Socialization between parents and children is not a one-way process. Parents do socialize children, but socialization in families is reciprocal (Maccoby, 2015; Qin & Pomerantz, 2013; Ram & others, 2014). Reciprocal socialization is socialization that is bidirectional; children socialize parents just as parents socialize children. These reciprocal interchanges and mutual influence processes are sometimes referred to as transactional (Kuczynski, Parkin, & Pitman, 2015; Sameroff, 2009).
For example, the interaction of mothers and their infants is sometimes symbolized as a dance in which successive actions of the partners are closely coordinated. This coordinated dance can assume the form of synchrony—that is, each person's behavior depends on the partner's previous behavior. Or the interaction can be reciprocal in a precise sense, in which the actions of the partners can be matched, as when one partner imitates the other or when there is mutual smiling. An important example of early synchronized interaction is mutual gaze or eye contact. In one study, the mother and infant engaged in a variety of behaviors while they looked at each other; by contrast, when they looked away from each other, the rate of such behaviors dropped considerably (Stern & others, 1977). In another study, synchrony in parent-child relationships was positively related to children's social competence (Harrist, 1993).
As a social system, the family can be thought of as a constellation of subsystems defined in terms of generation, gender, and role. Divisions of labor among family members define particular subunits, and attachments define others. Each family member participates in several subsystems—some dyadic (involving two people) and some polyadic (involving more than two people) (Gavazzi, 2013). The father and child represent one dyadic subsystem, the mother and father another; the mother-father-child represent one polyadic subsystem, the mother and two siblings another.
These subsystems interact with and influence each other. Thus, as Figure 1 illustrates, the marital relationship, parenting, and infant/child behavior can have both direct and indirect effects on each other (Belsky, 1981). The link between marital relationships and parenting has recently received increased attention (Ulbricht & others, 2013). The most consistent findings are that compared with unhappily married parents, happily married parents are more sensitive, responsive, warm, and affectionate toward their children (Grych, 2002).
Researchers have found that promoting marital satisfaction often leads to good parenting. The marital relationship is an important support for parenting (Cox & others, 2008). When parents report more intimacy and better communication in their marriage, they are more affectionate with their children (Grych, 2002). Thus, marriage-enhancement programs may end up improving parenting and helping children. Programs that focus on parenting skills might also benefit from including attention to the participants' marriages.
Thus, a positive family climate for children and adolescents involves not only effective parenting but also a positive relationship between parents, whether they are married or divorced. A longitudinal study found that a positive family climate (based on positive interaction between spouses and between parents and a seventh-grader) was linked to the degree of positive engagement the adolescents later showed toward their own spouses almost 20 years later in early adulthood (Ackerman & others, 2013).
The stress of separation and divorce places both men and women at risk for psychological and physical difficulties (Kulik & Heine-Cohen, 2011). Separated and divorced women and men have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, admission to psychiatric hospitals, clinical depression, alcoholism, and psychosomatic problems such as sleep disorders than do married adults (Braver & Lamb, 2013; Breslau & others, 2011; Keyes, Hatzenbuehler, & Hasin, 2011).
There are gender differences in the process and outcomes of divorce (Braver & Lamb, 2013). Women are more likely to sense that something is wrong with the marriage and are more likely to seek a divorce than are men. Women also show better emotional adjustment and are more likely to perceive divorce as offering a "second chance" to increase their happiness, improve their social lives, and seek better work opportunities. However, divorce typically has a more negative economic impact on women that it does on men.
Psychologically, one of the most common characteristics of divorced adults is difficulty trusting someone else in a romantic relationship. Following a divorce, though, people's lives can take diverse turns (Tashiro, Frazier, & Berman, 2006). Strategies to produce positive outcomes for divorced adults include the following (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002):
-Think of divorce as a chance to grow personally and to develop more positive relationships.
-Make decisions carefully. The consequences of your decisions regarding work, lovers, and children may last a lifetime.
-Focus more on the future than the past. Think about what is most important to help you go forward in your life, and then set some challenging goals and plan how to reach them.
-Use your strengths and resources to cope with difficulties.
-Don't expect to be successful and happy in everything you do. "The road to a more satisfying life is bumpy and will have many detours" (p. 109).
-Remember that "you are never trapped by one pathway. Most of those who were categorized as defeated immediately after divorce gradually moved on to a better life, but moving onward usually requires some effort" (p. 109).
