Academic journal article Family Relations

Parent-Adolescent Relationship Qualities and Adolescent Adjustment in Two-Parent African American Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parent-Adolescent Relationship Qualities and Adolescent Adjustment in Two-Parent African American Families

Article excerpt

Using multi-informant data from 134 two-parent African American families, the goals of this study were to (a) describe parent-adolescent warmth and shared time as a function of parent and youth gender and (b) assess links between these indices of relationship quality and adolescent adjustment. Mixed-model ANCOVAs revealed that mothers reported warmer relationships with adolescents than fathers, and both parents reported warmer relationships with younger versus older offspring. Interparental differences in time spent with sons and daughters and older and younger siblings were also found. Tests of multilevel models indicated that greater maternal warmth was associated with fewer depressive symptoms and less risky behavior for sons, and more paternal warmth and shared time with fathers were associated with less risky behavior in youth. Discussion highlights the utility of cultural ecological and family systems perspectives for understanding parent-adolescent relationships and youth adjustment in African American families.

Key Words: adolescence, African American, parenting.

Maintaining strong family bonds during the renegotiation of parent-child relationships in adolescence is paramount for youth adjustment (Steinberg, 2001 ). Parent - adolescent relationships characterized by high warmth and involvement may protect youth from adjustment problems (Carlton-Ford, Paikoff, Oakley, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008; Galambos, Barker, & Almeida, 2003). Whereas most research on this topic is based on between-family comparisons of youth, family systems theory calls attention to within-family variability. From a systems perspective, families comprise interdependent individuals who make unique contributions to family dynamics and who have different experiences in and perceptions of their shared family context (e.g., Minuchin, 1985). Although a systems perspective holds that mothers and fathers will make unique contributions to their sons' and daughters' development, empirical research on the roles of gender for parent-adolescent relationships is sparse, and we know little about the differential experiences of boys and girls who grow up in the same family (Galambos, Berenbaum, & McHale, 2009).

Even more limited is research that extends a family systems approach to ethnic minority families. Given the significance of cultural values and experiences in shaping family dynamics, findings from the literature on White families may not generalize to other socioculturel groups (Garcia Coll et al., 1996). A cultural ecological perspective also directs attention to the substantial variability in family dynamics and youth adjustment that exists within a particular ethnic group and emphasizes the importance of ethnic homogeneous designs wherein the processes underlying within group variability can be illuminated.

Researchers have generally ignored the substantial degree of variability in the circumstances of African Americans, instead focusing primarily on families in challenging circumstances. For instance, although nearly 40% of African American youth live with both parents (Kreider & Ellis, 2009), most research includes only single-mother households. When African American fathers are included, the focus has primarily been on the implications of fathers' residential status for youth development. Although fathers' residency contributes to adolescent adjustment, residing with a father does not necessarily imply strong father-child bonds (Salem, Zimmerman, & Notaro, 1998; Thomas, Krampe, & Newton, 2008), and more research is needed examining the implications of father-adolescent relationship quality for youth outcomes.

Building on family systems and cultural ecological tenets, the goals of this study were to (a) describe parent-adolescent warmth and shared time as a function of parent and youth gender and (b) assess links between these indices of relationship quality and adolescent internalizing and externalizing behavior, including the moderating role of parent and adolescent gender and birth order. …

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