Parent and Child
PARENT AND CHILD
The legal relationship between a father or mother and his or her offspring.
The relationship between parent and child is of fundamental importance to U.S. society, because it preserves the safety and provides for the nurture of dependent individuals. For this reason, the parent-child relationship is given special legal consideration. Increasingly, local, state, and federal governments have become more involved in the relationship, especially when a child is abused or neglected. In addition, parental roles have shifted over time, and the law has moved with these changes. Legal rights that were once the sole province of the father are now shared with the mother, and, in general, the law seeks to treat parents equally.
The term child is used in the limited sense to indicate an individual below the age of majority. The more precise word for such an individual is minor, juvenile, or infant. The age of majority, which transforms a child legally into an adult, has traditionally been the age of 21 years. Many states, however, have reduced the age of majority to 18 years.
In its most restricted use, the term parent refers only to a mother or father who is related to the child by blood. This definition holds whether the child is legitimate (the natural parents are married to each other) or illegitimate (the parents are not married to each other). As of 2003, as a result of statutes, adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as natural parents. Other persons standing in the place of natural parents, such as stepparents, are not, however, given such extensive rights and responsibilities. Although in some instances foster parents and foster care agencies have the legal responsibility to nurture a minor, they are not entitled to the full status of parent.
A child is the issue or offspring of his parents. A posthumous child is one conceived prior to, and born after, the death of his father. Such a child has the same inheritance rights as a child born while his father is alive. A child is not entitled to full legal rights unless the child is born alive. The law does not ordinarily consider a fetus to be a child.
Children's Rights v. Parents' Rights: You Don't Own Me … Do You?
In 1874, a badly beaten girl known only as Mary Ellen became the first legally recognized victim of child abuse in the United States. Before 1874, society offered little protection for minors. Children were considered the property of their parents, and neither the government nor private individuals intervened when they were injured, overworked, or neglected. Mary Ellen was rescued from unfit parents only after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) stepped in on her behalf. ASPCA advocates pointed out that if Mary Ellen were a horse or a dog, her mistreatment would be prohibited by statute. A judge agreed that the young girl deserved at least the same protection as an animal.
The status of U.S. children has improved dramatically since Mary Ellen's ordeal. At the turn of the twentieth century, a nationwide child protection movement helped eliminate the long hours, poor wages, and punishing conditions faced by child workers. child labor laws paved the way for later reforms regarding compulsory education, foster care, protective services, health care, and criminal justice for juveniles.
Just how far these reforms should go is the subject of debate. A mild uproar over children's rights arose during the 1992 U.S. presidential race between incumbent george h. w. bush (R) and challenger bill clinton (D). Scholarly articles written in the early 1970s by Clinton's wife, hillary rodham clinton, were at the heart of the controversy. A former lawyer for the Children's Defense Fund, Clinton questioned the traditional legal presumption of incompetency for children. She believed that children were capable of making many of their own decisions; thus she proposed the elimination of minority status for children and suggested a new presumption of legal competence. Clinton also favored granting children the same substantive and procedural rights enjoyed by adults. Further, because children's interests are not always the same as their parents', Clinton felt that minors should be allowed to hire their own lawyers.
During the presidential campaign, Clinton's views were attacked by political opponents who claimed she encouraged children to sue their parents. Her critics predicted that Clinton's ideas would lead children to "divorce" their parents over trivial matters such as curfews, homework, allowances, and household chores.
However, Clinton's views were actually much less extreme than those of so-called child liberationists who believe that children should be allowed to vote, choose their residence, refuse to attend school, enter into contracts, and take part in activities currently reserved for adults. More radical child advocates maintain that children are just as rational as adults and that the nation's commitment to justice requires equal treatment of all people, regardless of age.
Critics of children's rights believe conferring too many rights on children would erode parental authority and the traditional family. Many conservatives believe that children lack the wisdom to make important decisions and require the guidance of responsible adults. They approve of a paternalistic approach to children's welfare rather than one that empowers young people. Critics also resent the legal system's intrusion into parents' domain, arguing that parents are entitled to the final word in their children's upbringing. Conservatives fear that if children have ready access to attorneys, a rash of frivolous or retaliatory lawsuits will erupt, destroying many fragile families in need of help. So strong is this fear that the United States is one of only two countries (Somalia is the other) that have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among other concerns some critics have raised against children's rights are that children could be allowed legally to join gangs or have abortions. Some critics have gone so far as to claim that ratification of the United Nations treaty would take control of children away from parents and hand it to the United Nations (even though the U.S. Constitution does not allow any treaty to override its precepts). Some groups, such as the Children's Rights Council (CRC), believe that children have the "right" to be raised in a two-parent household. One CRC goal is to keep marriages together, but, in the case of divorce, it seeks to encourage parents to share custody equitably.
Three well-publicized cases illustrate the philosophical divide over children's and parents' rights.
Kingsley v. Kingsley In 1992, an eleven-year-old Florida boy went to court to terminate the rights of his biological parents. Gregory Kingsley retained attorney Jerri Blair to represent him in a proceeding to sever all ties with his natural parents, Rachel and Ralph Kingsley. Kingsley also petitioned for his own adoption by his foster parents, Lizabeth and George Russ. Rachel Kingsley opposed her son's actions; her estranged husband did not.
Kingsley persuaded circuit court judge Thomas Kirk that he had been abandoned by his mother. Most of Kingsley's chaotic, impoverished life had been spent in and out of foster care. His unstable early environment was contrasted with the loving and more affluent home now offered by the Russ family. Kirk determined that Kingsley, a minor, had the capacity to bring the action and ordered both the termination of parental rights and the adoption.
Rachel's attorney, Jane Carey, complained that a child's wish had been declared more important than the preservation of the family. Carey worried that the termination of Rachel's rights sent a message to poor parents that they could never measure up to wealthier families. It also drove a symbolic wedge between U.S. children and their parents. To Gregory's supporters, however, the ruling was an important victory on behalf of neglected, mistreated children.
On appeal, Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeals determined that, as a minor, Kingsley could not initiate a proceeding to terminate his parents' rights (Kingsley v. Kingsley, 623 So. 2d 780 ). Only a guardian ad litem, or friend of the court, could do so. Nonetheless, the appeals court upheld the termination of Rachel's parental rights because clear and convincing evidence demonstrated her abandonment of Kingsley and because Kingsley's foster parents had properly initiated the proceeding by filing separate termination petitions. The court also found that there was no legitimate reason to order Kingsley's adoption at the same time as Rachel's termination of rights. In fact, the simultaneous adoption order was in error because the termination order was subject to appeal.
Although Kingsley's initial triumph was diluted by the appeals court ruling, it challenged traditional notions of parental "ownership" of children.
Mays-Twigg Case Kimberly Mays of Florida was nine years old when she received shocking news: she had been switched at birth with another baby and raised by parents to whom she was not related. Mays was born in a rural Florida hospital in 1978. She was taken home by Robert Mays and his wife, Barbara Mays, who later died of cancer. The only other Caucasian infant in the hospital at the time was a girl who was taken home and raised by Ernest and Regina Twigg. The switch was discovered after a blood test determined that the Twiggs' daughter, whom they had named Arlena, was not genetically related to them. A review of hospital records and further blood tests established that Mays was actually the Twiggs' biological daughter. After Arlena died of a heart defect in 1988, the Twiggs sought custody of Mays, and, failing that, attempted to win visitation rights. Mays requested an end to any contact with the Twiggs, saying visits with them were upsetting.