Parents can play important roles as managers of children's opportunities, as monitors of their lives, and as social initiators and arrangers (Caruthers, Van Ryzin, & Dishion, 2014; Lowe & Dotterer, 2013; Parke & Buriel, 1998, 2006). An important developmental task of childhood and adolescence is to learn how to make competent decisions in an increasingly independent manner. To help children and adolescents reach their full potential, an important parental role is to be an effective manager—one who finds information, makes contacts, helps structure choices, and provides guidance. Parents who fulfill this important managerial role help children and adolescents to avoid pitfalls and to work their way through the myriad choices and decisions they face.
Managing and Guiding Infants' Behavior In addition to sensitive parenting involving warmth and caring that can result in infants being securely attached to their parents, other important aspects of parenting infants involve managing and guiding their behavior in an attempt to reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors (Holden, Vittrup, & Rosen, 2011). This management process includes (1) being proactive and childproofing the environment so infants won't encounter potentially dangerous objects or situations, and (2) engaging in corrective methods when infants engage in undesirable behaviors, such as excessive fussing and crying, throwing objects, and so on.
One study assessed discipline and corrective methods that parents had used by the time their infants were 12 and 24 months old (Vittrup, Holden, & Buck, 2006) (see Figure 6). Notice in Figure 6 that the main method parents used by the time infants were 12 months old was diverting the infants' attention, followed by reasoning, ignoring, and negotiating. Also note in Figure 6 that more than one-third of parents had yelled at their infant, about one-fifth had slapped the infant's hands or threatened the infant, and approximately one-sixth had spanked the infant by their first birthday.
Diana Baumrind (1971, 2012) argues parents should be neither punitive nor aloof. Rather, they should develop rules for their children and be affectionate with them. She has described four types of parenting styles:
-Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive style in which parents exhort the child to follow their directions and respect their work and effort. The authoritarian parent places firm limits and controls on the child and allows little verbal exchange. For example, an authoritarian parent might say, "You will do it my way or else." Authoritarian parents also might spank the child frequently, enforce rules rigidly but not explain them, and show rage toward the child. Children of authoritarian parents are often unhappy, fearful, and anxious about comparing themselves with others, fail to initiate activity, and have weak communication skills. Sons of authoritarian parents may behave aggressively (Hart & others, 2003).
-Authoritative parenting encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions. Extensive verbal give-and-take is allowed, and parents are warm and nurturant toward the child. An authoritative parent might put his arm around the child in a comforting way and say, "You know you should not have done that. Let's talk about how you can handle the situation better next time." Authoritative parents show pleasure and support in response to children's constructive behavior. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior by children. Children whose parents are authoritative are often cheerful, self-controlled, self-reliant, and achievement-oriented; they tend to maintain friendly relations with peers, cooperate with adults, and cope well with stress. A recent study of Chinese adolescents revealed that authoritative parenting positively predicted parent-adolescent attachment, which in turn was associated with a higher level of adolescent self-esteem and positive attachment to peers (Cai & others, 2013).
-Neglectful parenting is a style in which the parent is very uninvolved in the child's life. Children whose parents are neglectful develop the sense that other aspects of the parents' lives are more important than they are. These children tend to be socially incompetent. Many have poor self-control and don't handle independence well. They frequently have low self-esteem, are immature, and may be alienated from their family. In adolescence, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency.
-Indulgent parenting is a style in which parents are highly involved with their children but place few demands or controls on them. Such parents let their children do what they want. The result is that the children never learn to control their own behavior and always expect to get their way. Some parents deliberately rear their children in this way because they believe the combination of warm involvement and few restraints will produce a creative, confident child. However, children whose parents are indulgent rarely learn respect for others and tend to have difficulty controlling their behavior. They might be domineering, egocentric, and noncompliant, and have difficulties in peer relations.
These four classifications of parenting involve combinations of acceptance and responsiveness on the one hand and demand and control on the other (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). How these dimensions combine to produce authoritarian, authoritative, neglectful, and indulgent parenting is shown in Figure 7.
Several caveats about parenting styles are in order. First, the parenting styles do not capture the important themes of reciprocal socialization and synchrony. Keep in mind that children socialize parents, just as parents socialize children (Bush & Peterson, 2013; Kuczynski & others, 2015). Second, many parents use a combination of techniques rather than a single technique, although one technique may be dominant. Although consistent parenting is usually recommended, the wise parent may sense the importance of being more permissive in certain situations, more authoritarian in some circumstances, and more authoritative in others. Moreover, parenting styles often are talked about as if both parents have the same style, but this is not always the case. Also, some critics argue that the concept of parenting style is too broad and that more research needs to be conducted to "unpack" parenting styles by studying the influence of various components of the styles (Maccoby, 2007). For example, is parental monitoring more important than warmth in predicting child and adolescent outcomes? Use of corporal (physical) punishment is legal in every state in the United States. A national survey of U.S. parents with 3- and 4-year-old children found that 26 percent of parents reported spanking their children frequently, and 67 percent reported yelling at their children frequently (Regalado & others, 2004). A recent study of more than 11,000 U.S. parents indicated that 80 percent of the parents reported spanking their children by the time they reached kindergarten (Gershoff & others, 2012). A cross-cultural comparison found that individuals in the United States were among those with the most favorable attitudes toward corporal punishment and were most likely to remember it being used by their parents (see Figure 8) (Curran & others, 2001). Physical punishment is illegal in 41 countries, mainly to provide children with protection from abuse and exploitation (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2014).
