Daughter-Father Relationships and Adolescent Psychosocial Functioning in Low-Income African American Families

By Coley, Rebekah Levine | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Daughter-Father Relationships and Adolescent Psychosocial Functioning in Low-Income African American Families


Coley, Rebekah Levine, Journal of Marriage and Family


This study examines the role of biological and social fathers in the lives of low-income African American adolescent girls (N = 302). Sixty-five percent of adolescents identified a primary father; two thirds were biological and one third were social fathers. Adolescents reported more contentious and less close relationships with biological than with social fathers. Multivariate regression analyses indicated that daughters' perceptions of anger and alienation from fathers was related to greater emotional and behavioral problems for adolescents, whereas perceptions of trust and communication with fathers were not predictive of youth outcomes. These relationships were generally similar for biological and social fathers, but differed according to fathers' level of contact with their daughters. A combination of low contact and high levels of either anger or trust in the daughter-father relationship related to particularly deleterious psychosocial outcomes for adolescent girls.

Key Words: adolescent delinquency, adolescent depression, African American families, father involvement, father-daughter relationships, parent-child attachment.

Recent years have seen a substantial increase in research on the role and influence of fathers in children's lives, with particular attention to the contexts within which families function and the processes through which fathers influence children's development (Coley, 2001). Within African American families, structural, economic, and relational issues are thought to be centrally important contexts for fathers' roles in families, contributing to the decline in marriage and in fathers' engagement in childrearing. In particular, long-standing discrimination as well as more recent economic restructuring have depressed the economic stability of African American men (Wilson, 1996), constraining their ability to fulfill traditional provider and protector roles in families and decreasing children's access to social networks (Roschelle, 1997). Gender relations, particularly mistrust and difficult negotiations between many African American women and men surrounding issues of coparenting, marriage, and children's financial and emotional care, may also play a role (Edin, 2000; Hamer, 2001). Finally, changes in family composition have contributed to a rise in social fathering; that is, men stepping into father-like roles with nonbiological children (Jarrett, Roy, & Burton, 2002; Jayakody & Kalil, 2002).

FATHERS' INFLUENCE ON ADOLESCENT PSYCHOSOCIAL FUNCTIONING

This study takes a fine-grained look at the role of biological and social fathers in the lives of low-income African American female adolescents, as well as the processes through which fathers influence adolescent psychosocial well-being. Psychological models of parenting attend to the importance of parents' presence and accessibility to their children, as well as to the quality of parents' engagement (e.g., Lamb, 1997). In particular, attachment theory focuses on the quality of the attachment relationship between child and parent. In essence, attachment theory states that the provision of consistent and responsive caregiving leads to healthy child-parent attachment relationships that provide a sense of trust in others and a view of oneself as competent and valued (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999). Such experiences support the development of internal working models of trust and competence that translate into later relationships and psychological and behavioral well-being. As adolescents face central developmental challenges and transitions, exacerbated by structural deficits and the challenges of poverty for teens in low-income urban communities (McLoyd, 1990), parents can play pivotal supporting and protecting roles. Literature on predominantly middle-class and European American adolescents has consistently supported a link between healthy adolescent-parent attachment and positive youth functioning in psychological and behavioral realms (e. …

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