In August 1993, state circuit judge Stephen Dakan ruled that Mays was not required to meet with her biological parents because forced visitation was detrimental to her. Dakan reasoned that if a 15-year-old minor had the right to an abortion, Mays surely had the right to refuse contact with people who essentially were strangers.
Although Mays was allowed to sever ties with the Twiggs, she later chose to renew them. In a strange twist of events, Mays moved in with the Twiggs in March 1994 because of personal conflicts with Robert Mays. She soon moved out of the Twiggs' home; by age 17, she was married and, by 19, she was a mother. Later, during a brief estrangement from her husband, she almost lost custody of her son.
Although the Mays-Twigg case suggests a weakening in the rights of biological parents, the DeBoer case indicates the opposite.
DeBoer Case Jessica DeBoer was raised from birth by Jan and Roberta DeBoer, a Michigan couple trying to adopt her. Cara Clausen, DeBoer's unmarried biological mother, terminated her parental rights shortly after DeBoer was born. Dan Schmidt, DeBoer's biological father, did not sign away his parental rights because, initially, Clausen named another man as the child's father. Clausen and Schmidt eventually married and decided to reclaim DeBoer. After much legal maneuvering, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered DeBoer, who was now age two, returned to her biological parents in Iowa, saying they had the greater legal claim to her (DeBoers v. DeBoers, 442 Mich. 648, 502 N.W.2d 649 ).
Despite expert testimony that it was not in DeBoer's best interests to be separated from the only home and parents she knew, the court ordered the girl turned over to the Schmidts. The DeBoers reluctantly complied with the order after exhausting every avenue of appeal.
Child rights advocates point to this case as an example of how children are still considered the property of their natural parents. At the same time, support groups for birth parents applaud the decision. They believe that Jessica DeBoer—who was renamed Anna Schmidt—belongs with Cara and Dan Schmidt because Dan never relinquished his parental rights and because blood ties have a special social and legal significance.
Alaimo, Kathleen, et al. 2002. Children as Equals: Exploring the Rights of the Child. New York: Univ. Press of America.
Archard, David. 2003. Children, Family, and the State. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Various rights and responsibilities that reflect the social goals of nurturing and protecting dependent individuals are attached to the status of parent and child. The public policy in favor of promoting the protection and care of minors gives rise to the legal presumption that the parent-child relationship exists when it is acknowledged by a parent or when a parent resides with and raises the child. The relationship continues in the absence of unusual circumstances that mandate intervention by the state. Proper legal procedures must be followed when the state intervenes. Parents or children cannot alter or destroy the relationship either by themselves or merely by agreement.
Ordinarily a parent has the right to the custody and supervision of her child. In addition, a parent has the duty to care for and nurture her offspring. The child has the right to receive this care and nurture and the obligation to yield to reasonable parental guidance and supervision. The state has a duty to preserve family stability by ensuring proper care of children. The right of the family to privacy limits state regulation of the parent-child relationship to some extent, but modern laws dealing with child abuse and neglect give the state greater powers to intervene.
A parent's duties extend beyond providing daily necessities and financial support. A court may reasonably expect that a parent will provide for the child's education, medical care, and social and religious training, as well as exhibit love and affection for the child. A parent must also discipline the child when necessary.
Statutes governing the parent-child relation-ship are primarily state laws. These laws must conform to the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the particular state. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that many provisions of the Constitution protect the parent-child relationship, as well as the rights of both parent and child.
The issue of the right to conceive or the right to give birth to a child is governed by Supreme Court decisions involving the right to privacy. With griswold v. state of connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965), the Court held that married people have the right to be educated about birth control methods and to have access to contraceptive devices. The right was extended to unmarried people in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 92 S. Ct. 1029, 31 L. Ed. 2d 349 (1972). In roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), the Court ruled that a woman has a right to have an abortion. Because an established legal principle states that a fetus is not a child, the state cannot interfere arbitrarily with the woman's decision to have an abortion by favoring the welfare of the fetus over her welfare.
Authority of Parents
Parents are entitled to the custody of their children. They are free to make all decisions relating to the welfare of their child as they see fit, short of violating laws that protect children from abuse and neglect. Courts will not interfere with reasonable directives set forth by parents to discipline their children.
Modern statutes and courts have reconsidered the father's traditional primary role and now give equal powers, rights, and duties to both parents. In the case of divorce or separation, all rights of decision and control over the child go to the parent awarded custody, except when joint custody is awarded. In the case of the death of one parent, the other parent assumes custody.
The parent has the obligation to furnish a home for the child. A parent has the right to use corporal punishment, but it must not be so excessive as to constitute child abuse.
A parent's power over his child includes the authority and obligation to oversee medical treatment. A parent will most likely be held guilty of criminal neglect if he disregards the health requirements of his child. In cases where essential medical treatment is not procured for a child, juvenile authorities will start proceedings to provide care for the child and disciplinary action for the parent.
A controversial issue arises when a child is ill and the parents refuse health treatment for religious reasons. In an emergency that would jeopardize the child's life, a court may override the parental consent requirement and authorize treatment. A much greater obstacle exists when the parents, on religious grounds, refuse to provide their child with medical care that is important but not life threatening.
Parents are allowed broad discretion in making decisions regarding their child's education. This freedom, however, is not absolute and is tempered by compulsory state school attendance laws and the right of the state to require that the child be educated. However, most states now allow home schooling, with education provided by a parent.
A parent who fails to carry out obligations or abuses parental rights is guilty of a crime. A parent who fails to make certain that her child regularly goes to school can be held criminally liable for violating compulsory attendance laws. A number of states have criminal nonsupport and abandonment statutes that make it unlawful for a parent to neglect to provide for her child. Where essential support has been provided by an outside source, such as an agency or an individual, this source can initiate a lawsuit to recoup the expenses of services and supplies. A person who has custody or guardianship of a child can initiate a lawsuit to request that the noncustodial parent pay a suitable amount of money on a regular basis to support the child.
Parents usually have a legal right to custody of their own offspring. The Supreme Court has established that the right to child custody by a parent is constitutionally protected. The general presumption of the courts is that a child's welfare is protected best when the natural ties of mother and father are preserved. In the absence of clear evidence that a child is in danger, the state must not interfere with the judgment of the parents.
When the two parents do not live together, the question arises as to where the child will reside. In some cases, one parent will agree to relinquish custody to the other parent without giving up any other parental privileges. Although the custodial parent supervises the child's daily care, the noncustodial parent ordinarily has the right to be told about significant occurrences in the child's life. In addition, the noncustodial parent is usually entitled to visit the child at regular intervals. The noncustodial parent may seek a change in custody arrangements if circumstances so mandate.
If separated or divorced parents cannot agree on custody arrangements, the court will intervene. The court considers the circumstances of each case in light of a parent's ability to support and care for the child. In all custodial decisions, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance.
A battle for custody of a child does not always involve the parents. Custody is frequently sought by other relatives, including grandparents, uncles, aunts, or others, such as stepparents or foster parents.
In the event that a child is illegitimate, the unwed mother has a primary custody right that traditionally could not be defeated by the father. However, the Supreme Court has recognized the unwed father's interest in his child and the potential ability to obtain custody or visitation rights (Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248, 103 S. Ct. 2985, 77 L. Ed. 614 ).