What are some reasons for avoiding spanking or similar punishments? They include the following:
-When adults punish a child by yelling, screaming, or spanking, they are presenting children with out-of-control models for handling stressful situations. Children may imitate this behavior.
-Punishment can instill fear, rage, or avoidance. For example, spanking the child may cause the child to avoid being near the parent and to fear the parent.
-Punishment tells children what not to do rather than what to do. Children should be given constructive feedback, such as "Why don't you try this?"
-Parents might unintentionally become so angry when they are punishing the child that they become abusive (Knox, 2010).
Most child psychologists recommend handling misbehavior by reasoning with the child, especially explaining the consequences of the child's actions for others. Time out, in which the child is removed from a setting that offers positive reinforcement, can also be effective. For example, when the child has misbehaved, a parent might forbid TV viewing for a specified time.
The relationship between marital conflict and the use of punishment highlights the importance of coparenting, which is the support that parents provide one another in jointly raising a child. Poor coordination between parents, undermining of the other parent, lack of cooperation and warmth, and disconnection by one parent are conditions that place children at risk for problems (Fagan & Lee, 2014; Garneu & Adler-Baeder, 2015; Goldberg & Carlson, 2015; Gonzales, Jones, & Parent, 2014; Lewin & others, 2015). For example, one study revealed that coparenting influenced young children's effortful control above and beyond maternal and paternal parenting by themselves (Karreman & others, 2008). Another study found that greater father involvement in young children's play was linked to an increase in supportive coparenting (Jia & Schoppe-Sullivan, 2011). And a recent study found that parents' joint involvement predicted that adolescents would engage in fewer risky behaviors (Riina & McHale, 2014). In this study, there was a bidirectional influence: adolescents' engagement in a lower level of risk behaviors predicted higher levels of joint parental involvement. Also, in a recent study, unmarried African American parents who were instructed in coparenting techinques during the prenatal period and also one month after the baby was born showed improvements in rapport, communication, and problem-solving skills when the baby was three months old (McHale, Salman-Engin, & Coovert, 2015).
Parents who do not spend enough time with their children or who have problems in child rearing can benefit from counseling and therapy. To read about the work of marriage and family therapist Darla Botkin, see the Connecting with Careers profile.
Unfortunately, punishment sometimes leads to the abuse of infants and children (Cicchetti, 2013; Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). In 2009, approximately 702,000 U.S. children were found to be victims of child abuse at least once during that year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Eighty-one percent of these children were abused by a parent or parents. Laws in many states now require physicians and teachers to report suspected cases of child abuse, yet many cases go unreported, especially those involving battered infants.
Whereas the public and many professionals use the term child abuse to refer to both abuse and neglect, developmentalists increasingly use the term child maltreatment (Cicchetti, 2013; Cicchetti & Toth, 2015; Jackson & Deye, 2015). This term does not have quite the emotional impact of the term abuse and acknowledges that maltreatment includes diverse conditions.
Child maltreatment involves grossly inadequate and destructive aspects of parenting.
Types of Child Maltreatment The four main types of child maltreatment are physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse (Jackson, Kissoon, & Greene, 2015; National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect, 2013):
-Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, or otherwise harming a child. The parent or other person may not have intended to hurt the child; the injury may have resulted from excessive physical punishment (Flaherty & others, 2014; Villodas & others, 2015).
-Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs (O'Hara & others, 2015; Ross & Juarez, 2014). Neglect can be physical (abandonment, for example), educational (allowing chronic truancy, for example), or emotional (marked inattention to the child's needs, for example) (Horner, 2014). Child neglect is by far the most common form of child maltreatment. In every country where relevant data have been collected, neglect occurs up to three times as often as abuse (Potthast, Neuner, & Catani, 2014).
-Sexual abuse includes fondling a child's genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials (Collin-Vezina & others, 2015; Williams & others, 2014). Unlike physical abuse, many cases of sexual abuse produce no outward physical signs that abuse has taken place.
