional and retrospective research (e.g., Amato, 1994). Adolescents who feel accepted by, and close to, their mothers appear to be less at risk for developing such psychological problems as depression and anxiety later in life. While the specific mechanism accounting for this association merits further research, the mediating role of self-concept has been proposed in theoretical and empirical work with young children (see Cummings & Cichetti, 1990, for a review). The parent-child relationship has been linked to internal working models of self and other, as well as to internalizing problems. Accordingly, maternal acceptance may enhance an adolescent's self-concept, thereby increasing resilience to stress and associated maladaptive s ymptomatology that would manifest itself in young adulthood.
Similarly, the longitudinal association between maternal firm control and young adult romantic attachment is noteworthy. Consistent with the notion that a child's attachment system develops in response to feelings of security and autonomy, a mother's capacity to monitor and regulate her adolescent's behavior appears to be instrumental in the formation of secure attachments in early adulthood. Given that the parent-child relationship is typically the first and often most significant relationship within which the attachment system develops, it follows that parenting behavior would be an important and influential variable.
Interestingly, while authoritative parenting during adolescence has been linked to academic success (e.g., Forehand & Nousianen, 1993; Steinberg et al., 1994), in the present study higher levels of maternal firm control were associated with lower educational attainment for young adults. While this may seem counterintuitive, such findings have been reported previously (e.g., Singh et al., 1995) and several explanations can be offered. First, firm control was operationalized as the degree to which a parent regulated and monitored behavior within the home. Such control did not necessarily apply to the school environment. Further, those who were regulated and monitored more closely at home may have lacked the intrinsic motivation to succeed academically (Basic Behavioral Task Force, 1996; Deci & Ryan, 1987; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989). Additionally, it may need to be known why structure was imposed in the first place. If it was a response to earlier academic underachievement, then perhaps firm control would not have t he desired long-term effect on early adult educational attainment.
Finally, consistent with previous research exploring parenting during adolescence (Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993), the interaction of maternal and paternal behavior had predictive power. Authoritative parenting, balancing maternal and paternal behavior during adolescence, forecasted young adult attachment and externalizing problems. That is, paternal firm control contributed to young adult romantic attachment only when maternal acceptance was high. Adolescents strain parents' coping resources (Epstein, Bishop, & Baldwin, 1982), and mothers' emotional availability may be compromised by the need to set limits and monitor behavior. If fathers are available to provide firm behavioral control, however, mothers may be able to remain emotionally available. This balance appears to foster a sense of security, giving adolescents the confidence to explore new interpersonal relationships, particularly with the opposite sex (Cummings, 1990).
Similarly, paternal acceptance forecasted delinquency only when maternal levels of firm control were low. That is, if the father was unable to convey acceptance and support, and the mother failed to provide firm control, then the adolescent was at increased risk for acting-out behaviors.
These findings support the assertion by Forehand and Nousiainen (1993) that simply including fathers in family research is not sufficient. Rather, the ways in which mothers' and fathers' parenting styles work together to predict child outcomes must be explored.
Why would fathers' parenting behaviors during adolescence not have unique effects on young adult outcomes? While an answer to this question is beyond the scope of this investigation, previous research on fathers and families has shed light on this issue. For example, it is well documented that fathers spend less time with their children than do mothers (e.g., Blair & Hardesty, 1994). Thus, fathers may simply have less opportunity to have a lasting impact on their children. Of particular relevance to the present study, the discrepancy between the amount of time mothers and fathers spend with their offspring widens during adolescence. Fathers tend to spend less time with their adolescent children than with their younger children (DeLuccie & Davis, 1991), and adolescents spend increasingly less time with their parents in general, but especially fathers (Larson & Richards, 1994).
Limitations of the present study should be noted. First, it used a Caucasian, community-recruited convenience sample, limiting the generalizability of the findings. Second, the measurement of educational level, which served as an indicator of cognitive competence, was constrained by age. The educational level attained in young adulthood may not reflect final academic achievement; therefore, this outcome measure should be interpreted with caution.
The strengths of this study also deserve mention. First, longitudinal research with a retention rate of 96% across five and one-half years is rare in the psychological literature. Second, its prospective nature represents an advance over the concurrent and retrospective approaches that typify research in this area. Third, parents rated parenting behavior during adolescence and, with one exception, young adults rated their own adjustment during early adulthood, eliminating the problem of common-method variance, which could have occurred if the same individual had rated parenting variables and outcome measures. Fourth, this study explored the unique associations of maternal and parental parenting behaviors, as well as interactions between the two, with early adult functioning, whereas previous work has tended to look at the average effects of maternal and paternal parenting or at maternal parenting alone. Fifth, it responded to the call within family research for greater attention to fathers (for reviews, see L amb, 1997; Phares & Compas, 1992).
The results have important implications for prevention and intervention efforts aimed at mildly to moderately distressed families. While studies highlighting the importance of authoritative parenting for adolescent functioning are numerous, much less attention has been devoted to methods of teaching such parenting skills (Fine, 1980; Montemayor, 1983). Given that the combination of parental acceptance and firm control during adolescence appears to have long-term consequences for young adults, greater efforts should be directed at developing parenting programs for nonclinical families. Furthermore, fathers should not be ignored when designing these programs.
This research was supported by the William T. Grant Foundation and the Institute for Behavioral Research, University of Georgia.
Rex Forehand, Institute for Behavioral Research, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
Steven R. H. Beach, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
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Publication information: Article title: Maternal and Paternal Parenting during Adolescence: Forecasting Early Adult Psychosocial Adjustment. Contributors: Jones, Deborah J. - Author, Forehand, Rex - Author, Beach, Steven R. H. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 35. Issue: 139 Publication date: Fall 2000. Page number: 513. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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