Parental Monitoring and
Knowledge of Children
Ann C. Crouter
Melissa R. Head
The Pennsylvania State University
Over the last five decades, scholars from the fields of clinical and developmental science, criminology, family studies, and public health have become increasingly interested in a component of parenting typically referred to as parental monitoring, defined by Dishion and McMahon (1998, p. 61) as “a set of correlated parenting behaviors involving attention to and tracking of the child's whereabouts, activities, and adaptations. ” Interest in this potentially crucial facet of parent socialization has grown in response to consistent and robust findings that, from the preschool years through adolescence, low levels of parental monitoring are associated with high levels of problem behavior. But the gap between the conceptualization of parental monitoring and how researchers typically measure it has become difficult to ignore. Most measures of parental monitoring are really assessments of parental knowledge; researchers have made a crucial and, some would say, unwarranted assumption that parents acquire knowledge through tracking and surveillance. Recent research suggests, however, that parental knowledge develops in the context of a trusting parent–child relationship and has more to do with the child's willingness to confide in the parent than in the parent's ability to track and monitor the child (Stattin and Kerr, 2000). As Crouter, MacDermid, McHale, and Perry-Jenkins (1990, p. 656) have argued:
Parents who are good monitors have made the effort to establish channels of communication with their child, and as a result of their relationships with the child, they are knowledgeable about the child's daily experiences. In order to be an effective monitor, however, parental interest is not enough: A child must be willing to share his or her experiences and activities with the parent. Seen in this light, parental monitoring is a relationship property.
In this chapter, we review research on parental monitoring in an attempt to articulate what parental monitoring really is and what it means in the lives of children and adolescents.