Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

A Comparison of Adolescent and Adult Mothers' Maternal Separation Anxiety

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

A Comparison of Adolescent and Adult Mothers' Maternal Separation Anxiety

Article excerpt

Maternal separation anxiety was compared for twenty adolescent and twenty adult mothers. The adolescent mothers were recruited from a high school teen parent program Adult participants were recruited from two university day care programs. The Maternal Separation Anxiety Scale was used to assess the level of anxiety experienced by employed or school enrolled mothers when separated from their children Analysis of variance indicated a group difference for separation anxiety with the adolescent mothers being significantly more anxious when leaving their children.

Research to date has shown conflicting views in adolescent mothers with regard to their parenting abilities, behaviors, attitudes, and interactions with their infants. Studies focusing on the influence of maternal age on parenting behavior is quite inconsistent (Conger, McCarty, Yang, Lahey, & Kropp, 1984). Adolescent mothers have been found to be as knowledgeable as adult mothers regarding developmental milestones of children, and to hold equally positive parenting attitudes when compared to older mothers (Schilmoeller & Baranowski, 1985). However, younger mothers are reported also as being less verbally and emotionally responsive, showing less maternal contact, and providing limited environmental stimulation to their infants when compared to older mothers (Carlson, LaBarba, Sclafani, & Bowers, 1986; Garcia-Coil, Hoffman, & Oh, 1987; Garcia-Coll, Hoffman, & Oh,1987; Garcia-Coll, Hoffman, Van Houten, & Oh, 1987; Parks & Arndt, 1990; Schilmoeller & Baranowski, 1985). Other researchers have found adolescent mothers lacking in empathy toward their children's needs (Baranowski, Schilmoeller, & Higgins, 1990). It has been noted that methodological problems with these comparison studies of adolescent and adult mothers no doubt contribute to their inconsistency (Carlson, et al., 1986; Parks & Arndt, 1990).

Nonetheless, research does indicate that adolescent parenting tends to create difficulties for both the mother and her child. These parenting problems fall in the realm of social and psychological adjustment for the mother and infant (BrooksGunn & Furstenburg, 1986) and behavioral and cognitive development for the child (Carlson, et al., 1986; Ketterlinus, Henderson, & Lamb,1991). Researchers indicate that it is impossible to identify a single cause for these difficulties as environmental factors and maternal characteristics, including age, interact and are confounding in effect.

One approach for explaining the greater problems experienced by adolescent mothers may lie in Belsky's (1984) model regarding the role of the self in effective parenting. In this model it is proposed that parenting is dependent on the psychological well-being and maturity of the parent. Belsky notes that adolescent mothers are obviously less psychologically mature than adult mothers. Schellenbach, Whitman, and Borkowski (1992) adapted Belsky's model specifically to young mothers and proposed that a sense of self, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and psychological maturity are often lacking with adolescents, but must be achieved in order for young mothers to provide positive parenting. Zuckerman, Walker, Frank and Chase (1986) proposed also that an adolescent mother is still in the process of establishing autonomy and identity and is, therefore, unable to prioritize the needs of her infant over her own as a result of her remaining egocentrism. One result of a young mother's immaturity is the inability to be an effective parent.

The sense of self, proposed here as the foundation for positive parenting, is also an important component of maternal separation anxiety. Maternal separation anxiety is typically defined as an unpleasant emotional state evidenced by expressions of worry, sadness or guilt when the mother has to leave her child (Hock & Schirtzinger, 1992; Lutz & Hock, 1995). Most research on maternal separation anxiety relies on the ethological perspectives of Benedek (1970) and Bowlby (1973) to explain this psychological construct. …

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