Parental Enabling Attitudes and Locus of Control of At-Risk and Honors Students

By Lynch, Shirley; Hurford, David P. et al. | Adolescence, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Parental Enabling Attitudes and Locus of Control of At-Risk and Honors Students


Lynch, Shirley, Hurford, David P., Cole, AmyKay, Adolescence


Concerns about at-risk youth and the national dropout rate have existed for decades. Parents, teachers, and researchers have sought greater understanding of the causes of academic underachievement in hopes of identifying an effective course of prevention. One fruitful area of research has been locus of control (Rotter, 1966, 1973), which has been found to be a significantly better predictor of grades than standardized achievement test scores (Stipek & Weisz, 1981).

The advantages of an internal locus of control have been well established (Lefcourt, 1982; Oswald, Walker, Krajewski, & Reilly, 1994; Parrott & Strongman, 1984; Rawson, 1992; Weisz, 1986). Considerable research has demonstrated that gifted children are more likely to have an internal locus of control (Harty, Adkins, & Hungate, 1984; Karnes & D'Ilio, 1991; Yong, 1994). This is likely due to the finding that children with an internal locus of control have an increased ability for impulse control, delay of gratification, and regulation of attention in classroom settings (Ferrer & Krantz, 1987; Kendall & Wilcox, 1979).

An internal locus of control is beneficial for some potentially at-risk children as well. Finn and Rock (1997) examined students who were classified as "resilient" because of their academic success despite minority status and low-income housing. These children differed from their nonsuccessful or "nonresilent" and "dropout" peers in that they had a greater sense of control over their lives.

The consequences of an external locus of control appear to be detrimental for children and adolescents. An external locus of control has been associated with childhood anxiety (Nunn, 1988), childhood depression (McCauley, Mitchell, Burke, & Moss, 1988) and poor academic achievement (Howerton, Enger, & Cobbs, 1993; Stipek & Weisz, 1981). An external locus of control has also been found to be more prevalent among adolescent delinquent females (Duke & Fenhagen, 1975) and conduct disordered adolescent males (Powell & Rosen, 1999).

The powerful ramifications associated with locus of control have prompted researchers to examine developmental contributions to both an internal and external locus of control. In particular, parenting style has been implicated in the development of this intrapersonal quality. Several parenting factors have been associated with children having an internal locus of control, including consistency of parental discipline (Halpin, Halpin, & Whiddon, 1980; Paguio, Robinson, Skeen, & Deal, 1987) and parental warmth (Gordon, Nowicki, & Wichern, 1981; Krampen, 1989; Nowicki & Segal, 1974). In a study examining adult children, Tails and Bok (1997) found that the effect of parental involvement (defined as providing a warm, caring, and loving upbringing) on children differed according to gender of the parent. Father involvement was associated with an internal locus of control in adult children while mother involvement was associated with an external locus of control. It was hypothesized that fathers encouraged independenc e while mothers' involvement was more comforting. The encouragement of independent behavior was interpreted to be a contributing factor in the development of an internal locus of control. In addition, Gordon, Nowicki, and Wichern (1981) found that parents who reward and encourage independence were more likely to have children with an internal locus of control.

Parents who do not encourage age-appropriate independence may have children who develop external control beliefs in adolescence (Morton & Mann, 1998). A healthy sense of independence is necessary in order to believe that one's actions make a difference in one's future. Failing to encourage independence could be considered a form of parental enabling. Parental enabling occurs when parents help children to the point where the children do not take ultimate responsibility for their actions. …

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