Late Adolescents' Perceptions of Their Caregiver's Feeding Styles and Practices and Those They Will Use with Their Own Children

By Fletcher, Janice; Branen, Laurel J. et al. | Adolescence, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Late Adolescents' Perceptions of Their Caregiver's Feeding Styles and Practices and Those They Will Use with Their Own Children


Fletcher, Janice, Branen, Laurel J., Lawrence, Adair, Adolescence


This study examined associations between late adolescents' perceptions of their childhood caregivers' feeding styles and practices and their perceptions of those they will use with their children. Feeding style refers to the distribution of control in the interactions between the parent and the child in the feeding setting. This examination of transmission of feeding styles and practices across generations adds to previous literature that links parent-child feeding relationships to the development of an individual's relationship with food (Birch, Johnson, & Fisher, 1995; Bruch, 1971; Satter, 1986).

Parents and children develop a feeding relationship as they work together on issues of food selection, ingestion, and energy regulation (Satter, 1986). More than in any other context of development, the feeding environment is where parents and children work out the struggle between dependence (being fed) and independence (feeding oneself) (Brazleton, 1993).

Parenting Models

Overall parenting styles and characteristics may be reflected in feeding styles and practices (Satter, 1986) which can be a barometer of the parent-child relationship (Charone, 1982). It is useful to adapt Baumrind's parenting styles model to examine parent-child feeding relationships and issues of control of food intake. Three of Baumrind's parenting styles that share defining characteristics of control, are authoritarian/demanding, authoritative/responsive, and permissive/indulgent (Baumrind, 1971, 1989). Authoritarian/demanding parents control the behavior of their children according to a set standard of conduct and they may use force or punishment to curb the self-will of a child. Authoritative/responsive parents set clear and firm limits but also encourage individuality and independence in their children. Permissive/indulgent parents are tolerant and accepting of their children's impulses, use little punishment, and avoid asserting their authority.

Feeding styles may be similarly characterized in terms of control. In an authoritarian/demanding or adult-controlled feeding style, parents control all aspects of their children's eating, including what, when, and how much they eat. Control is external to the child. Parents using an authoritative/responsive or cooperative feeding style share the responsibility in the feeding relationship with their children. Although control is shared, the focus on food and energy intakes relies on a child's internal cues. In the permissive/indulgent or child-controlled feeding style, children control the eating environment, including selection of food, timing of meals, and amounts of food eaten.

The cooperative style of feeding most closely matches the conclusions of Johnson and Birch (1994) regarding optimal environments for children's development of self-control of energy intake. They suggest that parents provide healthful food choices but allow children to assume control of how much they eat. Parents and children share control and power.

Concern for their children's welfare, however, may influence parents to increase control when they believe their safety is at risk (Baumrind, 1978; Constanzo & Woody, 1985; Smetana, 1995). Parents develop standards and rules about food and eating to insure the health and safety of their children (Birch, Johnson, & Fisher, 1995).

Generational Transmission of Beliefs about Parenting

Beliefs about parenting are in part shaped by the style of parenting people receive as children (Simons, Beaman, Conger, & Chao, 1993). As people enter late adolescence they begin to think about parenting roles and to acquire and maintain their parents' fundamental values and attitudes regarding family issues (Coleman, George, & Holt, 1977; Roscoe & Peterson, 1989). Individuals' beliefs about power and control issues in parenting may direct parents as they exercise influence over their children (Maccoby & Martin, 1983) and begin to develop feeding relationships (Birch, 1990; Bruch, 1971; Satter, 1987). …

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