Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Parents' and Children's Perceptions of Family Processes in Inner-City Families with Delinquent Youths: A Qualitative Investigation

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Parents' and Children's Perceptions of Family Processes in Inner-City Families with Delinquent Youths: A Qualitative Investigation

Article excerpt

This study explored youths' and parents' perceptions of family interaction processes as well as the broader social and cultural factors that influence family functioning in a multiethnic sample of inner-city families with delinquent youth. In-depth interviews were conducted with 61 male youths and 33 parents predominantly from minority families. Guided by an ecological framework, qualitative data analyses were employed to explore individual and contextual factors that were perceived either to foster or to impede individual and family functioning. Findings supported previous empirical research highlighting the importance of family interaction processes in the lives of delinquent youths. Analysis of parent and youth data revealed important relationships among the individual, family, and community domains. The emphases placed on these interrelationships, however, varied in distinct and notable ways for parents and youths. The implications of these divergent patterns for family-level interventions are addressed.

From an ecological perspective, the emergence of delinquent behavior in youths is viewed as a product of the complex interrelationships that exist between the individual and key contextual domains, with the family being viewed as the most immediate and most powerful context for children's socialization (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Gorman-Smith, Tolan, Zelli, & Huesmann, 1996). In turn, the family is embedded in broader social and cultural contexts that indirectly influence the child's development through their impact on the family. Hence, the emergence of delinquent behavior needs to be understood within the complicated weave of individual, family, and environmental factors that have both direct and indirect influences on children's development.

Consistent with this perspective, empirical studies repeatedly indicate a strong association between family functioning and delinquent behavior (Gorman-Smith et al., 1996; Henggeler, 1996; Loeber & Dishion, 1983; Patterson & Dishion, 1985). Family interaction patterns also have been identified as primary points of interest in the prevention literature focused on high-risk youths. In particular, empirical studies indicate that parenting practices, parent-child relationship quality, and family interactional characteristics can serve as either risk or protective factors (Liddle & Hogue, 2000; Resnick et al., 1997) and, thus, are important areas of assessment and intervention when working with delinquent youths.

Parenting practices generally refer to behaviors that are used to manage and socialize a child. Previous research has identified multiple dimensions of parenting behavior that are related to the occurrence of antisocial behavior in children, including a lack of monitoring, a failure to acknowledge prosocial behavior, and harsh or inconsistent discipline (Kazdin, 1987; Laub & Sampson, 1988; Loeber & Dishion, 1983; Patterson, 1986). In addition, parent-child relationships that are low in acceptance, warmth, affection, and emotional support appear to place children at greater risk for delinquent behavior (Blaske, Borduin, Henggeler, & Mann, 1989; Loeber & Dishion, 1983). Finally, a growing body of research has used family systems theory as a framework to explore the relationship between family interactional processes and problematic behavior in youths (Henggeler, Melton, & Smith, 1992; Kurtines & Szapocznik, 1996; Mann, Borduin, Henggeler, & Blaske, 1990; Szapocznik, Hervis, Rio, Kurtines, & Foote, 1989). From this theoretical perspective, child behavior problems are viewed as the manifestation of dysfunctional interaction patterns within the family system. More specifically, the risk of problematic or delinquent behavior increases in the context of poor communication skills, ineffectual conflict resolution skills, and faulty structural organization of the family system (i.e., family roles are not clearly defined, parental figures are not in a position of authority, and the family is not able to accommodate to developmental and situational challenges). …

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