In many families, grandparents play an important role in the upbringing of children. When the parents of a child separate and divorce, many of these grandparents continue to play an active role in the children's lives. Every state has enacted legislation that allows a court to grant visitation rights to grandparents if the grandparents meet certain criteria. Such criteria often require that the visitation is in the best interests of the child, that one of the parents is deceased, and that the grandparent has cared for the child for a significant period of time prior to filing the petition.
In Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a grandparent visitation statute in the state of Washington, which allowed a court to grant visitation rights to any person at any time if it was in the best interests of the child, was unconstitutional. Noting that this broad statute placed a substantial burden on the traditional parent-child relationship, Justice sandra day o'connor held that the statute denied parents substantive due process. However, the Court did not hold that all grandparent visitation statutes are unconstitutional, leaving this determination to the state courts. State legislatures have since struggled to draft grandparent visitation and custody statutes that remain constitutional under this decision.
Generally a parent is responsible for support of a minor child. This responsibility encompasses the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, as well as education and medical care. A parent who is unable to provide such support is excused. However, that parent must demonstrate an earnest effort to become employed so that he can fulfill his financial responsibility.
At common law, the child's father had the primary duty to support the child. The law now recognizes that both parents have an equal responsibility for the support of a child.
Parents are not entitled to use money that belongs to the child (for example, an inheritance) for the child's support. Although a parent is allowed to petition the court to release a certain amount of money for the child's expenses, courts are generally unwilling to honor such requests unless warranted by the circumstances. It is, for example, proper to release funds to support a child whose only other means of support would be through public welfare.
State and federal governments have become more active in requiring parents to support their children. If parents live apart, whether by reason of divorce or separation, or if they have remained unmarried, various remedies are available to enforce court-issued child support orders. State statutes generally provide criminal misdemeanor penalties for a default on support obligations, but courts typically use the contempt power as an enforcement vehicle. Civil contempt is imposed to encourage payment by jailing for an indeterminate time a parent who is able to pay. The parent is free to leave jail as soon as the parent makes the payment. Criminal contempt is imposed as punishment for default, the sentence being for a specific period.
States have also set up child support collection systems that use stronger enforcement methods to ensure compliance. If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, his tax refunds and wages can be garnished, and his driver's license can be revoked.
The federal government has sought to ensure that child support is paid. The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 (18 U.S.C.A. § 338) makes willful failure to support a child in another state a federal crime. Prosecution is available for unpaid support exceeding $5,000 or for obligations unpaid longer than one year. Penalties range from imprisonment to fines. First offenses are misdemeanors; repeat offenses are felonies. In addition, federal courts may make the payment of child support a condition of probation.
State governments have also sought to ensure that parents who are recipients of child support payments receive these payments. The Texas attorney general, for example, oversees a child support division, which is responsible for ensuring that child support payments are received and distributed properly. The division determines what is required on a case-by-case basis, but generally noncustodial parents must submit child support payments directly to the division, which then distributes this money to the custodial parent. If the noncustodial parent fails to make the child support payments, the division may locate the parent and take a number of remedial actions, including suspension of state licenses. Other states employ similar systems.
The general rule is that no one is obligated to support a child to whom the person is not related. A number of states, however, currently require a stepfather to support his wife's children if he lives with them. A child whose natural father does not contribute to her support might be allowed to receive welfare benefits unless she is adopted by the stepfather.
A parent's support obligation does not end merely because the parent is not living with the child. Upon divorce or legal separation, child support agreements arrange for the child's continued support. An identified father must aid in the support of his illegitimate child, even if they have never lived together.
The duty of a parent to support a minor child sometimes continues even when the child becomes a parent, such as the case of a 16-year-old girl who has an illegitimate child but continues to live with her parents. The unwed father, however, would have primary responsibility for support of his child provided he acknowledged the child as his or the court orders him to provide support following an action to establish his paternity.
The common-law rule is that a parent has no obligation to support an adult child. Similarly, an adult child has no duty to support parents or grandparents. Some states, however, have altered this rule by enacting statutes that impose financial responsibilities upon people for their poverty-stricken relatives. Certain laws require parents to provide support for a child who is incapable of earning a living because of a mental or physical disability regardless of whether the child has reached the age of majority. Similarly, other statutes require children to support parents who would otherwise be dependent on public welfare.
Child's Earnings and Services
At common law, a father had the right to the earnings of a child. State statutes have modified this principle to give either a primary right to a child's earnings to the custodial parent or an equal right to both parents. The right to a child's wages stems from the parental duty of support and, therefore, can be destroyed if a parent neglects or deserts the child. States, however, also have enacted laws that place a child's earnings in trust until the child reaches the age of majority. These laws were originally passed in the 1930s to protect child actors and entertainers who earned large sums of money. Before these laws were passed, some of the parents of these children had squandered their children's incomes.
The issue of the services of a child, which range from performing simple household tasks to working in the family business, ordinarily arises when a child has been injured. A parent may sue the individual who caused the child harm and claim damages for both medical costs and loss of the child's services.
Wrongful Death and Wrongful Life Actions
A child is entitled to start a wrongful death action against anyone who causes the death of his parent. Parents may also sue for the wrongful death of children, although at times their economic value to the family is arguable. Parents may recover, however, for the loss of companionship or for their mental pain and suffering upon the loss of the child.
Some state laws prevent parents from recovering for the death of an adult child who is either financially independent or married. Ordinarily the parent who brings suit for wrongful death must be a legal parent, whether natural or adoptive. A parent who has neglected or failed to support a child generally cannot sue for wrongful death.
wrongful life cases arise when parents object to the birth of an unwanted or unplanned child. Cases have involved faulty sterilization, failure to diagnose a pregnancy, or, in the case of a pharmacist, dispensing the wrong birth control pills. In a majority of states, the courts refuse to entertain such suits, partly on grounds of public policy and partly on the theory that the benefit of having and keeping the child outweighs any damage. Other courts have allowed recovery, some holding that the probable enjoyment the child will bring must be offset by the cost of having and raising the child. Compensation for the cost of pregnancy and the pain and suffering of pregnancy and childbirth has been upheld.
Emancipation is a legal occurrence by which a child acquires the freedom attached to adulthood earlier than at the statutory age. There are no set procedures by which emancipation may be accomplished. Generally, enlistment in the armed forces, marriage, or becoming self-supporting will effect emancipation. Typically, the inquiry takes place after the fact, and if the child is found to be independent of the parents, emancipation has probably occurred, and the court will be more likely to recognize this emancipation.
An agreement may be made between the parents and the child whereby the child leaves the parents' home and establishes an independent life. Once this happens, the parents relinquish the right to custody and supervision of the child. Another important meaning of emancipation is that it ends the parental obligation of support.
Another important legal consideration relates to the effect of commercial dealings of persons who, but for emancipation, would have been minors. Once a nearly absolute defense, modern law has significantly restricted the effect of minority as a legal defense to contractual obligations to third parties. Thus, an emancipated 16-year-old girl who signs a contract to buy a car cannot avoid the terms of the contract by later pleading that she was underage and could not legally bind herself.
The issue of emancipation has declined in importance because most states have made 18 years the age of majority. The most serious questions concerning emancipation involved the age spread from 18 to 21 years.
Responsibility of Parents for Injuries
At common law, parents were not responsible for torts their children committed against third parties. When they had neglected their duty of supervision, parents could be held liable for their own negligence. This largely remains true, although many state statutes now hold parents vicariously liable for torts committed by their children, for a limited amount.
Another exception to parental immunity from liability for their child's torts is the "family purpose doctrine," which allows third parties to recover from parents when they were injured by children driving the family car. This doctrine is based on the idea that the child is acting as the parent's agent or authorized representative.
To promote family unity, a number of states have refused to permit lawsuits between parents and children for harm caused by negligence. Some states have rejected this doctrine, however, particularly in the event of automobile accidents. In such cases, it was perceived as unjust to allow strangers to obtain insurance benefits when family members were precluded from doing so. A majority of states, however, still regard a parent as immune from legal actions for exercising parental authority and also for injuries stemming from negligent supervision.
In Loco Parentis
Persons may act in loco parentis, "in place of the natural parents," in relation to the child in certain situations. Ordinarily, no one is responsible for a child's control or support unless that person is the parent, whether natural or adoptive, or has otherwise agreed to take care of the child. The question of whether a person acting in place of the parent has these responsibilities is contingent upon whether the person intended to undertake them. A college, for example, may act in loco parentis when it houses its students in college-supervised dormitories and imposes rules and regulations on student behavior.
Pardeck, John T. 2002. Children's Rights: Policy and Practice. New York: Haworth Social Work Practice Press.
Postman, Neil. 1982. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Delacorte.
Purdy, Laura M. 1992. In Their Best Interest? Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.
Richards, Janet Leach. 1999. "Children's Rights v. Parents' Rights: A Proposed Solution to the Custodial Relocation Conundrum." New Mexico Law Review 29 (spring).
Walker, Nancy E., Catherine M. Brooks, and Lawrence S. Wrightsman. 1999. Children's Rights in the United States: In Search of a National Policy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Adoption; Child Care; Child Labor Laws; Children's Defense Fund; Children's Rights; Descent and Distribution; Family Car Doctrine; Family Law; Fetal Rights; Fetal Tissue Research; Garnishment; Gault, In re; Guardian ad Litem; Guardian and Ward; Health Care Law; Illegitimacy; Infancy; Infants; Juvenile Law; Organ Donation Law "Should Dying Babies Be Organ Donors?" (In Focus); Paternity; Schools and School Districts.
"Parent and Child." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-and-child
"Parent and Child." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-and-child
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Throughout recorded history, there has been an interest in understanding the causes and consequences of the complex relationship between parents and children. Despite frequently expressed worries about the weakening of inter-generational ties, the evidence has demonstrated the continued intensity and influence of these ties. In fact, recent research has shown that the intensity of the bond retains its strength even long after the parents' deaths (Shmotkin, 1999). Of interest here is the relationship between adult children and their parents, particularly factors that affect the quality of relations between the generations. Also important in this discussion is how the childless fare, relative to parents, in terms of happiness and well-being in their later years.
Parent-adult child relations in historical context
Changes in American society during the twentieth century led parent-adult child relations to be of increasing interest to scholars, policymakers, and the lay public. Gains in average life expectancy have provided parents and children the opportunity for even more enduring intergenerational relationships than in previous eras. For example, men born in 1920 were expected, on average, to live to be only 54; by 1950, their life expectancy had risen to 66, and by 1996, to 73. Women's life expectancy increased even more across the same period, from 55 for women born in 1920, to 71 in 1950, and 79 in 1996. Such increases in life expectancy provide greater opportunities for meaningful family exchanges across the generations.
However, the opportunity for greater family involvement may not be sufficient to produce warm and supportive intergenerational relations. In fact, both the popular and scholarly literatures have often framed parent–adult child relations as potentially problematic. Such concerns can be attributed to certain societal trends that may create obstacles to harmonious and supportive relations between the generations. First, increased life expectancy leads to a greater likelihood that families will spend longer periods of time caring for disabled elderly relatives. Coupled with declining fertility, this development suggests that larger numbers of elderly people will be cared for by fewer offspring. Adult children, in turn, will bear the costs of caring for aged parents, with fewer siblings to assist them.
In addition, the nature of parent-child relations in later life became substantially more voluntary toward the end of the twentieth century. That is, elderly parents' relationships with grown children are characterized by choice, rather than by obligation. In the past, control of family resources was a major method of ensuring contact with, and care by, children. In contemporary society, the young are dependent on the labor market for their livelihood, rather than on elderly parents. Further, norms of filial responsibility were more clearly articulated in the past. At present, the amount and nature of parent-child contact and the degree of mutual aid between the generations tend to be individually negotiated, with only limited guidance from society.
What is remarkable, in the face of such obstacles to high relationship quality, is that parent– adult child ties tend, on average, to be warm and supportive despite the difficulties that both generations face.
The quality of parent-adult child relations
Children and parents' social characteristics and intergenerational relations. It has been demonstrated that both children's and parents' social characteristics are crucial to an understanding of intergenerational relations. Three social characteristics play a particularly important role in determining the quality of parent-child relations in later life: age, gender, and race.
Age. Theories of adult development and intergenerational relations suggest that the age of the adult child affects the quality of parent-child relations. These theories argue that as adult children become older, there is less conflict and greater closeness in the parent-child relationship because maturational changes reduce differences between parents and adult children, thus minimizing the bases for conflict between them. Further, these theories posit that as children and parents age, there is greater tolerance for any intergenerational differences that remain. Empirical studies conducted with both adult children and elderly parents provide support for these theories by showing consistently that relations are more harmonious when children are older.
Gender. A review of the literature suggests that the gender of both parent and child affects intergenerational relations. Studies of the effects of gender consistently demonstrate stronger affectional ties between mothers and daughters than any other combination. For example, mothers report more positive affect with adult daughters than sons, and they are more likely to rely on daughters than sons as confidants and comforters. In turn, adult daughters report greater feelings of closeness to mothers than fathers.
The literature on other parent-child gender combinations suggests that there is greater closeness and less conflict in both mother-son and father-daughter pairs than in father-son pairs. The preponderance of studies of intergenerational relations have found that adult sons report greater closeness to mothers than to fathers, whereas fathers report greater closeness to daughters than to sons.
Race and ethnicity. Research on ethnic diversity in families in the later years has grown considerably during the past two decades. Most of this work has focused on differences between black and white families; however, both Hispanic and Asian families have also received attention.
The literature has revealed some consistent differences in intergenerational relations between black and white families. In particular, elderly blacks are substantially more likely than whites to live in two- and three-generational households, and to be involved in their grandchildren's day-to-day activities. Further, it appears that there is greater closeness and less intergenerational conflict in black than in non-black families. C. V. Willie (1988) has argued that older blacks are less insistent that younger family members adhere to their elders' customs than are nonblacks, which might reduce the basis for conflict over intergenerational value discrepancies; however, the few studies that have investigated this issue have not provided a consistent picture.
Parent–adult child relations among Hispanics appear to differ from those of both blacks and whites. For example, parent-adult child contact is more frequent among Hispanics than whites or blacks, and Hispanic parents are more likely to live with their adult children than are blacks or whites. Further, several studies suggest greater intrafamily support in Hispanic than non-Hispanic white families. However, because most of these studies do not separate the role of adult children from that of other close family members, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether parent-child relations are closer in Hispanic than non-Hispanic families.
Although the population of elderly Asians is growing rapidly in the United States, there is relatively little literature on parent–adult child relations among these ethnic groups. The literature that exists suggests that there are inconsistencies in the patterns of parent-child relations among Asian-American families. On one hand, filial piety is still normative, and parent–adult child coresidence is common, yet Chinese-American parents who do not live with their children have lower frequency of contact with them than do black, white, or Hispanic parents. Further, value differences which might lead to conflict between parents and children are increasingly common in Asian families.
Life events, parent-child relations, and parents' well-being. Changes in either parents' or children's social characteristics may have profound effects on intergenerational relations. It is important to distinguish between transitions that are experienced by adult children and those experienced by elderly parents, as well as to make a distinction between two types of transitions: those that are normative—that is, transitions that are socially acceptable and expected to occur at a given time—and those that are nonnormative.
Effects of adult children's normative transitions. Numerous studies have found a consistent pattern of increased intergenerational closeness and contact when children experience normative transitions. For example, parents and adult children appear to become closer when children establish separate households, marry, and become parents. In part, there is a positive change in intergenerational relations when adult children experience these normative transitions because such transitions confirm that the adult child is conforming to societal norms regarding maturational development. An often neglected point is that normative transitions also improve parent-child relations because these transitions increase the number of social structural positions that adult children share with their parents.
Effects of adult children's nonnormative transitions. Considering that normative transitions generally intensify affectional bonds, it is not surprising to find that nonnormative transitions sometimes affect parent-adult child relations detrimentally. However, whether the nonnormative transition affects relations appears to be determined greatly by the extent to which the transition challenges parents' values.
Recent studies of adult children's transitions support this argument. For example, studies have shown that relations between middle-class sons and their parents often become strained when the adult children, particularly sons, lose their jobs. Further, adult children's relationships with their parents have been found to suffer when the children engage in illegal behaviors, regardless of whether the actions lead to legal action.
Nonnormative transitions that do not challenge the parents' values appear to have far less impact on parent-adult child relations. For example, it appears that adult children's returning to live in their parents' homes creates little distress in the parent-child relationship. The preponderance of the literature suggests that a child's divorce also has little or no deleterious effect on the quality of parent-child relations. In fact, some findings suggest that there might even be an increase in parent–adult child closeness following a child's divorce. However, studies have not examined whether the effects of an adult child's divorce on parent-child relations is affected by either circumstances surrounding the divorce or by the parents' values regarding marriage.
Children's stressful life events and parents' well-being. While negative life events in the lives of adult children do not necessarily affect the quality of the parent-child relationship, they do affect parents' psychological well-being. Studies have shown that problems experienced by adult children, and contact with children during these periods, can detrimentally affect elderly parents' well-being. For example, it has been found that parents whose adult children have had mental, physical, substance abuse, or stress-related problems experience greater depression and emotional distress than do parents whose children did not have these problems.
Further, parents of mentally ill adults have been found to experience both substantial psychological distress and reduced marital quality because of problems associated with their children's bizarre and threatening behaviors. Violence and abuse by adult children has been found to be particularly distressing to elderly parents.
Morale may also suffer if adult children's problems require parents to continue to provide them with care and support. Such continued assistance is associated with increased psychological distress among the elderly. Thus, to the extent that problems experienced by children lead to their increased dependency, the quality of the relationship tends to decline, and decrements in psychological well-being can result.
Effects of parents' normative transitions. Both retirement and widowhood have been identified as normative transitions that have potential for affecting relationships between parents and adult children. Some scholars have suggested that parental retirement might represent a major crisis for adult children because it could signify that parents could lose their productive roles and eventually die. Further, it has been argued that children might fear that the resulting decrease in parental income would require them to assume financial responsibility for their parents while they are still supporting their own children. However, recent studies that have been conducted on this issue have found either no effects of retirement on intergenerational relations, or greater contact and closeness between the generations.
In contrast to retirement, the widowhood of a parent involves a direct change in the lives of adult children. Widowhood has been found to be one of the most stressful of all life events, and marks a drastic change in the life of the surviving spouse. Adult children have been found to be a particularly important source of emotional support and instrumental assistance to the surviving parent during this time. Further, there appears to be a general pattern of stability and continuity in parent-child relationships following widowhood.
Effects of parents' nonnormative transitions. Divorce is among the most common non-normative transitions in the lives of parents of adult children. The preponderance of work on this topic has shown that the detrimental effects of parental divorce on intergenerational relations continue throughout the life course. For example, it has been found that both divorced and remarried parents provide less emotional support to their adult children, have less frequent contact, and report lower levels of parent-child solidarity than do parents who have not divorced. The effects of divorce on closeness vary by gender of the parent. Divorce appears to be more detrimental to fathers' than mothers' relationships with their adult children. In fact, many mothers and daughters continue to have very close relationships following the mother's divorce.
Family caregiving to elderly parents: patterns and consequences
As the elderly population grows, so will the number of family members involved in their care. It is estimated that in 2001, approximately 2.2 million people provided unpaid help to elderly disabled relatives, and that these individuals provide 80 percent of the care received by the frail elderly. Of these individuals, more than one-third were adult children. Daughters continue to be substantially more likely than sons to be primary caregivers to their parents, although sons' participation in caregiving has increased. In part, daughters' greater caregiving to elderly parents can be explained by the general trend toward a traditional division of family tasks in the United States. However, another contributing factor is that older parents are more likely to be cared for by adult children of the same gender, and gender differences in life expectancy result in a larger number of women than men who receive care.
Reviews of the caregiving literature have shown that caregivers experience increased depression and demoralization, as well as increased psychiatric illness. Although the evidence is less clear, caregivers also appear to be more vulnerable to physical illness. Further, studies of caregiving suggest that these physical and psychological costs of caregiving are greater for women than men, and women who become caregivers are more likely than men to experience a loss of income and retirement benefits as a consequence of their caregiving.
Studies of the effects of caregiving on the quality of the parent-child relationship do not provide an entirely consistent picture. Some studies indicate that declines in parents' health often result in decreased closeness and attachment between them and their adult children; however, other research suggests that caregiving is more likely to have positive than negative consequences on relationship quality.
There are theoretical bases for suggesting that the motivation of adult-child caregivers determines whether caregiving has positive or negative effects on the parent-child relationship. In particular, it has been suggested that adult children who are motivated by attachment, rather than by exchange or obligation, would experience better relationships. Findings of research on the connection between caregiver motivation and the quality of parent-child relations support this argument by revealing that the parent–adult child caregiving relationship is better when daughters are motivated by feelings of affection and closeness.
Effects of childlessess on the elderly
Considering the closeness and mutually supportive relationships that many adult children and elderly parents enjoy, it is reasonable to expect that elderly individuals who are parents would be happier than those who do not have children. However, the research on this issue has consistently demonstrated that individuals who are childless are as happy and well-adjusted as are parents, even in the later years. Further, people who are sixty-five or older and do not have children are more likely to report advantages than disadvantages of childlessness. Individuals who have remained childless have been found to develop social networks that compensate for the absence of support from adult children. However, the emphasis on such compensatory mechanisms vary by gender. For example, childless women are more likely than their male counterparts to develop close friendship networks and become involved with community and religious organizations. Not surprisingly, older individuals who are the most likely to be disadvantaged by their childlessness are widowed men who had been dependent primarily on their wives for instrumental and emotional support.
The one area in which there are substantial differences between the experiences of parents and the childless in the later years is living arrangements. Elderly people who are childless are about 50 percent more likely to live in some form of residential care at some point than are parents. One might expect that this would mean that childless men would be the most likely to live in residential care at some point in their later years; however, the fact that women are more likely to be childless, combined with their longer life expectancy, means that childless women are more likely than childless men to live in residentialcare facilities at some point.
J. Jill Suitor Karl Pillemer
See also Caregiving, Informal; Filial Obligations; Intergenerational Exchanges; Kin; Parental Obligations.
Arditti, J. A. "Rethinking Relationships Between Divorced Mothers and Their Children: Capitalizing on Family Strengths." F AMILY R ELATIONS 48 (1999): 109.
Aquilino, W. S., and Supple, K. "Parent-Child Relations and Parents' Satisfaction with Living Arrangements When Adult Children Live at Home." Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 13–27.
Brody, E. M. Women in the Middle: Their Parent- Care Years. New York: Springer, 1990.
Bulcroft, K. A., and Bulcroft, R. A. "The Timing of Divorce: Effects on Parent-Child Relationships in Later Life." Research on Aging 13 (1991): 226–243.
Chakrabarti, S.; Kulhara, P.; and Verma, S. K. "The Pattern of Burden in Families of Neurotic Patients." Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 28 (1993): 172–177.
Connidis, I. A., and McMullin, J. A. "Permanent Childlessness: Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages Among Older Persons." Canadian Journal on Aging 18 (1999): 447–465.
Dewit, D. J., and Frankel, B. G. "Geographic Distance and Intergenerational Contact: A Critical Assessment and Review of the Literature." Journal of Aging Studies 2 (1988): 25–43.
Fredriksen, K. I. "Gender Differences in Employment and the Informal Care of Adults." Journal of Women & Aging 8 (1996): 35–53.
Fuligni, A. J.; Tseng, V.; and Lam, M. "Attitudes Toward Family Obligations among American Adolescents with Asian, Latin American, and European Backgrounds." Child Development 70 (1999): 1030–1044.
Gottleib, B. H., and Pancer, S. M. "Social Networks and the Transition to Parenthood." In The Transition to Parenthood: Current Theory and Research. Edited by G. Y. Michaels and W. A. Goldberg. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Hagestad, G. "Dimensions of Time and the Family." American Behavioral Scientist 29 (1987): 679–694.
Johnson, C. L. "Postdivorce Reorganization of Relationships Between Divorcing Children and Their Parents." Journal of Marriage and the Family 50 (1988): 221–231.
Kamo, Y. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Extended Family Households." Sociological Perspectives 43 (2000): 211–229.
Kaufman, G., and Uhlenberg, P. "Effects of Life-Course Transitions on the Quality of Relationships Between Adult Children and Their Parents." Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1998): 924–938.
Kim, H. K., and McKenry, P. C. "Social Networks and Support: A Comparison of African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 29 (1998): 313.
Kivett, V. R. "Centrality of the Grandfather Role Among Older Rural Black and White Men." Journals of Gerontology 46 (1991): S250–258.
Kulis, S. S. "Social Class and the Locus of Reciprocity in Relationships with Adult Children." Journal of Family Issues 13 (1992): 482–504.
Logan, J. R., and Spitze, G. "Family Ties: Enduring Relations Between Parents and Their Grown Children." Journal of Marriage and the Family 44 (1996): 217–224.
Lubben, J. E., and Beccerra, R. M. "Social Support Among Black, Mexican, and Chinese Elderly." In Ethnic Dimensions of Aging. Edited by D. E. Gelfand and C. M. Barresi. New York: Springer, 1987.
Morbarak, M. E.; Scharlach, A. E.; and L. Sokolov, Birba J. "Employment, Social Networks, and Health in the Retirement Years." International Journal of Aging and Human Development 35 (1992): 145–159.
Myles, J. Old Age in the Welfare State. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
Newman, K. S. Falling from Grace: The Experience of Downward Mobility in the American Middle Class. New York: Free Press, 1988.
Phinney, J. S.; Ong, A.; and Madden, T. "Cultural Values and Intergenerational Value Discrepancies in Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Families." Child Development 71 (2000): 528–539.
Pillemer, K., and Suitor, J. J. "Elder Abuse." In Handbook of Family Violence. Edited by V. Van Hasselt, H. Bellack, R. Morrison, and M. Hersen. New York: Plenum, 1988.
Pillemer, K., and Suitor, J. J. "Will I Ever Escape My Child's Problems? Effects of Adult Children's Problems on Elderly Parents." Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 585–594.
Pitcher, B. L., and Larson, D. C. "Elderly Widowhood." In Aging and the Family. Edited by S.J. Bahr and E. T. Peterson. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989.
Roberts, R. E. L.; Richards, L. N.; and Bengtson, V. L. "Intergenerational Solidarity in Families: Untangling the Ties That Bind." Marriage and Family Review 16 (1991): 11–46.
Robinson, K. M. "Family Caregiving: Who Provides Care, and At What Costs?" Nursing Economics 15 (1997): 243–247.
Rossi, A. S., and Rossi, P. H. Of Human Bonding: Parent Child Relations Across the Life Course. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1990.
Seltzer, M.; Mailick, L.; and Wailing, L. "The Dynamics of Caregiving: Transitions During a Three-Year Prospective Study." The Gerontologist 40 (2000): 165–178.
Shmotkin, D. "Affective Bonds of Adult Children With Living Versus Deceased Parents." Psychology and Aging 14 (1999): 473–82.
Silverstein, M.; Parrott, T. M.; and Bengtson, V. L. "Factors that Predispose Middle-Aged Sons and Daughters to Provide Social Support to Older Parents." Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (1995): 465–475.
Spitze, G., and Logan, J. R. "Employment and Filial Relations: Is There a Conflict?" Social Forum 6 (1991): 681–697.
Spitze, G.; Logan, J. R.; Deane, G.; and Zerger, S. "Adult Children's Divorce and Intergenerational Relationships." Journal of Marriage and the Family 56 (1994): 279–293.
Stone, R.; Cafferata, G. L.; and Sangl, J. "Caregivers of the Frail Elderly: A National Profile." The Gerontologist 27 (1987): 616–626.
Suitor, J. J., and Pillemer, K. "Did Mom Really Love You Best? Exploring the Role of Within-Family Differences in Developmental Histories on Parental Favoritism." Motivation and Emotion (2000): 104–115.
Suitor, J. J., and Pillemer, K. "The Presence of Adult Children: A Source of Stress for Elderly Couples' Marriages?" Journal of Marriage and the Family 49 (1987): 717–725.
Suitor, J. J.; Pillemer, K.; Keeton, S.; and Robison, J. "Aged Parents and Aging Children: Determinants of Relationship Quality." In Handbook of Aging and the Family. Edited by Victoria Bedford and Rosemary Bliezner. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Umberson, D. "Relationships Between Adult Children and Their Parents: Psychological Consequences for Both Generations." Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992): 664–674.
Walker, A. J.; Martin, S. S. K.; and Jones, L. L. "The Benefits and Costs of Caregiving and Care Receiving for Daughters and Mothers." Journal of Gerontology 47 (1992): S130–139.
Wenger, G. C.; Scott, A.; and Patterson, N. "How Important is Parenthood? Childlessness and Support in Old Age in England." Ageing and Society 20 (2000): 161–82.
White, L. "The Effect of Parental Divorce and Remarriage on Parental Support for Adult Children." Journal of Family Issues 13 (1992): 234–250.
"Parent-Child Relationship." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationship
"Parent-Child Relationship." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationship
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
The relationship, over the full extent of a child's development, between parent and child.
Of the many different relationships we form over the course of the life span, the relationship between parent and child is among the most important. Not surprisingly, students of child development have devoted considerable attention to the parent-child relationship, in order to understand how it develops and functions over the lifespan. Among the many questions researchers examine are those concerning normative changes in the parent-child relationship over the course of development (e.g., How does the parent-child relationship change during adolescence?), the impact of variations in the parent-child relationship on the child's behavior and functioning (e.g., Which types of discipline are most effective during the preschool years?), and the effects of the parent-child relationship on the parent (e.g., How are adults affected by parenthood?).
A baby cries, a parent feeds her; a baby snuggles, a parent hugs her. Day after day, night after night, mothers and fathers feed, burp, wash, change, dress, and hold their babies. Out of these interactions, feelings and expectations grow. The baby feels distressed and hungry, then satisfied; the parent feels tenderness, joy, annoyance, exhaustion, pleasure. Gradually, the baby begins to expect that her parent will care for her when she cries. Gradually, parents respond to and even anticipate their baby's needs. These elements form the basis for a developing relationship, a combination of behaviors, interactions, feelings, and expectations that are unique to a particular parent and a particular child.
By the end of the first year, most infants who are cared for in families develop an attachment relationship, usually with the primary caretaker. This relationship is central to the child's development.
Developmental psychologists have studied attachment in infancy mainly by watching how infants react when they are separated from, and then reunited with, their caregiver (usually one of the infant's parents). An experimental laboratory procedure called the Strange Situation is the most common assessment. Researchers have been particularly interested in understanding individual differences in the quality of attachment is inferred from behavior in the Strange Situation. The majority of children develop a secure attachment : when reunited with their caregiver after a temporary absence of several minutes, they greet her in two distinctive ways. If distressed, they want to be picked up and find comfort in her arms; if content, they smile, talk to her, or show her a toy. In contrast, some children with an insecure attachment want to be picked up, but they are not comforted; they kick or push away. Others seem indifferent to the caregiver's return, and ignore her when she returns.
The quality of the infant's attachment seems to be predictive of aspects of later development. Youngsters who emerge from infancy with a secure attachment stand a better chance of developing happy, competent relationships with others. The attachment relationship not only forms the emotional basis for the continued development of the parent-child relationship, but can serve as a foundation upon which subsequent social relationships are built.
Researchers disagree about the origins of a secure attachment relationship. One account focuses on the way caregivers behave toward their infants. According to this view, the key element is the caregiver's sensitivity in responding to the infant's signals. Secure infants have mothers who sensitively read their infant's cues and respond appropriately to their needs.
Another perspective emphasizes the temperament of the infants. A secure attachment is more easily formed between a caregiver and an infant with an easier disposition, or temperament, than between a caregiver and an infant who is characteristically negative, fearful, or not especially sociable. In this respect, security of attachment may reflect what the infant is like rather than how the caregiver behaves. Most likely, the early parent-child relationship is the product both of what the infant and caregiver bring to it.
When children move from infancy into toddlerhood, the parent-child relationship begins to change its focus. During infancy, the primary function of the parent-child relationship is nurturance and predictability, and much of the relationship revolves around the day-to-day demands of caregiving: feeding, sleeping, toileting, bathing. The attachment relationship develops out of these day-to-day interactions.
As youngsters begin to talk and become more mobile during the second and third years of life, however, parents usually attempt to shape their child's social behavior. In essence, parents become teachers as well as nurturers, providers of guidance as well as affection. The process of socialization—preparing the youngster to function as a member of a social group—implicit during most of the first two years of life, becomes explicit as the child moves toward his or her third birthday.
Socialization has been an important focus of research in child development for well over 60 years. Initially, researchers focused on particular child-rearing practices—including types of discipline and approaches to toilet training and weaning —in an effort to link specific parenting practices to aspects of the child's development. Findings from this research were inconsistent and not especially informative. Over time, such efforts gave way to research that emphasized the overall emotional climate of the parent-child relationship, instead of discrete parenting practices.
A number of studies conducted during the past 30 years have pointed to two overarching dimensions of the parent-child relationship that appear to be systematically linked to the child's psychological development: how responsive the parents are, and how demanding they are. Responsive parents are warm and accepting toward their children, enjoying them and trying to see things from their perspective. In contrast, parents who are low in responsiveness tend to be aloof, rejecting, or critical. They show little pleasure in their children and are often insensitive to their emotional needs. Demanding parents maintain consistent standards for their child's behavior. In contrast, parents who are insufficiently demanding are too lenient; they exercise minimal control, provide little guidance, and often yield to their child's demands. Children's healthy psychological development is facilitated when the parents are both responsive and moderately demanding.
During toddlerhood, children often begin to assert their desire for autonomy by challenging their parents. Sometimes, the child's newfound assertiveness during the "terrible twos" can put a strain on the parent-child relationship. It is important that parents recognize that this behavior is normal for the toddler, and that the healthy development of independence is facilitated by a parent-child relationship that provides support and structure for the child's developing sense of autonomy. In many regards, the security of the initial attachment between infant
and parent provides the child with the emotional wherewithal to begin exploring the world outside the parent-child relationship.
Many researchers study the ways in which responsiveness and demandingness interact to form a general tone, or climate, in the household. Using this sort of approach, experts have identified four main parenting styles that typically emerge during the preschool years: authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and disengaged. Although no parent is absolutely consistent across situations and over time, parents do seem to follow some general tendencies in their approach to childrearing, and it is possible to describe a parent-child relationship in terms of the prevailing style of parenting employed. These descriptions can be used to provide guidelines for both professionals and parents interested in understanding how variations in the parent-child relationship affect the child's development.
Authoritative parents are both responsive and demanding; they are firm, but they discipline with love and affection, rather than power , and they are likely to explain rules and expectations to their children instead of simply asserting them. Authoritarian parents are also highly demanding, but they are not less responsive; authoritarian parents tend to be strict disciplinarians, frequently relying on physical punishment and the withdrawal of affection to shape their child's behavior. Indulgent parents are responsive, but not especially demanding; they have few expectations of their children and impose little discipline. Disengaged parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They may be neglectful or unaware of the child's needs for affection and discipline.
What makes a parent more likely to use one style as opposed to another? Ultimately, the parenting style a parent employs is shaped by many factors: the parent's developmental history, education, and personality , the child's behavior, and the immediate and broader context of the parent's life. Thus, the parent's behavior vis-à-vis the child is influenced by such things as work, marriage, family finances, and other factors likely to affect the parent's behavior and psychological well-being. In addition, systematic comparisons of parenting practices among families living in different circumstances teach us that parents in different cultures, from different social classes, and from different ethnic groups rear their children differently.
Nevertheless, research has shown that aspects of children's behavior and psychological development are linked to the style of parenting with which they have been raised. Generally speaking, preschoolers with authoritative parents tend to be curious about new situations, focused and skilled at play , self-reliant, self-controlled, and cheerful. Children who are routinely treated in an authoritarian way tend to be moody, unhappy, fearful, withdrawn, unspontaneous, and irritable. Children of permissive parents tend to be low in both social responsibility and independence, but they are usually more cheerful than the conflicted and irritable children of authoritarian parents. Finally, children whose parents are disengaged tend to have a higher proportion of psychological difficulties than other youngsters.