-Emotional abuse (psychological/verbal abuse/mental injury) includes acts or omissions by parents or other caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, or emotional problems (Shin & others, 2015; Sorbo & others, 2013).
No single factor causes child maltreatment (Cicchetti, 2013). A combination of factors, including the culture, neighborhood, family, and development, likely contribute to child maltreatment.
The extensive violence that takes place in American culture is reflected in the occurrence of violence in the family (Leppakoski, Flinck, & Paavilainen, 2015). A regular diet of violence appears on television screens, and parents often resort to power assertion as a disciplinary technique. In China, where physical punishment is rarely used to discipline children, the incidence of child abuse is reportedly very low.
The family itself is obviously a key part of the context of abuse (Diderich & others, 2014). Among the family and family-associated characteristics that may contribute to child maltreatment are parenting stress, substance abuse, social isolation, single parenting, and socioeconomic difficulties (especially poverty) (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). The interactions of all family members should be considered, regardless of who performs the violent acts against the child (Kim & Cicchetti, 2004). For example, even though the father may be the one who physically abuses the child, contributions by the mother, the child, and siblings also should be evaluated.
Were parents who abuse children abused by their own parents? A 30-year longitudinal study found that offspring of parents who had engaged in child maltreatment and neglect are at risk for engaging in child neglect and sexual maltreatment themselves (Widom, Cazja, & Dumont, 2015). It is estimated that about one-third of parents who were abused when they were young abuse their own children (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). Thus, some, but not a majority, of parents are locked into an intergenerational transmission of abuse (Dixon, Browne, & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005).
Developmental Consequences of Abuse Among the consequences of child maltreatment are poor emotion regulation, attachment problems, problems in peer relations, difficulty in adapting to school, and other psychological problems such as depression and delinquency during childhood and adolescence (Cicchetti & Banny, 2014; Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). As shown in Figure 9, maltreated young children in foster care were more likely to show abnormal stress hormone levels than middle-SES young children living with their birth family (Gunnar & Fisher, 2006). In this study, the abnormal stress hormone levels were mainly present in the foster children who experienced neglect, best described as "institutional neglect" (Fisher, 2005). Adolescents who experienced abuse or neglect as children are more likely than adolescents who were not maltreated as children to engage in violent romantic relationships, suicide attempts, delinquency, sexual risk taking, and substance abuse (Miller & others, 2013). Further, a recent study revealed that young adults who experienced child maltreatment, especially physical abuse, at any age were more likely to be depressed and engage in suicide ideation as adults (Dunn & others, 2013). In this study, child maltreatment at 3 to 5 years of age was associated more strongly with depression in early adulthood than other childhood age periods. And a recent study revealed that a significant increase in suicide attempts before age 18 occurred with repeated child maltreatment (Jonson-Reid, Kohl, & Drake, 2012).
Later, during the adult years, individuals who were maltreated as children are more likely to experience physical, emotional, and sexual problems (Lacelle & others, 2012). A 30-year longitudinal study found that middle-aged adults who had experienced child maltreatment had increased risk for diabetes, lung disease, malnutrition, and vision problems (Widom & others, 2012). Another study revealed that young adults who had experienced child maltreatment, especially physical abuse, at any age were more likely to be depressed and to engage in suicidal ideation as adults (Dunn & others, 2013). Further, adults who were maltreated as children often have difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy intimate relationships (Dozier, Stovall-McClough, & Albus, 2009). As adults, maltreated children are also at higher risk for violent behavior toward other adults—especially dating partners and marital partners—as well as for substance abuse, anxiety, and depression (Miller-Perrin, Perrin, & Kocur, 2009). One study also revealed that adults who had experienced child maltreatment were at increased risk for financial and employment-related difficulties (Zielinski, 2009).
An important research agenda is to discover how to prevent child maltreatment or intervene in children's lives when they have been maltreated (Petersen, Joseph, & Feit, 2014). In one study of maltreating mothers and their 1-year-olds, two treatments were effective in reducing child maltreatment: (1) home visitation that emphasized improved parenting, coping with stress, and increasing support for the mother; and (2) parent-infant psychotherapy that focused on improving maternal-infant attachment (Cicchetti, Toth, & Rogosch, 2005).
Important aspects of parent-adolescent relationships include autonomy/attachment and conflict. First, we explore the young adolescent's push for autonomy.
