URC

Adolescent Health-Risk Behaviors: The Effect of Perceived Parenting Style and Race

Christine Clark
College of Human Ecology, East Carolina University

Kevin H. Gross*
College of Human Ecology, East Carolina University


Abstract

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health), this study examined the effects of different parenting styles and race on adolescent health-risk behaviors. We compared each of the four parenting styles developed by Diana Baumrind to determine how they affect adolescent health-risk behaviors (i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana). The results indicated that regardless of race, adolescents who perceived that their parents used an authoritative parenting style were less likely to engage in health-risk behaviors than those who perceived that their parents used authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved parenting styles. These findings have implications for parenting education programs.


Adolescent drug use has been the focus of numerous studies in recent years. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), in the year 2002 more than half (53.0%) of U.S. 12th graders, 44.6% of 10th graders, and 24.5% of 8th graders reported having used an illicit drug in their lifetime (NIDA, 2003). Drug experimentation among teens is not considered a major threat by many child development professionals; however, the progression from drug use to drug abuse is a serious danger (Berk, 2002). We, as a society, need to be concerned with the trends in adolescent drug use, as it has been reported that the use of drugs during adolescence may “interfere with normal cognitive, emotional, and social development” (Guo, Hill, Hawkins, Catalano, & Abbott, 2002,  p. 838). The purpose of this study is to identify protective factors associated with the family that may prevent problem drug use in adolescents.

A well-known theory that gives insight on the effects of the family on adolescent problem behavior (defined as behavior that deviates from the social and legal norms of society) is the Problem-Behavior Theory developed by Richard Jessor (1987). In this theory, different background and social-psychological variables are analyzed for their effects on and/or contributions to social behaviors, both conventional and problematic. This theory focuses on three systems of psychosocial influence: the Personality System, the Perceived Environment System, and the Behavior System.  Within each system there are different variables that have been identified as either risk factors that instigate problem behavior or protective factors, which prevent problem behavior. The Perceived Environment System is separated into two structures, each containing variables related to parents and friends. The distal structure contains factors indirectly related to problem behavior, including parental support and controls and friends support and controls. The proximal structure contains factors directly related to problem behavior, including parent and friends approval of problem behavior. Through his research, Jessor identified lower parental supports and controls as being conducive to problem behavior. Jessor’s predictions of the effects of family and friends on adolescent problem behavior are consistent with the results of other studies.

A large body of research shows that peer and family influences have the greatest effect on adolescent drug use. (Berk, 2002; Garnier & Stein, 2002; Guo, et al., 2002). Many studies have focused on the correlation between family structure and adolescent drug use. Common findings in these studies have reported that adolescents in step-parent or single-parent (especially father-only) homes are at risk for higher levels of drug use (Hoffmann, 2002; Jenkins, 1998). One study examining family and peer influences discovered that peers’ antisocial behavior predicted a higher risk of drug activity, while peers’ pro-social behavior predicted a lower risk of drug activity. This same study also found that family conflict, family bonding, and peers’ antisocial behavior all remained independent predictors of drug use in adolescence and suggested that family bonding may sway the child to associate with peers engaged in more positive behavior (Guo, et al., 2002).

Another possible influence on adolescent drug use is the type of parenting style used by the parent(s). Through a series of landmark studies, a researcher by the name of Diana Baumrind found that through combinations of parental response (i.e., a tendency to be supportive, accepting, and flexible) and demand (i.e., a tendency to set controls, expectations, and limits), four child rearing styles could be distinguished: authoritative (high in both demand and response), authoritarian (high in demand, low in response), permissive (high in response, low in demand), and uninvolved (low in both demand and response) (Berk, 2002). The authoritative parenting style is recognized as the most successful style for developing competent and confident children (Berk, 2002; Berns, 2004). Much research has examined the four parenting styles developed by Baumrind, but there is limited research on how each of these parenting styles impact adolescent drug use.

A longitudinal study conducted in Iceland discovered a relationship between parenting styles and adolescent drug use, even after controlling for several factors, including parental and peer drug use. The results reported that adolescents who perceived their parents as authoritative were less likely to have used each substance in the study (cigarettes, alcohol, hashish, and amphetamines) than adolescents who perceived their parents as indulgent (i.e., permissive) or neglectful (i.e., uninvolved). Authoritative parents appeared to be more successful than authoritarian parents in preventing their 14-year old adolescents from drinking; however, there was not a significant difference between authoritative parents and authoritarian parents in their ability to prevent their 17-year old adolescents from heavy drinking and illicit drug use. Still, the authors concluded that the authoritative parenting style is protective in regards to adolescent drug use, both concurrently and longitudinally (Adalbjarnardottir & Hafsteinsson, 2001).

