Barber (e.g., 1996, 2005) has proposed that parental behavioral control has a unique effect on adolescents’ normbreaking, even if psychological control and support are statistically controlled. Barber uses a scale of parental knowledge as a measure of behavioral control. However, parental knowledge and normbreaking are more closely associated with adolescents’ free disclosure of information than with behavioral control. Moreover, disclosure explains part of the association between knowledge and normbreaking, whereas behavioral control does not (Kerr & Stattin, 2000; Stattin & Kerr, 2000). This makes parental knowledge a questionable measure of behavioral control, and it suggests that family communication and relationship processes affect normbreaking more than behavioral control does. However, Kerr and Stattin did not specifically test Barber’s theory. They did not statistically control psychological control and support which might have “cleaned” parental knowledge of its relationship and communication-associated facets and thus might have left a more valid measure of parental control. Thus, the first aim of this study is to test whether the unique association of parental knowledge with adolescent normbreaking, after controlling psychological control and parental support, can be explained by parental behavioral control—as Barber proposes—or rather by family relationship processes—as Stattin and Kerr suggest.
Given previous empirical findings (e.g., Kerr & Stattin, 2000; Stattin & Kerr, 2000), interpreting parental knowledge as an index of relationship properties or as behavioral control might both be insufficient. As an alternative, this paper takes an action-theoretical perspective and views parental knowledge as an expectancy in an expectancy-value model. The extent to which adolescents ascribe knowledge about themselves to their parents can be seen as adolescents’ expectancy that the parents will gain knowledge about their actions. A value that together with this expectancy might predict less adolescent normbreaking is adolescents’ desire to please and comfort their parents. According to Individuation Theory (Youniss & Smollar, 1985), this is a common desire among adolescents. If adolescents expect their parents will be knowledgeable about their activities, and if they do not want to worry them, they might engage in less normbreaking than adolescents who either do not care about their parents’ worries or who expect that the parents will not know about their normbreaking. The second aim of this study is to test this interaction effect on normbreaking.
A German sample of 968 13- and 16-year-olds filled out questionnaires at school. Scales for parental knowledge, psychological control, parental support, and normbreaking were identical to Barber’s (2005) study. Behavioral control was measured with scales for spare-time control (curfew rules, low laissez-faire), school control, and harsh punishments. Family relationship processes were tapped by scales of parental warmth and openness and of adolescents’ caring for their parents. The latter measure aimed at assessing family processes similar to those covered by Kerr and Stattin’s scale of free disclosure of information. Finally, the desire to please and comfort their parents was measured with a newly developed scale. All measures evinced adequate psychometric properties.
Concerning the first aim of this study, parental knowledge was strongly related to low normbreaking (Model 0), even after controlling psychological control and parental support (Model 1). Although the various facets of behavioral control were associated with normbreaking (Model 0), only punishments explained a small part of the effect of parental knowledge (Model 2c). But punishments were inversely related to parental knowledge and predicted more instead of less normbreaking. Out of the two family relationship process variables, caring for parents explained a small part of the effect of parental knowledge (Model 2e). In total, however, the largest part of the effect of parental knowledge remained unexplained (Model 3). Thus, the results do not support Barber’s idea that parental knowledge is an index of behavioral control. The findings support Stattin and Kerr’s (2000, Kerr & Stattin, 2000) critique of knowledge as a measure of behavioral control. However, also family relationship processes explained only little of the association between parental knowledge and normbreaking.
The results testing the expectancy-value model of parental knowledge and the desire to please the parents, explaining low normbreaking, were as follows. Parental knowledge, the desire to please the parents, and their interaction predicted low normbreaking (if latent main effect factors were scaled to SD = 1, beta = –.39, –.22, and ‑.06, resp., all p’s < .05). The stronger the desire to please the parents, the steeper the decline of normbreaking with increasing parental knowledge. Most adolescents desired strongly to please their parents. However, results suggest almost no effect of parental knowledge if adolescents have no desire to please their parents. In summary, the proposed expectancy-value model is supported by the data.
Barber has described parenting as a unidirectional process. This description rests on studies using parental knowledge as an index for parental behaviors. As in previous studies, this interpretation of parental knowledge is not supported. This paper provides initial support for a new view on parental knowledge: Adolescents actively decide about what they do, in the light of what they expect the consequences to be and how they evaluate them.
Parenting style, Parent-adolescent relations, Normbreaking behavior, Externalizing problems
Uppfostransstil, Föräldra-barnrelation, avvikande beteenden, utåtriktade problembeteenden
Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) 12th Biennial Meeting, March 6-9, 2008, Chicago, IL, USA
Projektledare: J. Gowert Masche