Autonomy and Attachment The young adolescent's push for autonomy and responsibility puzzles and angers many parents. Parents see their teenager slipping from their grasp. They may have an urge to assert stronger control as the adolescent seeks autonomy and responsibility. Heated emotional exchanges may ensue, with either side calling names, making threats, and doing whatever seems necessary to gain control. Most parents anticipate that their teenager will have some difficulty adjusting to the changes that adolescence brings, but few parents can imagine and predict just how strong will be an adolescent's desire to spend time with peers or how much adolescents will want to show that it is they—not their parents—who are responsible for their successes and failures.
The ability to attain autonomy and gain control over one's behavior in adolescence is acquired through appropriate adult reactions to the adolescent's desire for control (McElhaney & Allen, 2012). At the onset of adolescence, the average individual does not have the knowledge to make mature decisions in all areas of life. As the adolescent pushes for autonomy, the wise adult relinquishes control in those areas in which the adolescent can make reasonable decisions but continues to guide the adolescent to make reasonable decisions in areas where the adolescent's knowledge is more limited. Gradually, adolescents acquire the ability to make mature decisions on their own (Laursen & Collins, 2009). In a recent study, young adolescents' perception that their parents promoted more psychological autonomy and less psychological control predicted fewer depressive symptoms two years later (Sher-Censor, Parke, & Coltrane, 2010).
Expectations about the appropriate timing of adolescent autonomy often vary across cultures, parents, and adolescents (McElhaney & Allen, 2012). For example, expectations for early autonomy on the part of adolescents are more prevalent in non-Latino Whites, single parents, and adolescents themselves than they are in Asian Americans or Latinos, married parents, and parents themselves (Feldman & Rosenthal, 1999). Nonetheless, although Latino cultures may place a stronger emphasis on parental authority and restrict adolescent autonomy, a recent study revealed that regardless of where they were born, Mexican-origin adolescent girls living in the United States expected autonomy at an earlier age than their mothers preferred (Bamaca-Colbert & others, 2012). Another recent study of Mexican immigrant mothers and their U.S.-raised 13- to 14-year-old daughters explored future autonomy expectations when the daughters reach 15 years of age (Romo, Mireles-Rios, & Lopez-Tello, 2014). In this study, the daughters hoped for less strict rules regarding social activities while mothers reported that they still expected to exert control, although they were willing to allow more autonomy in personal matters such as physical appearance and to allow the daughter to group date.
Gender differences characterize autonomy-granting in adolescence, with boys being given more independence than girls are allowed to have. In one study, this was especially true in those U.S. families with a traditional gender-role orientation (Bumpus, Crouter, & McHale, 2001). Even while adolescents seek autonomy, parent-child attachment remains important (Gorrese & Ruggieri, 2012). Mothers maintain closer emotional ties with adolescents, especially daughters, than fathers do (Collins & Steinberg, 2006).
One of the most widely discussed aspects of socioemotional development in infancy is secure attachment to caregivers (Thompson, 2015). In the past several decades, researchers have explored whether secure attachment also might be an important element in adolescents' relationships with their parents (de Vries & others, 2015; Glazebrook, Townsend, & Sayal, 2015; Kobak & Kerig, 2015; Zack & others, 2015). For example, Joseph Allen and his colleagues (2009) found that adolescents who were securely attached at age 14 were more likely to report at age 21 that they were in an exclusive relationship, comfortable with intimacy in relationships, and moving toward financial independence. In a recent analysis, it was concluded that the most consistent outcomes of secure attachment in adolescence involve positive peer relations and development of the adolescent's emotion regulation capacities (Allen & Miga, 2010). Recent research studies have found that adolescents who had attempted suicide were less securely attached to their mothers and fathers (Sheftall & others, 2013), and avoidant attachment predicted suicidal behavior in adolescents (Sheftall, Schoppe-Sullivan, & Bridge, 2014). Further, a recent study revealed that insecure attachment with mothers and fathers was linked to a lower level of parents' knowledge about adolescents' whereabouts (Jones & others, 2015).
More than one of every two U.S. mothers with a child under the age of 5 is in the labor force; more than two of every three with a child from 6 to 17 years of age work outside the home. Maternal employment is a part of modern life, but its effects continue to be debated.
Most research on parental work has focused on young children and the mother's employment (Brooks-Gunn, Han, & Waldfogel, 2010). However, the effects of parental work involve the father as well as the mother when matters such as work schedules, work-family stress, and unemployment are considered (Clarke-Stewart & Parke, 2014; O'Brien & others, 2014). Recent research indicates that the nature of parents' work matters more to children than whether one parent works outside the home (Clarke-Stewart & Parke, 2014; Goodman & others, 2011). And a recent study of almost 3,000 adolescents found a negative association between the father's, but not the mother's, unemployment and the adolescents' health (Bacikova-Sleskova, Benka, & Orosova, 2014).
