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Parents’ ability to discourage adolescent problem behavior


For decades, parents have been told they can deter adolescent misbehavior by monitoring and setting firm limits on their children’s activities and friendships. In 2000, this assertion was challenged by papers published in the journals Child Development and Developmental Psychology. The authors of these papers cautioned parents not to assume that controlling, supervising, and monitoring their children would reduce the likelihood that adolescents would become involved in problem behavior such as drug and alcohol use or delinquency. Findings suggested that parents who know their adolescent children’s activities and friendships are more likely to have children who stay out of trouble. However, these researchers found that parents’ efforts to obtain this information were only weakly linked with the accuracy of parents’ knowledge about their children. Instead, some adolescents (mostly those who weren’t getting in trouble) willingly disclosed information to their parents, but others (those who were getting in trouble) were less likely to share information with their parents.

We wanted to look more carefully at three strategies parents might take to keep their adolescent children out of trouble: (1) maintaining close relationships with children, (2) setting strict limits on children’s activities and friendships, and (3) trying to become informed about these activities and friendships. We asked whether each parenting strategy was predictive lower levels of adolescent substance use and minor delinquency one year later.

Our findings indicated that two of these three parenting strategies predicted lower levels of problem behavior. Parents who had close, warm relationships with their children were more knowledgeable about adolescent behavior and friendships. This knowledge, in turn, predicted lower levels of substance use and delinquency. Parental control also predicted fewer problems, and this was true regardless of whether control resulted in parents becoming accurately informed of their children’s activities and friendships. Parents’ efforts to monitor children’s behavior were linked with less involvement in problem behavior, but did not predict changes in such behavior over time.

Our findings are not inconsistent with those reported by same previous research, but instead emphasize the important role of parents in deterring adolescents from involvement in substance use and delinquent behavior. Parents, researchers, and practitioners alike would do well to note that parental control in particular is a strong predictor of whether adolescents will have the opportunity and inclination to involve themselves in behaviors deemed inappropriate by their parents. Sometimes, warmth is not enough.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 3, Parental Influences on Adolescent Problem Behavior: Revisiting Stattin and Kerr by A. C. Fletcher, L. Steinberg, and M. Wheeler-Williams. Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Karen Melnyk | EurekAlert!

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