Based on the work of Adalbjarnardottir & Hafsteinsson (2001), this study is similarly designed to examine how adolescent health-risk behaviors differ by parenting style. We will also examine how adolescent health-risk behaviors differ by race. Finally, we will see if there is an interaction between parenting style and race in determining adolescent health-risk behaviors, as research suggests that there are differences in parenting practices across ethnic groups (Hill & Bush, 2001).

Method

The data used for this study were compiled from the findings of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The Add Health researchers collected data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades seven through twelve in the United States. The data were collected in three waves: Wave I was conducted between September 1994 and December 1995, Wave II was conducted between April 1996 and August 1996, and Wave III was conducted between August 2001 and April 2002 (Add Health, 2003). This study looked at Wave I data only. “Wave I data included an in-school questionnaire completed by more than 90,000 adolescents and an in-home interview completed by approximately 20,000 adolescents” (Gross, 2000, p. 47). After accounting for missing data, we had an overall sample size of 6,046.

We used the Add Health data to develop a scale for adolescents’ perceived parenting styles by developing a family connectedness scale, which represented the responsive side of Baumrind’s parenting style spectrum, and an autonomy scale, which represented the demanding side of Baumrind’s parenting style spectrum. The family connectedness scale was compiled of 5 different questions measuring connectedness to mother or father (if an adolescent answered for both parents, the higher response was used). Each question was rated on a scale from 1-5, 1 indicating the parent-child relationship as not being very connected and 5 indicating the parent-child relationship as being strongly connected, resulting in an overall scale range of 5 to 25. To separate responsive, from unresponsive, we divided the scale at the mean, with a score of 21 and below being an indicator of unresponsive parents, and a score or 22 and above being an indicator of responsive parents.

The autonomy scale was compiled of 7 different questions asking the adolescent which decisions he/she was permitted to make on his/her own, including weekday bedtime, weekend curfew, clothes, and friends. Each question was formatted in a yes/no response, resulting in an overall scale range of 0 (permitted to make no decisions) to 7 (permitted to make all decisions). Again, we divided the scale at the mean so that if an adolescent answered that he/she made all seven of those decisions, then the parents were considered undemanding. If an adolescent answered that he/she made six or less of those decisions, then the parents were considered demanding. After identifying how the participants characterized their parents in terms of demand and response, we were able to separate them into each of the four parenting styles. Our proportions for each parenting style (authoritative, 57.7%, authoritarian, 19.6%, permissive, 14.4%, uninvolved, 5.8%) matched the proportions of each parenting style in Adalbjarnardottir’s & Hafsteinsson’s (2001) study.

The health-risk behavior scale was compiled of 5 items examining the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. Two items, regarding smoking cigarettes regularly and drinking alcohol outside of the family, were formatted with a yes/no response. One item (regarding the frequency of alcohol consumption) originally ranged from 1-7, 1 indicating every day, and 7 indicating never. The last two items called for (a) the number of times smoked marijuana and (b) the number of times smoked marijuana in the past 30 days. “[The] last three items were recoded into a yes/no format to parallel the first two items,” (Gross, 2000, p. 75) thus resulting in an overall scale range of 0 to 5 with lower scores indicating lower levels of health-risk behaviors.

After testing for the effect of parenting styles on health-risk behavior, we wanted to see if the effect of parenting styles differed by race. Based on the research of Blum, Beuhring, Shew, Bearinger, Sieving, & Resnick (2000), race was separated into three categories, Black (n = 1583), Hispanic (n = 743), and White (n = 3720). The proportions of each perceived parenting style were similar for each race. The percentages for each were as follows: (a) authoritative: Black-63.7%, Hispanic-57.5%, White-59.8%; (b) authoritarian: Black-19.2%, Hispanic-22.2%, White-19.4%; (c) permissive: Black-12.9%, Hispanic-13.7%, White-15.6%; (d) uninvolved: Black-4.2%, Hispanic-6.6%, White-6.3%.

Results

A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine if a difference existed between the effects of the four different parenting styles on adolescent health-risk behaviors (Table 1). The results revealed a statistically significant difference between parenting styles based on health-risk behavior scores with the alpha set at .05.

A post hoc analysis was performed to determine where the differences existed. The analysis indicated a significant difference in health-risk behavior mean scores between the following parenting styles: (a) authoritarian and authoritative, (b) authoritarian and uninvolved, (c) authoritative and permissive, (d) authoritative and uninvolved, and (e) permissive and uninvolved.