Work can have positive and negative effects on parenting (Crouter & McHale, 2005). Ann Crouter (2006) described how parents bring their experiences at work into their homes. She concluded that parents who have poor working conditions, such as long hours, overtime work, stressful work, and lack of autonomy on the job, are likely to be more irritable at home and to engage in less effective parenting than their counterparts who have better working conditions at their jobs. A consistent finding is that children (especially girls) of working mothers engage in less gender stereotyping and have more egalitarian views of gender (Goldberg & Lucas-Thompson, 2008). Also, a recent study revealed that mothers' positive mood after work was linked with adolescents' reports of more positive affect, better sleep quality, and longer sleep duration (Lawson & others, 2014). Further, this study indicated that mothers with more positive work experiences had adolescents who reported less negative affect and fewer physical health problems.
Most researchers agree that children from divorced families show poorer adjustment than their counterparts in nondivorced families (Amato & Anthony, 2014; Arkes, 2015; Braver & Lamb, 2013; Hetherington, 2006; Lansford, 2012, 2013; Robbers & others, 2012; Wallerstein, 2008; Weaver & Schofield, 2015) (see Figure 11). Those who have experienced multiple divorces are at greater risk. Children in divorced families are more likely than children in nondivorced families to have academic problems, to show externalized problems (such as acting out and delinquency) and internalized problems (such as anxiety and depression), to be less socially responsible, to have less competent intimate relationships, to drop out of school, to become sexually active at an earlier age, to take drugs, to associate with antisocial peers, to have low self-esteem, and to be less securely attached as young adults (Lansford, 2009, 2013). In a recent study, individuals who had experienced their parents' divorce were at higher lifetime risk for engaging in a suicide attempt (Alonzo & others, 2014). One study revealed that adolescent girls with divorced parents were especially vulnerable to developing symptoms of depression (Oldehinkel & others, 2008). Nonetheless, keep in mind that a majority of children in divorced families do not have significant adjustment problems (Ahrons, 2007). One study found that 20 years after their parents had divorced when they were children, approximately 80 percent of adults concluded that their parents' decision to divorce had been a wise one (Ahrons, 2004).
However, a recent study concluded that childhood divorce was linked to an increased number of cohabiting/marital partnerships and negative partner relationships the children had from 16 to 30 years of age (Fergusson, McLeod, & Horwood, 2014). An important point is that the outcomes just described for the life event of childhood divorce was explained by a variety of other factors and social contexts—parental history of illicit drug use, experience of childhood sexual abuse, lower-SES status at the child's birth, and parental history of criminality.
Note that marital conflict may have negative consequences for children in the context of marriage or divorce (Cummings & Davies, 2010). A longitudinal study revealed that conflict in nondivorced families was associated with emotional problems in children (Amato, 2006). Indeed, many of the problems that children from divorced homes experience begin during the predivorce period, a time when parents are often in active conflict with each other. Thus, when children from divorced homes show problems, the problems may be due not only to the divorce but also to the marital conflict that led to it (Thompson, 2008).
E. Mark Cummings and his colleagues (Cummings, El-Sheikh, & Kouros, 2009; Cummings & Miller, 2015; Cummings & others, 2012; Cummings & Valentino, 2015; Koss & others, 2013, 2014; Yan, Cheung, & Cummings, 2015) have proposed emotional security theory, which has its roots in attachment theory and states that children appraise marital conflict in terms of their sense of security and safety in the family. These researchers make a distinction between marital conflict that is negative for children (such as hostile emotional displays and destructive conflict tactics) and marital conflict that can be positive for children (such as marital disagreement that involves a calm discussion of each person's perspective and working together to reach a solution). In a recent study, Cummings and his colleagues (2012) found that parental conflict in their children's kindergarten year was linked to children's emotional insecurity later in childhood, which in turn was associated with adolescent adjustment, including higher levels of depression and anxiety.
