Children's Development of Social Competence Across Family Types/Parenting
3.1 Features and definitions
Research on parental socialization has principally followed one of three main approaches: broad characterizations of the typical or general style of child-rearing used by parents (Baumrind, 1967); more specific measurements of discrete child-rearing practices and behaviours (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994); or descriptions of the quality of the relationship shared between parents and children (Sroufe, 2002). Occasionally researchers measure multiple aspects of parenting that cross these different approaches (Coplan, Hastings, Lagace-Seguin, & Moulton, 2002). All three have provided useful information on the nature of the relations between parental socialization and children's development of social competence.
The most influential program of research on general parenting styles was initiated by Diana Baumrind (1966, 1967, 1971) and further refined by other socialization researchers (e.g., Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Aspects of child-rearing are seen along two dimensions of behaviour: control and responsiveness. Crossing these two dimensions results in a four-cell grid, which represents a typology of four general patterns of parenting. The two cells representing high control are most often studied. Authoritative parents are high in both control and responsiveness. They have rules and guidelines for their children, set limits, and expect compliance, but this is balanced by providing explanations for rules, being sensitive to children's needs and wants, a willingness to listen to children's perspectives, and flexibility in the application of control depending on situational factors. Authoritative parents are often characterized as warm, although this draws in emotional qualities that do not clearly relate to the dimensions of control and responsiveness. Authoritarian parents are high in control but low in responsiveness. They apply rules and limit-setting strictly and without explanations or flexibility, engage in more punitive control and discipline, and do not take their children's perspectives into account when making decisions. Authoritarian parents are often described as angry, harsh or negative, although again, these emotional qualities are not inherent to the Baumrind typology.
The two cells representing low-control have been studied in relation to children's social competence less often. Permissive or indulgent parents are low in control and high in responsiveness. They have few rules for their children, tend not to enforce what rules they do have, forgive children's transgressions, and apply few limits on children's behaviour, but they are engaged with their children, aware of their children's wants and needs, and responsive to their children's desires. Neglectful or dismissive parents are low in both control and responsiveness. They are disengaged and not attentive to the needs of children, neither providing necessary supervision nor sharing enjoyable or close interactions.
Many socialization researchers find these descriptions of parenting styles are too broad for gaining any true understanding of how parents influence their children. Each style encompasses so many different behaviours that it is difficult to determine whether any specific element of a given style explains its association with children's social competence (Grusec, Goodnow, & Kuczynski, 1997). Parents have also been found to vary their child-rearing behaviours considerably depending on contexts and situational demands, their children's behaviours, or the parents' immediate goals (Hastings & Grusec, 1998). Thus, a number of researchers measure specific elements of parenting behaviour, including but not limited to: sensitivity to children's cues and contingent responding; emotional expressions and affective communication; providing reasons and explanations; pointing out the consequences of children's actions (other-oriented reasoning); monitoring activities; setting rules and imposing limits; commanding; physical punishment; time-outs; withdrawing privileges; threatening; yelling; voicing disapproval; shame and guilt induction; criticism and demeaning comments; love withdrawal; negotiating; surrendering; protective and intrusive management; teaching; modeling specific behaviours; playing; expressing affection; and comforting and providing assistance. Most of these features of child-rearing have been examined in relation to children's social competence by socialization researchers.
Examining the quality of parent-child relationships often involves focusing on the emotional climate present in the home and in parent-child interactions, and on the ways in which parents and children coordinate their actions contingently and reciprocally (Cox & Paley, 1997; Patterson & Fisher, 2002; Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 1999). Research on the quality of parent-infant and parent-child attachments typifies this work with young children. Sensitive and contingent parenting supports children's felt security and regard for their parents as trustworthy and loving, and this secure attachment relationship with parents influences children's relationships with others. Across ages, many researchers measure the overall levels of warmth and affection that are expressed between parents and children. With older children and adolescents, the focus is often on the amount of conflict that is present in the parent-child relationship. Relationships that include more frequent, intense or hostile conflict are seen as problematic and not optimally supportive of the development of social competence.
