Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Involvement in Adolescent Schooling: A Proximal Process with Transcontextual Validity

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Involvement in Adolescent Schooling: A Proximal Process with Transcontextual Validity

Article excerpt

Current theorizing has focused almost exclusively on searching for differences by culture, class, and gender, with scant attention to identifying proximal processes that transcend context. Yet in this study of 10,000 high school students, parents who were more involved in their adolescents' schooling had offspring who performed better in school, irrespective of the parents' gender or education and the children's gender, ethnicity, or family structure. In univariate analyses, the levels of parental school involvement varied across ecological niches (e.g., parental education and family structure), yet the benefits to adolescents' school success were relatively constant. In multivariate analyses, mothers' school involvement exerted a larger effect on grades among students whose mothers had fewer resources than among students whose mothers were more advantaged.

Key Words: academic achievement, adolescence, parental school involvement.

This article builds on Rappaport's (1981) compelling concept of true paradox-two ideas or principles that seem, on first blush, irreconcilable with each other but prove, on closer scrutiny, simultaneously valid. Rappaport illustrated this notion with the contradiction between two widely held, but opposite, values in American politicsfreedom and equality. Allowing total freedom might result in the powerful dominating the weak, thereby obliterating equality. Conversely, promoting total equality would impose more limits on some people than others, thereby constraining freedom. Thus, freedom and equality exemplify a true paradox because they are valid, yet opposing, schools of thought that are nevertheless intimately intertwined. Maximizing one of these poles necessarily limits the other. Because both poles need attention, we become one-sided when we focus on only one pole and ignore its counterpart. An important role of scientists is first to discover true paradox and, when imbalance occurs, to push in the ignored direction (Rappaport, 1981).

Social science in the 1990s may face a true paradox, one that has escaped notice as researchers inadvertently have become one-sided in the representation and study of the nature of human development. For example, the theoretical paradigms that began emerging in the 1960s increasingly focused on context (Bronfenbrenner & Crouter, 1983), raising valid questions regarding how interfamilial processes are affected by extrafamilial conditions (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994; Bronfenbrenner & Crouter, 1983; Lerner, 1991, 1995; Riegel, 1972), specifically by characteristics of the person (e.g., gender and education) and context (e.g., family structure and ethnicity). Consistent with the developmental and contextual nature of these dominant paradigms, Lerner (1995) correctly asserted that "human development does not happen at the general level; it does not occur in a manner necessarily generalizable across diverse people and contexts" (p. 55). Few social scientists would disagree with the importance of contextual theories and analyses, a situation that should be a cause for alarm. As Rappaport (1981) contended, whenever social scientists agree, they run the risk of overlooking a true paradox.

To examine whether the current paradigms for studying human development constitute a true paradox, social scientists need to identify whether contextualism has an equally valid counter assertion. Weisz (1978) questioned whether shortterm, context-bound validity is the best the social sciences can hope to achieve or whether some proximal processes are so fundamental to human development that they can be shown to have transcontextual validity that holds across physical and cultural setting, time, or cohort. Have social scientists emphasized the importance of different proximal processes in diverse ecological niches to the exclusion of searching for similarities in the effectiveness of proximal processes across context? If the current paradigms for studying human development constitute a true paradox, we may be overemphasizing one valid, defensible school of thought, contextualism, at the expense of its equally valid and defensible counterpart, the search for common denominators of human development that endure across context. …

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