Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Monitoring of Children's Behavior: Variation across Stepmother, Stepfather, and Two-Parent Biological Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Monitoring of Children's Behavior: Variation across Stepmother, Stepfather, and Two-Parent Biological Families

Article excerpt

Parental Monitoring of Children's Behavior: Variation Across Stepmother, Stepfather, and Two-Parent Biological Families*

Previous longitudinal research has shown that parental monitoring is a powerful predictor of child outcomes. Children from families with low levels of monitoring are particularly at risk for antisocial behavior, difficulties in school, and related problems. We studied whether parental monitoring-as reported by mothers/stepmothers, fathers/step/athers, interviewers, and teachers-differs across twoparent biological families, stepmother families, and stepfather families. Two-parent biological families were hypothesized to have higher levels of monitoring than stepparent families. Controlling for demographic differences, two-parent biological families showed higher levels of monitoring than stepfather families but did not differ significantly from stepmother families. The significant difference between stepfather and two-parent biological families involved the length of the relationship: only biological families of shorter duration (9 years or fewer) had higher levels of monitoring than stepfather families.

Key Words: biological families, monitoring, parent, risk, stepfamilies.

Parental monitoring of children's behavior is one of the more salient parenting practices that impact children's development. Parental monitoring involves tracking the child's whereabouts and activities (Bulcroft, Carmody, & Bulcroft, 1998); ensuring that the child is in adult-supervised settings; and enforcing the rules related to tracking (e.g., having the child provide a phone number where he or she can be reached; Dishion & McMahon, 1998). In general, active parental involvement in children's lives has been associated with more positive academic and behavioral outcomes (Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992). One study (Salem, Zimmerman, & Notaro, 1998) suggested that for boys and girls parental monitoring was related to fewer overall problem behaviors and to higher levels of psychosocial adjustment.

Conversely, inadequate parental monitoring is an important indicator of risk, as many childhood problems are mediated through monitoring. Low levels of monitoring have been associated with the development of antisocial behavior (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984); substance use and abuse (Dielman, Butchart, Shope, & Miller, 1991; Dishion & Loeber, 1985; Dishion, Reid, & Patterson, 1988; Fletcher, Darling, & Steinberg, 1995; Steinberg, 1986); male delinquency (Loeber & Dishion, 1983; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1987); antisocial peer association (Chassin, Pillow, Curran, & Molina, 1993; Dielman et al., 1991; Dishion, Patterson, Stoolmiller, & Skinner, 1991); firesetting (Kolko & Kazdin, 1986, 1990); and depressed mood (Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1996) in children and adolescents.

According to coercion theory (Patterson, 1982), poor monitoring, in combination with harsh and inconsistent discipline practices, is a strong predictor of child behavior problems (Forgatch, 1991; Loeber & Dishion, 1983; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Wasserman, Miller, Pinner, & Jaramillo, 1996). As coercive behavior unfolds in the early years, parents may begin to disengage from the parenting process, thereby decreasing supervision and monitoring of their child. (Alternatively, they may never have been inclined to monitor their children.) Parental monitoring practices may be reflected at home (where parents may monitor children by maintaining an awareness of their child's whereabouts, friends, and activities) or at school (where parents may attend school conferences, have contact with teachers, or be involved in school activities). As children move into the social realm outside of the family during middle childhood, parental monitoring becomes particularly important. During this period, children may spend increasing amounts of time with peers and in decreasingly supervised settings. …

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