3.2.1 General parenting styles
Many studies have found that parenting styles are associated with young children's competence and positive peer engagement. Baumrind (1966, 1967) was one of the first researchers to show that, compared to parents of aggressive and withdrawn preschoolers, parents of sociable preschoolers used authoritative styles of childrearing. The parents of less competent children tended to be permissive or authoritarian. These associations have been replicated often with preschoolers (e.g., Dekovic & Janssens, 1992; Denham et al., 2000; Kochanska, 1991; Pearson & Rao, 2003) as well as school-aged children and adolescents (Baumrind, 1989, 1991; Chao & Willms, 2002; Gunnoe, I-Ietherington, & Reiss, 1999; Lambom, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991) across a variety of cultural and economic groups (Beyers & Goosens, 1999; Chang, Schwartz, Dodge, & McBride-Chang, 2003; Chen, Dong, & Zhou, 1997; Jones et al., 2002).
Authoritative parental socialization seems to promote children's resilience, and help to maintain children on positive developmental pathways. Authoritative parents may serve as models for social competence, as their combination of assertive, flexible, child-focused and responsive behaviour reflect the same kinds of social actions that characterize children's positive and effective engagement with peers. As they are used to having more positive and satisfying interactions with their parents, the children of more authoritative parents might also have higher self-esteem or more positive expectations for their relationships with others. Authoritative parenting could also foster children's self-regulation, as the combination of parents' limit-setting and support for autonomy provide children with opportunities to practice managing their emotions and social behaviours.
Examining some of the specific associations between social competence and parenting practices and relationship qualities within each of the three developmental periods outlined earlier will help to reveal how socialization supports the development of social competence. It should be recognized that most of the research in this area has either focused exclusively on the socialization practices of mothers, or it has not distinguished between mothers and fathers (e.g., asking adolescents to report on their 'parents'). The more limited body of research that has contrasted maternal and paternal socialization, or that has been focused exclusively on fathers, is examined subsequently.
18.104.22.168 The preschool period
Studies have shown that preschool-aged children are more socially competent when they have secure attachment relationships with their mothers. Fagot (1997) observed peer play and turn—taking between toddlers who had the quality of their attachment relationships measured six months previously. When toddlers with secure attachments made positive and friendly initiations toward their peers, they were more likely to receive positive responses and less likely to receive negative responses, compared to toddlers with insecure attachments.
In a longitudinal study with a representative sample of more than 1000 families, Belsky and Fearon (2002) found that attachment in infancy predicted mothers' reports of children's social competence two years later, depending on the stability of maternal behaviour. Specifically, three-year-old children were described as more empathic, prosocial and cooperative when they had secure attachment relationships at 15 months and when their mothers were observed to be sensitive and unobtrusive at 24 months. Comparatively, children were described as less socially competent if they had secure attachments at 15 months but relatively less sensitive mothers at 24 months, or if they had insecure attachments regardless of subsequent maternal sensitivity. In another examination of this sample of children, repeated observations of mothers' sensitivity, at warmth and involvement with their children from 6 to 36 months predicted both mothers' and teachers' reports of the children's social competence at 4.5 years (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network, 2002).
Parental sensitivity, warmth, and involvement with infants are the key elements of parenting that contribute to secure attachments. Another longitudinal study has shown that mothers' levels of these behaviours with infants predict the levels of children's observed empathic and prosocial responses toward adults one year later (Kiang, Moreno, & Robinson, 2004). Kochanska (1997) also found that maternal sensitivity and responsiveness with toddlers predicted some children's cooperativeness, compliance with adult directions, and prosocial behaviour two years later. This predictive association was particularly strong for toddlers who were temperamentally outgoing, sociable children. Conversely, for toddlers who were more shy or fearful, these aspects of preschool social competence were predicted by mothers' tendency to use gentle and supportive rather than strict discipline.
