Sunday, May 18, 2008

The effect of parents

I have spent the last little while reading through my notes on the differential effects of parents and peers on the development of criminal behavior. These are two very important groups because both have strong and often competing influences during adolescence. Not surprisingly, these are also at the center of the biggest debate in criminology: whether or not people are born good or bad. Persons arguing the former position cite Sutherland's theory of differential association or Akers' social learning theory and say that criminal behavior is the result of relationships and time spent with other delinquents. Persons arguing the latter say tend to cite Hirschi's social bond theory, though more recently it's social bond theory in the life course perspective. This perspective basically argues that strong relationships with other people, especially parents, acts as a deterrent against involvement in criminal or deviant activities. Others, arguing from the self-control perspective, say that because self-control is the direct result of the parenting practices used to raise the individual during their childhood, the parents have the most important role in determining whether or not a person will become a criminal.

Naturally, it's much more complex than that, but for the purpose of this blog, it's okay. Anyway, the interesting thing about the competing roles of parents and peers is that both sides argue that their perspective is 100% dominant and explains the lion's share of the variance in delinquent behavior. Recent research shows that both relationships with both parents and peers do have a significant impact on an individual's involvement in delinquency, neither is the be-all end-all explanatory variable that it claims to be.

Recent research on the role of parents focuses on the following aspects: the relationship between parents with low self-control and their children's self-control, the role that the neighborhood might play in both the development of self-control as well as the effects of high levels of collective efficacy and average rates of unstructured socializing, and the role of family structure (single parent home vs "intact" families). The pattern of these relationships suggest that although the relationship between parent and child is important, the relationship between community and family is also important. For example, Pratt, Turner, and Piquero (2004) show that community structure contributes as much to self control as parental socialization does, such that persons living in disadvantaged communities will likely develop lower self control that persons living in non-disadvantaged areas net of parental socialization. These findings are similar to those of Hay et al. (2006), who found that community disadvantage increases the effect of crime on problems within the family environment, suggesting that crime is more detrimental to within-family relationships in impoverished areas. However, the effect of community structure on the role of parents is not limited to the importance of socioeconomic status. Specifically, the way the residents of a community interact with one another also impacts the effectiveness of parents. For example, Simons et al. (2005) argue that the level of collective efficacy -- the degree to which members of a community believe they are capable of controlling or impacting the community in which they live -- also plays an important role. These authors suggest that collective efficacy is positively associated with authoritative parenting, such that communities that are more efficacious will be more likely to be comprised of families where the parents are more authoritative. Both of these concepts was shown to decrease the likelihood of adolescents associating with delinquent peers; furthermore, these authors also show a moderating effect, in that the deterrent effect of authoritative parenting is greater in areas of high collective efficacy. This study is not the only one to find a relationship of this nature. Osgood and Anderson (2004) find that time spent in unstructured socializing -- that is, adolescent socialization that does not include any parental monitoring or involvement -- has both an individual and contextual effect. These authors argue that time spent in unstructured socializing is associated with involvement in delinquent behavior; they also show that communities with high rates of unstructured socializing also have high rates of delinquency. In other words, no matter how closely parents monitor their own children, the fact that other parents are not monitoring their own kids' behaviors increases the likelihood that their children will become involved in some form of delinquency. This is an interesting relationship, because conventional wisdom suggests that individual parenting methods have a tremendously important impact on adolescent involvement in delinquency, be it through creating self-control through parental socialization (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990) or through monitoring adolescent friendships with potentially delinquent peers (Walsh, 2005).

This body of research overlaps with two other important roles parents play. I have already mentioned the relationship between community structure, parental socialization, and self-control (Hay et al, 2006). Recent research also suggests that parental socialization may not be necessarily as important to the development of self-control as Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) hypothesized. For instance, Nofziger (2008) shows that mothers with low self-control will raise children with low self-control, because their own lack of impulse control inhibits their ability to adequately monitor their children's behavior and consistently punish deviant behaviors. While this line of research suggests that the relationship between parental socialization and self-control may actually be spurious, there are others who argue that the relationship is non-existent. This perspective, taken by Wright and Beaver (2005) , argues that self-control is most likely biologically determined, which, if true, would remove parental socialization from the model completely. These authors cite biological deficiencies such as ADHD which have an undeniable and intuitive relationship to self-control as evidence that biological causes should be taken into serious consideration. In their study, the inclusion of ADHD into the model made the effect of parental socialization weak and inconsistent, supporting their hypothesis that self-control is the result of biological factors. In sum, the relationship between low self-control and parental socialization proposed by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) may be effected in different ways by community disadvantage (Hay et al., 2006), community structure (Osgood and Anderson, 2004; Simons et al., 2005), parental self-control (Nofziger, 2008), and biological factors (Wright and Beaver, 2004).

In addition to the roles of parents I have already discussed, a third factor considered in the literature are family structure and processes. This refers not only to whether or not there is a difference between one and two-parent households, but also incorporates things like the age of the mother at childbirth or the relationship status of the parent if they are not married and living with the other biological parent. This line of research speaks to within-group differences among parents, suggesting that the mere fact of having a parent/being a parent does not have a universal deterrent effect on whether or not you/your child will become involved in delinquent behavior.

The age of the mother at childbirth is an issue raised by Pogarsky et al. (2003). These authors show that children born to young mothers were more likely to be involved in delinquency than children born to older mothers, though this effect was stronger among white and Hispanic families than it was for African-Americans. The authors suggest that this relationship is partially due to the circumstances these children are born into (i.e., unstable family lives), but that this factor doesn't completely explain the "young mother" effect.

Another factor to be taken into consideration is the family structure itself, specifically whether or not the individual in question is presently living in or grew up in a one or two-parent household. This issue is addressed by both Demuth and Brown (2004) and Apel and Kaukinen (2008). Demuth and Brown (2004) show unequivocally that adolescents raised in single-parent homes are more likely to be delinquent than their peers in two-parent homes, and that children raised by single fathers are less delinquent than children raised by single mothers. That being said, these authors also show that the processes by which the family operates and the methods employed by the parents to monitor and discipline their children completely mediate the difference between single mothers and single fathers, suggesting that being a single parent isn't necessarily the important factor, but that the parenting methods employed are. Abel and Kaukinen (2008) tease out the within group differences in two-parent homes, allowing for differences in marital status (married versus cohabiting) and the presence of children from previous relationships. These authors show that adolescents in a home with one non-biological parent are substantially more delinquent than their counterparts, and that there is substantial variation within families centered on the presence of step-siblings and whether or not the parents are officially married. A related issue here is identified by Hagan, Simpson and Gillis (1987) and again by McCarthy, Hagan and Woodward (1999), both of whom suggest that the processes utilized by parents extends not only to their ability to discipline their children, but also the philosophical standpoint of the parents -- that is, are they raising their children in a traditional patriarchal environment, or are they utilizing a more balanced approach? Both Hagan, Simpson and Gillis (1987) and McCarthy, Hagan, and Woodward (1999) show substantial variation between families with two-married parents and single parents in the delinquency of their children based on this philosophical approach. This, coupled with the findings of Demuth and Brown (2004), Apel and Kaukinen (2008) and Pogarsky et al (2003) suggest that, as I said previously, the mere presence of parents in ones life doesn't guarantee a reduction in the likelihood of delinquency.


The post on the effect of peers will be coming tonight or tomorrow. Man, that was rough, and could use some reorganizing, but I am glad I did it because it's going to make the actual answer so much better.

No comments: