Parenting and Adolescent Well-Being in Two European Countries

Article excerpt

Parents may facilitate adolescents' general adjustment through a combination of demandingness and responsiveness (Baumrind, 1971; 1989; Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Scabini, 1995; Steinberg, 2001). Demandingness refers to the extent to which parents show control, demand maturity, and supervise their children; responsiveness refers to the extent to which parents are warm, accepting, and involved. Parents who are at least moderately demanding--usually through establishing and enforcing boundaries for behavior--and are moderate to high on responsiveness generally have adolescents who are well-adjusted (Aunola, Stattin, & Nurmi, 2000; Steinberg, 2001). This association has been observed among families in the United States as well as in other countries (Meeus, Helsen, & Vollebergh, 1996; Steinberg, 2001).

Despite the vast amount of research on parenting behavior and adolescent adjustment, several questions remain. From an ecological perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) marcrosystem influences such as the role of national context in affecting the impact of parenting behavior on adolescent adjustment are not well understood. Most research on parenting has been conducted within a North America context. It is unclear to what extent North American culture might account for observed associations between parenting behavior and adjustment. Thus, the central purpose of the present study was to examine associations of parenting behavior--specifically behavioral control and support, which are aspects of demandingness and responsiveness--on adolescent adjustment in two European countries.

Culture and Parenting

As Harness and Super (2002) note in their chapter on Culture and Parenting, parenting is culturally constructed. Historical features of cultures influence the ways in which parents care for children in a society, which in turn have lasting psychological and physiological effects on members of that society (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). There is strong empirical evidence that parental goals shape how parents and children interact. Studies comparing families in North America and Europe have found that across these continents parents tend to emphasize different values or characteristics in their children (Harkness, Super, & van Tijen, 2000) and thus interpret child behavior differently. In the United States, authoritarian parenting, which is characterized by high levels of control and emphasis on parental power, predominates in adolescence. In contrast, in some European countries (e.g., Denmark and Germany), authoritiative parenting, which is characterized by shared decision making, is more common during this period of development (Kandel & Lesser, 1969). Despite the fact that authoritative parenting is not the most common parenting style in the United States, there are clear benefits to this parenting style for youth. In studies conducted in the United States, adolescents with parents who were firm, warm, and involved enjoyed the best adjustment relative to adolescents exposed to other parenting styles (Steinberg, 2001). These adolescents had higher levels of achievement, less depression and anxiety, greater self-regulation and self-esteem, and lower levels of antisocial behavior. Importantly, data from multiple studies show that the benefits of firm, warm, and involved (i.e., authoritative) parenting transcend ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and household composition (Steinberg, 2001).

The present study investigated parenting behavior in two samples of adolescents living in northern Italy and in The Netherlands. Parenting norms are quite different in these two countries, as well as different from North America, making these countries ideal settings in which to investigate the extent to which associations of parenting behavior and adolescent adjustment are similar to or different from associations observed in the United States. Italy is characterized by close, often intense, familial relationships (Claes, 1998). …


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