Maternal sensitivity also influences the quality of their controlling or child-management behaviours. Rubin, Hastings, Stewart, Henderson, and Chen (1997) found that mothers who were more sensitive and less intrusively domineering of their toddlers' activities had children who were more comfortable and engaged during interactions with unfamiliar peers and adults. As well, these maternal behaviours impacted the stability of children's behaviour over time. Observed again when they were four years old (Rubin, Burgess, & Hastings, 2002), children were most withdrawn and anxious with their peers when, two years previously, they had been more shy and withdrawn toddlers and their mothers had been less sensitive and more over-bearing.
Together, these longitudinal studies strongly support the argument that maternal warmth and sensitivity, and secure attachment relationships, support the early development of social competence. The use of diverse sources of information, including observations, mother-reports and teacher-reports, strengthens this conclusion. The research of Kochanska, Rubin and their colleagues also reinforces the principles of equifinality and multifinality. Different socialization experiences can predict the same developmental outcomes for children with different predispositions, and a given socialization experience can predict divergent developmental for different children.
Other researchers have examined the nature of parental control, demands, and management of children's negative behaviours, as they pertain to preschoolers' social competence. Hastings and Coplan (1999) found that teachers described preschoolers as more socially competent when they had mothers who reacted to child transgressions with balanced concerns for obtaining compliant, obedient behaviour and for preserving a close parent-child relationship, rather than focusing on only one of these goals. Kuczynski and Kochanska (1995) examined the links between parenting style and the nature of mothers' demands, and how mothers' demands predicted children's compliant and cooperative behaviour. More authoritative mothers were more likely to make demands that encouraged behaviour rather than prohibited behaviour, telling their toddlers what to do rather than telling what not to do. As well, they focused more on supporting autonomous behaviours (e. g., "Clean up your room.") than on regulating their children's behaviours (e. g., "Sit up straight and behave."). In turn, encouraging demands and supporting autonomy predicted children's cooperativeness and compliance three years later, when they were 5 years old. Similarly, Dumas, Lalireniere, and Serketich (1995) found that limit setting was applied more sensitively and in more firm but positive ways during interactions between mothers and their socially competent preschoolers, compared to the interactions of mothers with aggressive or anxious preschoolers.
The warmth and reciprocity of parent-child interactions have also been linked to preschoolers' social competence. As well as measuring attachment, Fagot (1997) also observed how toddlers' playful interactions with their parents corresponded to their playful interactions with peers. Although positive parent-child interactions were not associated with peer interactions, she found that toddlers who had more mutually negative interactions with their parents (e. g., parent criticizes when child whines) also had more mutually negative interactions with their peers (e. g., peer pushes when child takes toy). Thus, toddlers who had more conflicted relationships with their parents also had more conflicted relationships with their peers.
Clark and Ladd (2000) obtained analogous results in a study of kindergarten-aged children. Mothers and children were observed while they talked about events in the child's and family's lives, and a measure of positive relationship quality was derived from their mutual warmth, engagement, reciprocity, and happiness. According to teachers' and peers' descriptions of their social competence in kindergarten, children with more positive relationships with their mothers were more empathic and concerned for others, more socially accepted, and had more friends and in more harmonious interactions with their peers.
The quality of play between parents and preschool-aged children has been examined in a number of studies. Parent-child play is thought to be an important training context for children's development of social competence. It provides opportunities for children to learn important principles of turn-taking, reciprocity, and shared positive emotions that they can bring to their interactions with peers. A number of studies have shown that preschoolers are happier, more engaged, and more competent with their peers when they have parents who play with them more, engage in more fantasy and physical play, express more warmth and positive emotion during play, and reciprocate more positive behaviours (Isley, O’Neil, Clatfelter, & Parke, 1999; Lindsey & Mize, 2000; Lindsey, Mize & Pettit, 1997; MacDonald & Parke, 1984). It has been suggested that play is a particularly important context for fathers to shape the social competence of their young children, a point that we will return to shortly.