Frequencies, means, and standard deviations for parenting style and race are shown in Table 2. A 4 (parenting style) X 3 (race) ANOVA showed significant main effects for both parenting style, F(3, 5898) = 74.61, p < .0001, and race, F(2, 5898) = 50.20, p < .0001, as well as a significant interaction between parenting style and race, F(6, 5898) = 2.23, p < .05.

Table 1. One-Way Analysis of Variance - Parenting Style and Health-Risk Behaviors.

 

N

M

SD

SE

F

p

authoritarian

1272

1.69

1.69

.05

140.55

.0001

authoritative

3755

.92

1.38

.02

 

 

permissive

936

1.57

1.66

.05

 

 

uninvolved

374

1.98

1.69

.09

 

 

Total

6337

1.23

1.55

.02

 

 

Table 2. Frequencies, Means, and Standard Deviations of Health-Risk Behaviors for Black, Hispanic, and White Adolescents.

 

 

N

M

SD

authoritarian

Black

297

1.15

1.40

 

Hispanic

160

1.65

1.62

 

White

706

1.94

1.76

authoritative

Black

984

.60

1.11

 

Hispanic

415

1.01

1.43

 

White

2129

1.05

1.45

permissive

Black

199

1.24

1.48

 

Hispanic

99

1.65

1.70

 

White

566

1.73

1.72

uninvolved

Black

65

1.26

1.38

 

Hispanic

48

2.06

1.73

 

White

230

2.22

1.70

Total

Black

1545

.81

1.27

 

Hispanic

722

1.31

1.57

 

White

3631

1.40

1.63

 

A plot of the interaction (Figure 1) revealed that the effects of parenting style were different for Black, Hispanic, and White adolescents. The authoritative parenting style had the lowest mean health-risk behavior scores for all adolescents, regardless of race. Likewise, uninvolved parenting had the highest mean health-risk behavior scores, regardless of race; however, for Black adolescents the difference between uninvolved and permissive was relatively small when compared to the differences for Hispanic and White adolescents. The effects of permissive and authoritarian parenting styles are different for each of the three race groups. For Black adolescents authoritarian parenting was related to lower mean health-risk behavior scores than permissive; whereas for Hispanic adolescents the mean scores are nearly equal, and for White adolescents the mean health-risk behavior score for permissive parenting was lower that that of authoritarian.

Figure 1. Plot of Parenting Style by Race Interaction

 

Discussion

This study examined the effects of parenting style on adolescent health-risk behavior and the combined effect of race and parenting style on adolescent health-risk behavior. Our results relating to the effects of the authoritative parenting style and the uninvolved parenting style on health-risk behaviors are consistent with previous research. Adalbjarnardottir & Hafsteinsson (2001) also found that adolescents who perceived their parents to be authoritative were least likely to use the drugs examined in the study, while those who perceived their parents to be uninvolved were most likely to engage in drug use.  In addition, our results are consistent with the findings of the Problem-Behavior theory (Jessor, 1987), which states that proneness to problem behaviors in adolescents is associated with lower parental support and controls (the two dimensions of the uninvolved parenting style). In relation to race, our results were consistent with previous research in that we found the highest levels of health-risk behaviors demonstrated by White teens and the lowest levels of health-risk behaviors demonstrated by Black teens (Blum, et al., 2000; Griesler, Kandel, & Davies, 2002).

Our results indicate that adolescents who perceive that their parents use an authoritative parenting style, regardless of their race, are less likely to engage in health-risk behaviors than adolescents who perceive that their parents use an authoritarian, permissive, or uninvolved parenting style. Conversely, in this study adolescents of all races who characterize their parents as uninvolved are more vulnerable to engaging in health-risk behaviors. The effects of the authoritarian and permissive parenting styles differ by race. In relation to the other parenting styles, the authoritarian style is more protective for Black adolescents than it is for White adolescents; while, the permissive style is more protective for White adolescents than it is for Black adolescents. The permissive parenting style and the authoritarian parenting style appear to have an equal effect on health-risk behaviors in Hispanic teens.

It is important not only to consider the order of most protective to least protective parenting style for each race, but also the marginal difference between each parenting style for each race. Looking at Black adolescents, the authoritative parenting style is by far the most protective, but there is only a slight difference in the effect of the other three parenting styles on health-risk behaviors. In Hispanic adolescents, there is no significant difference in the effect of the permissive and authoritarian parenting styles on health-risk behaviors; in White adolescents, there is a noticeable sized gap between the effects of each of the four parenting styles on health-risk behaviors. These differences may be a result of the different cultural contexts of these groups.

