Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Assessing Mothers' and Children's Perceptions of Power through Personal, Conventional, and Prudential Conflict Situations

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Assessing Mothers' and Children's Perceptions of Power through Personal, Conventional, and Prudential Conflict Situations

Article excerpt

Mothers' and school-aged children's perceptions of types of power executed (coercive, reward, legitimate, information, negotiation, and sneaky) in three domains of conflict (personal, conventional, and prudential) were investigated. Participants included 41 children ranging from 7 to 12 years (M = 10.12, SD = 1.42) and their mothers. Perceptions of power were assessed through an interview consisting of 12 conflict-provoking scenarios. Results indicated that mothers were reported as using more coercive power in the conventional domain and more information power across all domains than did children. Children were viewed as exercising more reward power in the personal and prudential domains, more legitimate power in the personal domain, and more sneaky power in conventional and prudential domains than did mothers. This study contributes to our understanding of child-rearing beliefs, behaviors, and attributes of power in mother-child relationships during middle childhood.

The relationship between parents and children is complex, as it encompasses a close interdependence of behaviors and a combination of emotions, needs, and goals, as well as a variety of interactions that create a history between partners (Kuczynski, 2003). Overarching theoretical models that depict such close relationships involve three fundamental assumptions: causality, agency, and power (Lollis & Kuczynski, 1997). Causality is defined in terms of socialization with a focus on compliance and internalization of values. Agency views individuals as actors with the ability to make sense of their environment, initiate change, and make choices. Finally, power in social relationships is a dynamic process consisting of various resources (e.g., material goods, affection) that are possessed on different levels by each partner in the dyad. According to Lollis and Kuczynski (1997), in the past 30 years, these assumptions have shifted from a unidirectional view (i.e., parent to child) toward a bidirectional view of the parent-child relationship.

Accompanying this change in parent-child relationships, a shift in parents' beliefs about child development and parenting strategies may have also occurred. Specifically, there has been a significant change in parental values toward a greater preference for autonomy in children's decision making (Alwin, 1990), which provides children with choices about complying in different situations (Grieshaber, 2004). This change may signal a shift in conceptions of power in the relationship that is subject to bidirectional processes in which both parents and children are vulnerable and influential toward each other (Grieshaber, 2004; Lollis & Kuczynski, 1997). For instance, in the parent-child relationship, parents seem to hold the power since they have control over tangible resources, whereas children conversely have the ability to control parents with caring behaviors (e.g., a smile). The management of conflict situations provides a key context in which to study power resources held by each partner in the relationship. Such conflicts are often triggered by the struggle between children's autonomy-seeking behaviors and parental control attempts. To understand the nature of power properties in dyadic relationships, it is essential to tease apart the roles of the partners (Hinde, 1979). Thus, our objective was to identify how parents and children report the use of power to manage different conflict situations (Bush & Peterson, 2008).

Power

According to Lollis and Kuczynski (1997), "power consists of different resources (French & Raven, 1959) that are managed differently across family types (Baumrind, 1971) and are constantly negotiated within relationships, across relationships, and across development" (p. 448). This construct is multifaceted and consists of individual, relational, and cultural resources (Grieshaber, 2004; Kuczynski, 2003). Power is defined as the potential ability of one person to influence the direction of another person's behavior (Wolfe, 1959). …

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