Other studies have examined the emotional qualities of children's relationships with their parents. For example, parents' responses to their children's emotions have been linked to children's social competence. Teachers describe young children as less able to make friends and behave appropriately when mothers react to their children's distress or negative emotions in dismissive or rejecting ways (Fabes, Leonard, Kupanoff & Martin, 2001). As well, the extent to which mothers express positive or negative emotions during interactions is mirrored by their children, both at home and in preschool (Denham, 1989; Denham & Grout, 1993).
These and other studies point to a number of aspects of parental socialization that support or undermine children's development of social competence in the preschool years. Preschoolers are more likely to be socially competent when they have secure attachment relationships with their parents; when their parents are more sensitive, warm, and engaged without being intrusive or domineering; when parents play more often and more positively; when parents are supportive of their children's emotions and avoid reacting negatively to children's aversive behaviours; and when parents demands are reasoned, well-balanced, and directed toward fostering a child's autonomous behaviour.
22.214.171.124 The elementary school-aged years
Socialization researchers have tended to focus their attention on young children and adolescents. The middle childhood period is relatively under-studied. However, several studies have shown that many of the same parenting factors that support the social competence of preschoolers appear to be associated with greater social competence in the elementary school-age years as well.
In a study of six-year-old children, maternal warmth was positively associated with children's prosocial solutions to hypothetical conflicts, and with mothers' reports of their children's social competence, but not with teachers' reports (Laible, Carlo, Torquati, & Ontai, 2004). As well, children generated fewer prosocial and more aggressive solutions when their mothers reported using more harshly punitive discipline.
Janssens and Dekovic (1997) looked at the links between six to ten-year-old children's helpful and cooperative behaviours at school, and their parents' socialization practices. Mothers and fathers were observed assisting their children with solving difficult puzzles, and also reported on how they would deal with a variety of difficult situations with their child. Both techniques produced a measure of socialization that ranged from restrictive, strict control at the low end, to supportive, authoritative control at the high end. Mothers' and fathers' supportive, authoritative parenting were correlated equally strongly with both teachers’ and peers’ descriptions of children as helpful. Interestingly, the link between parental socialization and children’s helpful behaviours at school was stronger for older than for younger children in the study.
Not all studies produce strong results. One investigation compared parental socialization and child adjustment for nine-year-olds with and without spina bifida, looking at parents’ overprotection and autonomy granting, and children’s social acceptance and good behaviour as reported by parents, teachers, and the children themselves (Holmbeck et al., 2002). Parental socialization did not predict social acceptance, although children in both groups had higher scores for good behaviour when their parents were less over-protective.
A study of seven to ten year-old children and their parents in France examined whether children’s descriptions of their friendships were related to mothers’ descriptions of their child-rearing style (Alles-Jardel, Fourdrinier, Roux, & Schneider, 2002). Children reported both more positive and more conflicted friendships when their mothers’ reported a laissez-faire style of being fairly permissive and disengaged, compared to children of more rigid or more democratic mothers. This study is somewhat discrepant with the majority of research on parenting styles, which generally show that authoritative parents, who would be akin to the democratic mothers in this study, have more socially competent children than permissive or neglectful parents.
More in keeping with the bulk of research, a study of ten-year-olds and their parents in the United States showed that parents’ warmth, responsiveness and use of reasoning during discussions with their children predicted children’s social competence at school, according to teacher and peer reports (McDowell, Kim, O’Neil, & Parke, 2002). Similarly, using data on eleven-year-old children from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, a large and nationally representative sample, Chao and Willms (2002) found that firm, rational and responsive parents had more prosocial children.
The style with which parents gave advice to their children about handling difficult situations has also been examined in relation to the development of children’s social competence from nine to ten years of age (McDowell, Parke, 8; Wang, 2003). Parents who were more controlling of their nine-year-olds, telling the children what to do without explaining why, had children who showed more negative social behaviour at school according to teachers’ and peers’ reports. Fathers' control and lack of warmth when giving advice also predicted more negative and less positive social behaviour one year later.