Research has found that authoritarian parenting is more common among African Americans than among European Americans (Hill & Bush, 2001). This is attributed largely to the neighborhoods in which African American families tend to reside and the society in which we live. In neighborhoods with higher crime rates, setting strict limits helps protect children from becoming victims of crimes and from engaging in problem behaviors (Berk, 2002). In addition, African American parents have reported using harsher discipline to prepare their children for success in a society that does not allow much room for error among African American youth (Bradley, 1998). Furthermore, research shows that the authoritarian parenting style is widely accepted by both middle-class African American parents, and their children (Smetana, 2000).

This research proposes an insight as to why our results depict the authoritarian parenting style serving as more protective for Black adolescents than for White adolescents. Because African American youth are more accustomed to and accepting of a more controlling type of parenting, they are likely to comply with the rules and expectations that their authoritarian parents have set. Because their Caucasian counterparts are more accustomed to and accepting of a more democratic type of parenting style, they may be more likely to rebel when placed in an authoritarian context.

Although additional research is needed to better understand how parenting styles are related to health-risk behaviors, the findings of this study, as well as previous research, confirm that the authoritative parenting style reduces the risk of adolescents engaging in problem behaviors. This has implications for parent education programs. To promote adolescent well-being, parents could be taught to set limits and controls for their children while still maintaining a warm and supportive relationship. If we could see uninvolved parents becoming more engaged in the lives of their children, permissive parents setting more rules for their children, and authoritarian parents becoming more flexible with their children, we may also see a decrease in adolescent drug use and other health-risk behaviors.

At the same time, it is important to consider the cultural context of the group being studied. Even though our results depict the authoritative parenting style as being most effective in preventing adolescent health-risk behaviors, other parenting styles may also be effective depending on the context of the environment and culture in which the family lives. As a result, parent educators should acknowledge the effectiveness of the techniques currently being used by parents and aim for a gradual change to the authoritative parenting style. Although adolescent problem behaviors are subject to a variety of influences (Berk, 2002; Garnier & Stein, 2002; Guo, et al., 2002; Hoffmann, 2002; Jenkins, 1998), we can conclude that regardless of race and ethnicity, authoritative parenting is the most effective parenting style in preventing adolescent health-risk behaviors.


References

Adalbjarnardottir, S., & Hafsteinsson, L. G. (2001).Adolescent’s perceived parenting styles and their substance use: concurrent and longitudinal analyses. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11(4), 401-423.

Add Health: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. (2003). Add Health Data. Retrieved 4/22/04 from UNC Carolina Population Center web site: http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/data.

Berk, L. E. (2002). Infants, children, and adolescents. (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Berns, R. M. (2004). Child, family, school, community: socialization and support. (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, Inc.

Blum, R. W., Beuhring, T., Shew, M. L., Bearinger, L. H., Sieving, R. E., & Resnick, M. D. (2000). The effects of race/ethnicity, income, and family structure on adolescent risk behaviors. Journal of Public health, 90(12), 1879-1884.

Bradley, C. R. (1998). Cultural interpretations of child discipline: voices of African American scholars. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 6(4), 272-278.

Garnier, H. E., & Stein, J. A. (2002). An 18-year model of family and peer effects on adolescent drug use and delinquency. Journal of Youth and Adolescent Psychiatry, 31(1), 45-56.

Griesler, P. C., Kandel, D. B., & Davies, M. (2002). Ethnic differences in predictors of initiation and persistence of adolescent cigarette smoking in the national longitudinal survey of youth. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 4, 79-93.

Gross, K. H. (2000). Adolescent sexual competence and sexual risk-taking: and ecological model of risk and protection. Unpublished dissertation, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Guo, J., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Abbott, R. D. (2002). A developmental analysis of sociodemographic, family, and peer effects on adolescent illicit drug initiation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41(7), 838-845.

Hill, N. E., & Bush, K. R. (2001). Relationship between parenting environment and children’s mental health among African American and European American mothers and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63(4), 954-966.

Hoffmann, J. P. (2002). The community context of family structure and adolescent drug use. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(2), 314-331.

Jenkins, J. E. (1998). The relationship of family structure to adolescent drug use, peer affiliation, and perception of peer acceptance of drug use. Adolescence, 33(132), 811-823.

Jessor, R. (1987). Problem-behavior theory, psychosocial development, and adolescent problem drinking. British Journal of Addiction, 82, 331-342.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Monitoring the future study: trends in prevalence o-f various drugs for 8th-graders, 10th-graders, and high school seniors, 2000-2002. Retrieved Nov 19, 2003 from http://www.drabuse.gov/Infofaz/HSYouthtrends.html

Smetana, J. G. (2000). Middle-class African American adolescents’ and parents’ conceptions of parental authority and parenting practices: a longitudinal investigation. Child Development, 71(6), 1672-1686.



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