Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Impact of Maternal Drug Use and Life Experiences on Preadolescent Children Born to Teenage Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Impact of Maternal Drug Use and Life Experiences on Preadolescent Children Born to Teenage Mothers

Article excerpt

The influence of maternal drug use and unconventional behavior on children's behavioral problems, cognitive functioning, and self-esteem is examined for children aged 8 and older born to adolescent mothers. Analyses are based on 581 unique mother-child dyads from the 1986 National Longitudinal Survey of the Work Experience of Youth (NLSY). Causal models indicate that maternal attitudes and experiences as an adolescent or young adult (having been raised in a non-intact home, self-esteem, and delinquency) and current family structure have different consequences for the home environments provided for girls and boys. These same maternal characteristics also directly influence children 's externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors, and feelings of self-worth. The effect of maternal drug use on children is indirect and operates through increasing the risk of marital disruption.

A substantial body of evidence indicates that children of teenage mothers lag behind other children on cognitive and emotional development (Chase-Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Paikoff, 1992; Hofferth, 1987). Being a teenage mother elevates the risk of unfavorable life circumstances, which contribute to the likelihood of negative outcomes in the child (Christ et al., 1990; Hofferth, 1987; McLanahan & Booth, 1989). The risk and protective factors that contribute to differences in development among the children of adolescent mothers need to be identified (Luster & Dubow, 1990). Maternal nonconventional attitudes and behaviors--in particular, drug use--have received little attention. These experiences may influence the child directly. ,r indirectly through other factors, such as quality of parenting. The reduced parenting skills of adolescent parents may partially explain the disadvantaged outcomes of their children (Chase-Lansdale et al., 1992; Christ et al., 1990).

This article assesses the influence of maternal attitudes and experiences as a teenager and young adult, with emphasis on drug use, family structure, and parenting behaviors on preadolescent development. We examine the predictors of child outcomes in the arenas of cognitive, behavioral, and psychological adjustment. The analyses are based on the National Longitudinal Survey of the Work Experience of Youth (NLSY).


Drug use in adolescence and young adulthood is associated with lower conformity to adult social roles, especially family roles. Illicit drug use increases the risk of early sex (Rosenbaum & Kandel, 1990), premarital pregnancy (Mensch & Kandel, 1992; Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1987), and cohabitation (Bachman, O'Malley, & Johnston, 1984; Newcomb, 1986; Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1985a), while marijuana use delays marriage and marital childbearing (Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1985b). Drug use not only affects the timing of role participation but also the stability and quality of role participation. For example, marijuana use during marriage increases the risk of divorce (Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1985b).

Little is known, however, about how drug use in the general population affects parenting and the development of the drug user's children. As we discuss below, differences in the ways drug users and nonusers relate to their children have been reported in an earlier study (Kandel, 1990). The impact of drug use may be particularly important among teenage mothers who are less well-prepared than older mothers for the demands of childrearing.

The influence of drug use on social roles may be related to a general unconventional lifestyle that differentiates users from nonusers (Elliott, 1993). Several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have documented that adolescents and young adults who use marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drugs are less religious, more depressed, more delinquent and antisocial, and have lower self-esteem than nonusers (Brook, Brook, Gordon, Whiteman, & Cohen, 1990; Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Kandel, 1984; Kaplan, 1980; Newcomb & Bentler, 1986). …

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