These kinds of longitudinal studies have also shown that parental socialization in the preschool years predicts social competence in the elementary school-age years. For example, mothers’ authoritative parenting and avoidance of strong expression of negative emotion with preschoolers predicted children’s helpful and caring behaviour two years later, as assessed by a compound measure that included observed behaviours, mothers’ reports, and teachers’ reports (Hastings, Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, Usher, & Bridges, 2000).
Similarly, the NICHD Early Child Care Network (2004) followed the development of most of their large sample of preschoolers into the early elementary school-age years, focusing on more than 600 opposite-sex two-parent families. Both mothers’ and fathers’ sensitivity and child-centered socialization (more support for child autonomy than for parental authority) predicted teachers’ reports of children’s social competence, including cooperativeness, self-assertion, and self-control. Child-centered socialization was the stronger predictor for if mothers and sensitivity was the stronger predictor for fathers.
These studies clearly show that many of the previously-identified features of parental socialization continue to support children’s social competence in the elementary school-aged years. Warmth, involvement, sensitivity and authoritative parenting are all important contributors. In addition, teaching through providing explanations and non-directive advice appears to emerge as salient. This might be due to children’s increasing cognitive capacities and ability to understand and apply parents’ lessons in their interactions with others. Support for children’s autonomy also seems important, reflecting the social reality of elementary school-aged children’s ever-increasing amounts of time spent away from their parents. As was seen with younger children, parents’ negative emotionality and strict control do not benefit their older children’s development of social competence.
Many studies of the socialization of social competence in the adolescent years have examined broad parenting styles. As reviewed previously, these consistently show that youths with more authoritative parents show greater social competence, prosocial behaviour, self-esteem, and resistance to peer pressure, compared to youths with authoritarian, permissive or neglectful parents (Baumrind, 1991; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). Longitudinal studies show that authoritative parenting fosters adolescents’ social competence, autonomy and positive orientation toward work, which in turn improves their academic performance (Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dombusch, 1994). Conversely, other parenting styles, and particularly neglectful parenting, appear to undermine adolescents’ well-being. A number of studies have examined more specific measures of parenting and parent-adolescent relationships as they relate to adolescents’ social competence; examining these studies may reveal the processes by which authoritative parenting confers its benefits on adolescents’ development.
Adolescents who are more socially skilled and have better friend relationships describe their parents as warm and supportive, flexible, and as both encouraging their children’s autonomy while still monitoring their children’s activities, without being enmeshed or intrusive (Engels, Dekovic, & Meeus, 2002). In a study that tracked the development of adolescents’ self-confidence from thirteen to fifteen years of age, youths’ initial descriptions of their parents as highly critical, emotionally manipulative and controlling were found to predict lower levels of self-confidence, especially for fifteen-year-old boys (Conger, Conger, & Scaramella, 1997). Similarly, when young adolescents perceived their parents as more strict and offering them little opportunity to participate in decision-making in the home, they were more likely to turn to their peers for advice and to blindly follow peers’ directions, even to their own detriment (Fuligni & Eccles, 1993). However, when parents were careful about monitoring their adolescent children's activities, the youths were less likely to show such extreme peer orientation.
Parental monitoring of adolescents’ activities and social relationships appears to be a critically important aspect of effective socialization during this developmental period (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984; Dishion & McMahon, 2003). Allowing autonomy and involvement in decision-making does not mean that parents should withdraw from their youths’ lives. Several studies have shown that adolescents are more likely to get involved with deviant peer groups when their parents do not keep track of where and with whom their children are. Adolescents often need assistance from their parents in order to manage their peer relationships competently. Parents who talk with their adolescent children about their friendships, mediate when there are social difficulties, and grant their children some autonomy, have children who report more positive and less conflicted friendships, and less engagement in delinquency and drug use (Mounts, 2004).
