Children's Influence on Family Dynamics: The Neglected Side of Family Relationships

Children's Influence on Family Dynamics: The Neglected Side of Family Relationships

Children's Influence on Family Dynamics: The Neglected Side of Family Relationships

Children's Influence on Family Dynamics: The Neglected Side of Family Relationships

Synopsis

Any parent who has raised more than one child is likely to be keenly aware of subtle or even striking differences among their offspring. Although siblings raised together in the same family often differ markedly in terms of gender, temperament, abilities, interests, personality, choices of friends, activities, and so on, all too often family researchers have ignored individual differences in children. The central premise of this volume is that children bring personal qualities to their relationships with other family members that help shape family interaction, relationships, and even processes that family researchers have called "parenting." The chapters address how children's personal qualities make their mark on families in ways that may in turn influence children's subsequent development. The volume is based on the presentations and discussions from a national symposium on "Children's influence on family dynamics: The neglected side of family relationships" held at the Pennsylvania State University, as the ninth in a series of annual interdisciplinary symposia focused on family issues. It is divided into four parts, each dealing with a different aspect of the topic. Part I sets the stage by focusing on the features of children that make a difference, as well as the kinds of research designs that are likely to shed light on the role of child influences. Part II focuses on early childhood, particularly the role of infant temperament and other individual differences in very young children in shaping their parents' behaviors, reactions in turn that feedback and influence the developing child. Part III focuses on adolescence, a time when young people are able to exert more choice in how they spend their time and who they spend it with. Part IV pulls the themes of the volume together and points the way for future research.

Excerpt

Any parent who has raised more than one child is likely to be keenly aware of subtle or even striking differences among their offspring. Although siblings raised together in the same family often differ markedly in terms of gender, temperament, abilities, interests, personality, choices of friends and activities, and so on, all too often family researchers have ignored individual differences in children. The central premise of this volume is that children bring personal qualities to their relationships with other family members that help shape family interaction, family relationships, and even family processes that family researchers have called “parenting”. The chapters collected in this volume address how children's personal qualities make their mark on families in ways that may in turn influence childrens' subsequent development.

The chapters in this volume are based on the presentations and discussions from a national symposium on “Children's influence on family dynamics: The neglected side of family relationships” held at the Pennsylvania State University, December 6-7, 2001, as the ninth in a series of annual interdisciplinary symposia focused on family issues. The book is divided into four sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the topic. The first section sets the stage by focusing on the features of children that make a difference, as well as the kinds of research designs that are likely to shed light on the role of child influences. David Reiss, a psychiatrist whose research weds family systems theory and behavior genetics questions, provides a provocative overview, using data from an ambitious longitudinal study of the role of the nonshared family environment in adolescents' lives. Thoughtful commentary is provided by Kathleen McCartney, a developmental psychologist, Xiaojia Ge, a family sociologist, and J. Richard Udry, a demographer with wideranging interests. In distinct ways, their chapters underscore the importance of leaving behind questions about the relative importance of nature vs. nurture and emphasizing instead the mechanisms that link family processes and the individual characteristics that children and adolescents bring to their family interactions and relationships.

The second section of the volume focuses on early childhood, particularly the role of infant temperament and other individual differences in very young children in shaping their Parents' behaviors, reactions in turn that feedback and influence the developing child. The lead paper is provided by Susan Crockenberg and Esther Leerkes, developmental psychologists with a keen sense for the nuances of family interaction in the early years. The discussants' chapters emphasize different aspects of this complex topic. Cynthia A. Stifter draws attention to physical issues such as infant colic. James P. McHale, Kathryn C. Kavanaugh, and Julia M. Berkman, and Pamela M. Cole, in different ways, integrate insights derived from clinicallyinformed research.

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