Adolescents' Perceptions of Discipline within Intact Families and Stepfamilies

By Morin, Suzanne M.; Milito, Carla et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Adolescents' Perceptions of Discipline within Intact Families and Stepfamilies


Morin, Suzanne M., Milito, Carla, Costlow, Nikki, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

This study examined adolescents' perceptions of discipline in intact families and stepfamilies. Forty-five adolescents, ranging in age from 15 to 19 years, completed the Adolescent Discipline Perception Survey (ADPS). They responded to questions related to their own discipline experiences as well as their views on how they would discipline an adolescent. Results indicated that adolescents from intact families and stepfamilies identified loss of privileges and grounding as the primary discipline methods used by their families. In addition, adolescents from intact families and stepfamilies reported house rules and peers as the most common discipline issues. Twenty-six percent of adolescents from intact families and 44% of those from stepfamilies reported that grounding was the most severe form of punishment they had received.

The developmental transition from childhood to adolescence is marked by renegotiation of relationships and boundaries with parents and peers. During this time, adults must balance the challenges of providing adolescents with the opportunity to become autonomous while providing structure to guide them as they make decisions that can have far-reaching consequences. For some adolescents, the dynamics of living in a stepfamily adds another level of complexity.

A large body of research has been dedicated to investigating how relationships and family functioning change as children reach adolescence (Barnett, Quackenbush, & Sinisi, 1996; Bowles, Searight, Russo, Rogers, & Kleinman, 1997; Hastings & Grusec, 1997; Neiderhiser, Reiss, Hetherington, & Plomin, 1999). Researchers have explored the impact of conflict between parents and adolescents (Hastings & Grusec, 1997; Honess, Charman, Cicognani, Xerri, Jackson, & Bosma, 1997), parents' marital status and transitions in family structure (Spruijt & de Goede, 1997; Zick & Allen, 1996), and the relationship of family structure to adolescent high-risk behavior such as drug use (Jenkins & Zunguze, 1998) and early sexual activity (Dorius, Heaton, & Steffen, 1993; Rossi, 1997).

Another avenue of research has focused on the adjustment of adolescents in family structure transitions. Dornbusch, Carismith, Bushwall, Ritter, Leiderman, Hastorf, and Gross (1985) found that adolescents residing in stepfamilies were more at risk for problem behavior than were adolescents growing up in one-parent families. Steinberg (1996) reported that adolescents in stepfamilies found it difficult to adjust to a new authority figure in the family system and that their adjustment declined each time they faced family reorganization. Claxton-Oldfield (1992) reported that late adolescents labeled stepfathers' behavior as less justified and less excusable when they were in the role of disciplinarian.

While there is substantial literature on adolescents' relationships within various family systems, much less research has concentrated on the area of discipline from the adolescents' perspective. The purpose of the present study was to examine adolescents' perceptions of discipline in intact families and stepfamilies.

METHOD

Participants

Forty-five adolescents, ranging from 15 to 19 years old, participated in this study. Eighteen were high school students (grades 9-12) and 27 were first-year college students enrolled in a general education course. There were 30 females and 15 males. Thirty resided in intact families and 15 resided in stepfamilies. There were 43 Caucasians and 2 African Americans.

Questionnaire

Adolescents' attitudes and perceptions related to discipline were measured using an instrument created by the researchers: the Adolescent Discipline Perception Survey (ADPS). The questionnaire was developed based on the literature on discipline techniques and adolescent development. Participants responded to a series of questions on discipline, including their own experiences.

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