Examinations of the quality of parent-adolescent relationships also reveal associations with adolescents’ social competence. Adolescents who have secure attachments to their mothers, reflecting affection and trust, also have secure attachments to their friends, which is associated with higher quality friendships (Markiewicz, Doyle, & Brendgen, 2001). Secure attachments to parents also seem to support adolescents in forming satisfying and appropriate romantic relationships (Furnan & Wehner, 1994). Adolescents who maintain positively connected relationships with their parents, based in cohesion, supportiveness and mutual reciprocity, report that they are more capable of making autonomous decisions. Thus, adolescents’ autonomy, confidence and social competence appears to be supported by maintaining positive relationships with their parents, rather than being either staunchly independent or needy and dependent.
Adolescence is a critical period for the development of autonomy, maturity, and personal identity. Social competence requires balancing the personal goals of emerging adulthood with the increasing social demands of peers while maintaining positive engagement with the family. These studies clearly show that parental socialization has powerful impacts on adolescents’ successful accomplishments of these developmental tasks. Granting more autonomy, monitoring adolescents’ activities and friendships, talking with youths, and providing warm, supportive and secure relationships provides the necessary family context for adolescents’ social competence to flourish.
3.3 Mother-father similarities, differences, and unique contributions
Most of the research reviewed in the preceding sections has either focused exclusively on the socialization practices of mothers, or it has not distinguished between mothers and fathers (e. g., asking adolescents to report on their ‘parents’). Socialization researchers have studied mothers much more than fathers. Some argue that mothers are the primary caregivers in the vast majority of families, and they are therefore likely to be the most influential socialization agents in the home. Others point out the practical aspects of completing research; it is notoriously difficult to engage and maintain fathers in the research process. However, a growing group of socialization researchers have rejected both the theoretical and practical reasons for overlooking fathers, and have completed investigations on the relations between paternal socialization and children’s social competence.
Research on the relative contributions of mothers and fathers to children’s development is of obvious relevance for the goals of this review paper. If there are aspects of social competence that appear to be exclusively supported through fathers’ involvement in child-rearing, then children being raised in homes without a father—whether that means one mother or two mothers—may be at a disadvantage. Perhaps more likely, though, is the possibility that mothers make exclusive contributions to some aspects of their children’s social competence. If that is the case, then children being raised without a mother—either by one father or by two fathers—might be at risk of maladjustment. We will turn to the evidence for the salience of family type after examining the research on paternal socialization and children’s social competence.
There are a variety of reasons why it seems likely that, when they are present in children's lives, fathers will make contributions to their children's social development. Although fathers generally spend less time with their children than do mothers, a greater proportion of father-child time is spent in play (Clarke-Stewart, 1978; MacDonald & Parke, 1986; Russell, Mize, & Bissaker, 2002). Recent comprehensive reviews of the literature reveal that the vast majority of studies do not find substantial differences in the qualities of parental relationships that children have with their mothers and fathers (e. g., Russell & Saebel, 1997). Fathers are as sensitive and responsive to their children’s cues (Parke & Sawin, 1976; Russell & Russell, 1989) and are as effective at supervising their children’s activities (Ladd, Profilet, & Hart, 1992) as are mothers. One of the few consistent differences is that mother-child relationships are warmer and more involved than father-child relationships (Russell et al., 2002), qualities that have been shown to support children’s social competence. Fathers have relatively greater concern for socializing their children’s practical skills and understanding of rules and less concern for fostering emotional closeness within the family (Hastings & Grusec, 1997, 1998). Thus, there are many parallels between parenting by mothers and fathers, but some differences as well. In heterosexual two-parent homes, fathers may make contributions to children’s competence that complement the contributions of mothers. Given the nature of paternal involvement with children, fathers may have a special role to play in developing their children’s social competence.