In divorced families, family processes matter a great deal (Braver & Lamb, 2013; Hetherington, 2006; Lansford, 2012, 2013; Narayan & others, 2015; Warshak, 2014). When the divorced parents have a harmonious relationship and use authoritative parenting, the adjustment of adolescents is improved (Hetherington, 2006). When the divorced parents can agree on child-rearing strategies and can maintain a cordial relationship with each other, frequent visits by the noncustodial parent usually benefit the child (Fabricius & others, 2010). Following a divorce, father involvement with children drops off more than mother involvement, especially for fathers of girls. In a recent study, children were more likely to have behavior problems if their post-divorce home environment was less supportive and stimulating, their mother was less sensitive and more depressed, and if their household income was lower (Weaver & Schofield, 2015). Also, a recent study in divorced families revealed that an intervention focused on improving the mother-child relationship was linked to improvements in relationship quality that increased children's coping skills over the short term (6 months) and long term (6 years) (Velez & others, 2011). Among the factors involved in the child's risk and vulnerability are the child's adjustment prior to the divorce, as well as the child's personality and temperament, and the custody situation (Hetherington, 2006). Children whose parents later divorce show poorer adjustment before the breakup (Amato & Booth, 1996). Children who are socially mature and responsible, who show few behavioral problems, and who have an easy temperament are better able to cope with their parents' divorce. Children with a difficult temperament often have problems coping with their parents' divorce (Hetherington, 2006). In a recent study, higher levels of predivorce maternal sensitivity and child IQ served as protective factors in reducing child problems after the divorce (Weaver & Schofield, 2015). Joint custody works best for children when the parents can get along with each other (Clarke-Stewart & Parke, 2014). Custodial mothers experience the loss of about one-fourth to one-half of their predivorce income, in comparison with a loss of only one-tenth by custodial fathers (Emery, 1999). This income loss for divorced mothers is accompanied by increased workloads, high rates of job instability, and residential moves to less desirable neighborhoods with inferior schools (Braver & Lamb, 2013). A recent study found that children from families with higher incomes before the separation/divorce had fewer internalizing problems (Weaver & Schofield, 2015).
In sum, many factors affect how divorce influences a child's development (Hetherington, 2006; Warshak, 2014). To read about some strategies for helping children cope with the divorce of their parents, see the Connecting Development to Life interlude.
Not only are parents divorcing more, they are also getting remarried more (Ganong, Coleman, & Russell, 2015; van Eeden-Moorefield & Pasley, 2013). The number of remarriages involving children has grown steadily in recent years. About half of all children whose parents divorce will have a stepparent within four years of parental separation. However, divorces occur at a 10 percent higher rate in remarriages than in first marriages (Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994).
In some cases, the stepfamily may have been preceded by the death of the spouse. However, by far the largest number of stepfamilies are preceded by divorce rather than death.
Three common types of stepfamily structure are (1) stepfather, (2) stepmother, and (3) blended or complex. In stepfather families, the mother typically had custody of the children and remarried, introducing a stepfather into her children's lives. In stepmother families, the father usually had custody and remarried, introducing a stepmother into his children's lives. In a blended or complex stepfamily, both parents bring children from previous marriages to live in the newly formed stepfamily.
In E. Mavis Hetherington's (2006) most recent longitudinal analyses, children and adolescents who had been in a simple stepfamily (stepfather or stepmother) for a number of years were adjusting better than in the early years of the remarried family and were functioning well in comparison with children and adolescents in conflictual nondivorced families and children and adolescents in complex (blended) stepfamilies. More than 75 percent of the adolescents in long-established simple stepfamilies described their relationships with their stepparents as "close" or "very close." Hetherington (2006) concluded that in long-established simple stepfamilies, adolescents seem eventually to benefit from the presence of a stepparent and the resources provided by the stepparent.
Children often have better relationships with their custodial parents (mothers in stepfather families, fathers in stepmother families) than with stepparents (Santrock, Sitterle, & Warshak, 1988). Also, children in simple stepfamilies (stepmother, stepfather) often show better adjustment than their counterparts in complex (blended) stepfamilies (Anderson & others, 1999; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002).
As in divorced families, children in stepfamilies show more adjustment problems than children in nondivorced families (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). The adjustment problems are similar to those found among children of divorced parents—academic problems and lower self-esteem, for example (Anderson & others, 1999). However, it is important to recognize that a majority of children in stepfamilies do not have problems. In one analysis, 25 percent of children from stepfamilies showed adjustment problems compared with 10 percent in intact, never-divorced families (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). Adolescence is an especially difficult time in stepfamilies (Anderson & others, 1999). This difficulty may occur because becoming part of a stepfamily exacerbates normal adolescent concerns about identity, sexuality, and autonomy.
Approximately 80 percent of American children have one or more siblings—that is, sisters and brothers (Dunn, 2007, 2015). If you grew up with siblings, you probably have a rich memory of aggressive, hostile interchanges. Siblings in the presence of each other when they are 2 to 4 years of age, on average, have a conflict once every 10 minutes, and then the conflicts decrease somewhat from 5 to 7 years of age (Kramer, 2006). What do parents do when they encounter siblings having a verbal or physical confrontation? One study revealed that they do one of three things: (1) intervene and try to help them resolve the conflict, (2) admonish or threaten them, or (3) do nothing at all (Kramer & Perozynski, 1999). Of interest is that in families with two siblings 2 to 5 years of age, the most frequent parental reaction is to do nothing at all. A recent review concluded that sibling relationships in adolescence are more egalitarian and not as close or as intense as sibling relationships during childhood (East, 2009). Indeed, beginning in adolescence, sibling companionship begins to decline in many cultures as boys and girls become increasingly involved in the world beyond their family (McHale, Updegraff, & Whiteman, 2013).
