PARENTING APPROACHES: CAUSE OR EFFECT OF TEEN MISBEHAVIOR?
A cornerstone of sociological theories about adolescent
behavior problems is that they stem from poor parenting. A
new study, however, indicates that parenting styles typically
are a response to, rather than a cause of, teenage girls'
David Huh and colleagues questioned 496 adolescent
girls from eight different schools to determine their perceived
parental support, parental control, and the presence or
absence of externalizing behavior problems (lying, stealing,
running away, etc.) or substance abuse. The researchers
say their findings did not support either the "social mold"
model (which posits that poor parenting causes children's
behavior problems) or the "reciprocal" model (which holds
that children's behavior affects parenting, which in turn
affects children's behavior). Rather, they say, "Results
suggest that problem behavior is a more consistent predictor
of parenting than parenting is of problem behavior, at least
for girls during middle adolescence."
Huh and colleagues say that increases in adolescent
behavior problems predicted decreases in parental control
and support, and that increases in adolescent substance
abuse predicted decreases in parental control. Conversely,
low parental control-while it influenced the development of
substance abuse-played no role in escalating behavior
problems. Deficits in parental support did not cause
escalation of either behavior problems or substance abuse.
"In theory, increases in adolescent problem behavior raise
parental tolerance of deviant behavior resulting in decreased
parental control attempts," the researchers say. "As an
adolescent's behavior becomes increasingly threatening,
parents may respond by becoming less supportive and
controlling. Eventually, parents may come to emotionally
reject adolescents exhibiting problem behavior. In this
fashion, early child characteristics may dynamically shape
later parenting behaviors."
Editor's note: The entrenched belief that poor parenting
is the primary or sole cause of children "going bad"-a belief
that, as this study shows, is grossly inaccurate-has long
prevented us from looking at the real (and largely biological)
reasons for these children's problems.
"Does problem behavior elicit poor parenting? A prospective
study of adolescent girls," David Huh, Jennifer Tristan, Emily
Wade, and Eric Stice, Journal of Adolescent Research,
Vol. 21, No. 2, March 2006, 185-204. Address: David
Huh, Oregon Research Institute, 1715 Franklin Blvd.,
Eugene, OR 97403.