There is only limited empirical support for this claim, however. Mothers and fathers are equally good at facilitating the competent peer interactions of young children when they get directly involved with the children’s play, but mothers may be more likely to do so (Bhavnagri & Parke, 1991). Various aspects of both mothers’ and fathers’ styles of play with their preschool-aged children, such as control, warmth, involvement, and time spent in physical or fantasy play, have been found to be associated with children’s social competence at preschool and during play with peers (Barth & Parke, 1993; Isley, O’Neil, Clatfelter, & Parke, 1999; Lindsey & Mize, 2000). In most of these analyses, there were more associations or stronger associations between mother-child play and children's social competence than there were for father-child play, although a few studies showed the opposite pattern (Lindsey, Mize, & Pettit, 1997; McDowell, Parke, & Spitzer, 2002).
Some research shows that parents may engage in more positive play styles with their same-sex children, that is, fathers with sons and mothers with daughters (Lindsey & Mize, 2000). This might lead to mothers and fathers having differential influences on their daughters’ and sons’ development of social competence (MacDonald & Parke, 1984; Russell et al., 2002; Russell & Saibel, 1997). For example, mothers’ warmth and positive emotions during play has been correlated with observed, peer-reported and teacher-reported kindness, acceptance and social competence for both sons and daughters, whereas these aspects of fathers’ play were primarily associated with their sons’ behaviours (Isley et al., 1999; Pettit, Glyn Brown, Mize, & Lindsey, 1998). Similarly, mothers’ engagement in cooperative pretend and fantasy play was more correlated with their daughters’ social competence and peer acceptance than their sons’, whereas these aspects of fathers’ play only predicted social competence for sons (Lindsey & Mize, 2000). However, there is a fair amount of inconsistency in the research on mothers’ and fathers’ relative influences on sons’ and daughters social development (Hastings, Rubin, & DeRose, in press), and there are more studies that fail to find such sex-specific effects than there are studies that document them (Lytton & Romney, 1991).
Research on mothers’ and fathers’ socialization of older children is generally consistent with the overall character of research with preschoolers. For example, both mothers’ and fathers’ warmth, responsiveness and reasoning during conversations with their elementary school-aged children were correlated with the children’s emotional self-regulation and social competence (McDowell et al., 2002), but results were stronger for maternal parenting. In an examination of conflicted and calm interactions between young adolescents and their mothers and fathers, only the number of angry issues between youths and mothers was associated with adolescents’ poorer social adjustment (Tesser, Forehand, Brody, & Long, 1989). Calm exchanges with fathers predicted other aspects of adolescent functioning, such as academic performance.
Following 50 youths from mid-adolescence over five years of development, Jones and colleagues (2000) found fathers’ parenting only contributed to social behaviour in the context of mothers’ parenting. Specifically, fathers’ firm control predicted young adults’ more secure romantic relationships only if mothers had reported high levels of warmth and acceptance of their adolescents. Conversely, mothers’ firm control independently and positively predicted young adults’ romantic relationships. Similar findings emerged in another study, in which adolescents’ descriptions of themselves as more sympathetic and having better self-confidence and social competence were correlated with mothers but not fathers’ reports of being more supportive and less rigidly controlling (Laible & Carlo, 2004). Fathers’ supportiveness was only correlated with adolescents’ sympathy when mothers’ supportiveness was relatively low. In other words, adolescents’ empathic engagement with others might be promoted by having either parent show those kinds of caring and warm behaviours toward them.
Overall, there is at best limited evidence that fathers make uniquely special contributions to children’s social competence. Although a few studies have documented that the links between paternal socialization and children’s social competence are stronger or different than is the case for mothers, particularly for fathers’ socialization of sons, the majority of research does not support this argument. Fathers may make some additional, incremental contributions, but mothers appear to have the more powerful influence over children's social development.
Moreover, research comparing mothers' and fathers' socialization does not reveal whether maternal socialization can support the same developmental outcomes in their children whether or not fathers are present in the home. That is, children may benefit from both mothers' and fathers' parenting when both are present, but they may do just as well when they experience only one of these sources of socialization. Research on the social competence of children living in families where both a mother and father are present, compared to children in families where either a mother or father is absent, could clarify this issue. We now turn to the research on family types.
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