Negative aspects of sibling relationships, such as high conflict, are linked to negative outcomes for children and adolescents (Dunn, 2015). The negative outcomes can develop not only through conflict but also through direct modeling of a sibling's behavior, as when a younger sibling has an older sibling who has poor study habits and engages in delinquent behavior. By contrast, close and supportive sibling relationships can buffer the negative effects of stressful circumstances in children's and adolescents' lives.
Laurie Kramer (2006), who conducted a number of research studies on siblings, says that not intervening and letting sibling conflict escalate is not a good strategy. She developed a program titled "More Fun with Sisters and Brothers," which teaches 4- to 8-year-old siblings social skills for carrying out positive interactions (Kramer & Radey, 1997). Among the social skills taught in the program are how to appropriately initiate play, how to accept and refuse invitations to play, how to take another's perspective, how to deal with angry feelings, and how to manage conflict.
However, conflict is only one of the many dimensions of sibling relations (Buist, Dekovic, & Prinzie, 2013; Dunn, 2015; Feinberg & others, 2013; Howe, Ross, & Recchia, 2011; McHale, Updegraff, & Whiteman, 2013). Sibling relationships include helping, sharing, teaching, fighting, and playing, and siblings can act as emotional supports, rivals, and communication partners. One study found that adolescent siblings spent an average of 10 hours a week together, with an average of 12 percent of that time spent in constructive pursuits (creative activities such as art, music, and hobbies; sports; religious activities; and games) and 25 percent in nonconstructive activities (watching TV and hanging out) (Tucker, McHale, & Crouter, 2003).
Judy Dunn (2007, 2015), a leading expert on sibling relationships, described three important characteristics of sibling relationships:
-Emotional quality of the relationship. Intense positive and negative emotions are often expressed by siblings toward each other. Many children and adolescents have mixed feelings toward their siblings.
-Familiarity and intimacy of the relationship. Siblings typically know each other very well, and this intimacy suggests that they can either provide support or tease and undermine each other, depending on the situation.
-Variation of the relationship. Some siblings describe their relationships more positively than others. Thus, there is considerable variation in sibling relationships. We've indicated that many siblings have mixed feelings about each other, but some children and adolescents mainly describe their sibling in warm, affectionate ways, whereas others primarily talk about how irritating and mean a sibling is.
Whether a child has older or younger siblings has been linked to development of certain personality characteristics. For example, one review concluded that "firstborns are the most intelligent, achieving, and conscientious, while later-borns are the most rebellious, liberal, and agreeable" (Paulhus, 2008, p. 210). Compared with later-born children, firstborn children have also been described as more adult-oriented, helpful, conforming, and self-controlled. However, when such birth-order differences are reported, they often are small.
What might account for even small differences related to birth order? Proposed explanations usually point to variations in interactions with parents and siblings associated with being in a specific position in the family. This is especially true in the case of the firstborn child (Teti, 2001). The oldest child is the only one who does not have to share parental love and affection with other siblings—until another sibling comes along. An infant requires more attention than an older child; thus the firstborn sibling receives less attention after the newborn arrives. Does this result in conflict between parents and the firstborn? In one research study, mothers became more negative, coercive, and restraining and played less with the firstborn following the birth of a second child (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982).
What is the only child like? The popular conception is that the only child is a "spoiled brat" with undesirable characteristics such as dependency, lack of self-control, and self-centered behavior. But researchers present a more positive portrayal of the only child. Only children often are achievement-oriented and display a desirable personality, especially in comparison with later-borns and children from large families (Falbo & Poston, 1993).
So far, our discussion suggests that birth order might be a strong predictor of behavior. However, an increasing number of family researchers stress that when all of the factors that influence behavior are considered, birth order by itself shows limited ability to predict behavior.Think about some of the other important factors in children's lives beyond birth order that influence their behavior. They include heredity, models of competency or incompetency that parents present to children on a daily basis, peer influences, school influences, socioeconomic factors, sociohistorical factors, and cultural variations. When someone says firstborns are always like this but last-borns are always like that, the person is making overly simplistic statements that do not adequately take into account the complexity of influences on a child's development.