Academic journal article Family Relations

Financial Stress, Parental Depressive Symptoms, Parenting Practices, and Children's Externalizing Problem Behaviors: Underlying Processes

Academic journal article Family Relations

Financial Stress, Parental Depressive Symptoms, Parenting Practices, and Children's Externalizing Problem Behaviors: Underlying Processes

Article excerpt

This study examined the relationships among financial stress encountered by families, parents' social support, parental depressive symptoms, parenting practices, and children's externalizing problem behaviors to advance our understanding of the processes by which family financial stress is associated with children's problem behaviors. We also tested moderated mediation to investigate if these relationships differed depending on children's characteristics. The data were drawn from 290 predominantly rural families with young children who were identified as at risk for the development of serious conduct problems. Using structural equation modeling, we found that the relationship between family income and children's externalizing problem behaviors was mediated by parents' social support, parental depressive symptoms, and parenting practices. The results also showed that the children's levels of aggression severity, academic functioning, and developmental strengths moderated the mediating relationships between family income and parental depressive symptoms and between family income and positive parenting.

Key Words: externalizing problem behaviors, family income, moderated mediation, parental depressive symptoms, parenting practices, social support.

Numerous studies have examined the relationships among financial stress, parenting, and child development along with their underlying processes (Brody, Murry, Kim, & Brown, 2002; Gershoff, Aber, Raver, & Lennon, 2007; Linver, Brooks-Gunn, & Kohen, 2002; Mistry, Lowe, Benner, & Chien, 2008; Nievar & Luster, 2006; Simons, Lorenz, Wu, & Conger, 1993). The results have consistently shown that through low levels of social support or elevated levels of parental depressive symptoms, or both, financial stress is associated with fewer optimal or disruptive parenting behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, increase the likelihood of developmental maladjustment in children, such as displaying externalizing problem behaviors. Little research, however, has examined the interactive processes among these variables in at-risk populations, particularly those in need of interventions (e.g., Kotchick, Dorsey, & Heller, 2005).

Drawing primarily from the conceptual framework on the determinants of parenting (Belsky, 1984) and the family stress model (Conger, Reuter, & Conger, 2000), we extend the previously tested conceptual model of Lee, Anderson, Horowitz, and August (2009) by adding children's externalizing problem behaviors as a child outcome in the proposed model (see Figure 1), given the close relationship between parenting practices and children's disruptive behaviors (Stormshak, Bierman, McMahon, Lengua, & Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2000). Low family income is a meaningful proxy for financial stress, given that parents may experience a great deal of financial stress when raising a family on a low income because they most likely will find it difficult to meet their financial obligations (Gershoff et al., 2007; Mistry et al., 2008). The first purpose of this study is to understand how low family income is related to children's externalizing problem behaviors through the parents' social support, depressive symptoms, and parenting practices in families with children who are at risk for developing serious conduct problems. Such knowledge is important because it not only provides opportunities to understand the underlying processes operating on these relationships, but it also helps family professionals effectively meet the special needs of at-risk children and vulnerable parents.

Despite consistent findings showing that parental depressive symptoms and social support are intervening factors (i.e., mediators) in the effects of financial stress, little is known about whether mediation is effective in all circumstances. The second purpose of this study is to investigate whether the mediating relationship between low family income and parenting depends on particular characteristics in children, specifically aggression, academic functioning, and developmental strengths. …

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