During the elementary school years, the child becomes increasingly interested in peers, but this should not be taken as a sign of disinterest in the parent-child relationship. Rather, with the natural broadening of psychosocial and cognitive abilities, the child's social world expands to include more people and settings beyond the home environment . The parent-child relationship continues to remain the most important influence on the child's development. Generally speaking, children whose parents are both responsive and demanding continue to thrive psychologically and socially during the middle childhood years.
The parenting styles that first become apparent during the preschool years continue to influence development across middle childhood. Over the course of childhood, parents' styles tend to remain the same, and their effects on the child quite similar. Children of authoritative parents tend to be socially competent, responsible, successful in school, and high in self-esteem . The authoritarian style, with its perfectionism , rigidity, and harsh discipline, continues to affect children adversely, with these youngsters generally rated lower than their peers in appropriate social assertiveness, cognitive ability, competence, and self-esteem, but higher in aggression . Children of permissive parents also tend to be more aggressive than their peers, but also more impulsive, less self-reliant, and less responsible. Children raised in disengaged homes continue to have the most difficulty, and show more behavior problems.
The natural tendency is to think of the parent-child relationship as a one-way street, with the parent influencing the child. But in actuality the relationship is reciprocal and bi-directional. During the school years especially, the parent-child relationship is influenced not only by the child's parents but by the child. In most families, patterns of interaction between parent and child are well established by the elementary school years. Overly harsh parenting, for example, often leads to aggressive behavior in children, leading children to join antisocial peer groups, further heightening their aggressiveness. This, in turn, may provoke harsher parenting, leading to further aggressiveness in the child, and so on. Authoritative parenting, in contrast, helps children develop self-reliance and social competence , which, of course, makes it easier for parents to rear their child in an authoritative, reasoned fashion. Continued authoritativeness on the part of the parent contributes to increased competence in the child, and so on. Rather than trying to solve the "which came first" puzzle—the parenting or the child's characteristics—it is more useful to think of parenting as a process and the parent-child relationship as one part of an intricate social system.
Much research has examined how the child's development is affected by such factors as divorce , remarriage, and parental (especially, maternal) employment. As a rule, these studies show that the quality of the parent-child relationship is a more important influence on the child's psychological development than changes in the structure or composition of the household. Generally speaking, parenting that is responsive and demanding is associated with healthier child development regardless of the parent's marital status or employment situation. If changes in the parent's marital status or work life disrupt the parent-child relationship, however, short-term effects on the child's behavior are likely to be seen. One goal of professionals who work with families under stress is to help them re-establish healthy patterns of parent-child interaction.
Early adolescence marks an important turning point in the parent-child relationship. As the child enters adolescence, the biological, cognitive, and emotional changes of the period spark transformations in the parent-child relationship. In many families, the transition into adolescence coincides with the parent's transition into mid-life, and this, too, may introduce additional challenges into the family system that spill over into the parent-child relationship.
Early adolescence is a time during which the child's urges for independence may challenge parents' authority, as the young adolescent strives to establish a sense of emotional autonomy, or individuation. And much like toddlerhood, many parents find early adolescence to be a difficult period requiring a fair amount of adaptation . But, as is also the case with toddlerhood, research shows that most families are able to cope with these adaptational demands successfully. Adolescents fare best, and their family relationships are happiest, in households in which parents are both supportive and are accepting of the child's needs for more psychological independence.
Although the significance of peer relationships grows during adolescence, the parent-child relationship maintains its importance for the psychological development of the child. As in previous eras, authoritative parenting—parenting that combines warmth and firmness— seems to have the most positive impact on the youngster's development. Research shows that over time, adolescents who have been reared authoritatively continue to show more success in school, better psychological development, and fewer behavior problems than their counterparts from other types of homes. Youngsters whose parents are disengaged continue to show the most difficulty.
It is widely assumed that conflict between parents and children is an inherent feature of family life in adolescence, but systematic research on the so-called "generation gap" indicates that the phenomenon has been exaggerated in the popular media. Early adolescence may be a time of heightened bickering and somewhat diminished closeness in the parent-child relationship, but most disagreements between parents and young teenagers are over fairly mundane matters, and most teenagers and parents agree on the essentials. Nevertheless, the increased frequency with which these squabbles occur may take its toll on parents'mental health , especially on the mothers'. This period appears to be temporary, however, and most parents and adolescents are able to establish a comfortable working relationship by the beginning of high school. Indeed, by late adolescence most children report feeling as close to their parents as they did during elementary school.
Many adults maintain an active relationship with their parents. As adults, they can now relate to each other as equals, although the feeling of one being the parent and the other a "child" (even though the child is now an adult) endures in some relationships. Increasingly, adult children are sandwiched between the demands of caring for their own children and their aging parents, who may need more assistance as they get older and physically weaker. In some families, the adult children take care of their parents, much in the same way that their parents took care of them when they were younger. This situation has brought both stress and joy as parents and adult children struggle to redefine their relationship.
Laurence Steinberg Ph.D.
Bornstein, M., ed. Handbook of Parenting. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1995.
"Parent-Child Relationships." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationships-0
"Parent-Child Relationships." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationships-0
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
The parent-child relationship consists of a combination of behaviors, feelings, and expectations that are unique to a particular parent and a particular child. The relationship involves the full extent of a child's development.
Of the many different relationships people form over the course of the life span, the relationship between parent and child is among the most important. The quality of the parent-child relationship is affected by the parent's age, experience, and self-confidence; the stability of the parents' marriage; and the unique characteristics of the child compared with those of the parent.
Characteristics of the parent
Parental self-confidence is an important indicator of parental competence. Mothers who believe that they are effective parents are more competent than mothers who feel incompetent. Also, mothers who see themselves as effective also tend to believe their infants as less difficult to handle. Parental age and previous experience are also important. Older mothers tend to be more responsive to their infants than younger mothers. In addition, parents who have had previous experience with children, whether through younger siblings, career paths, or previous children, are often times better able to cope with parenthood.
Characteristics of the child
Characteristics that may affect the parent-child relationship in a family include the child's physical appearance, sex, and temperament . At birth, the infant's physical appearance may not meet the parent's expectations, or the infant may resemble a disliked relative. As a result, the parent may subconsciously reject the child. If the parents wanted a baby of a particular sex, they may be disappointed if the baby is the opposite sex. If parents do not have the opportunity to talk about this disappointment, they may reject the infant.
Children who are loved thrive better than those who are not. Either parent or a nonparent caregiver may serve as the primary caregiver or form the primary parent-child love relationship. Loss of love from a primary caregiver can occur with the death of a parent or interruption of parental contact through prolonged hospitalizations. Divorce can interfere with the child's need to eat, improve, and advance. Cultural norms within the family also affect a child's likelihood to achieve particular developmental milestones.
In some countries, childrearing is considered protective nurturing. Children are not rushed into new experiences like toilet training or being in school. In other countries, children are commonly treated in a harsh, strict manner, using shame or corporal punishment for discipline . In Central American nations, toilet training may begin as early as when the child can sit upright.
Childhood in the United States stretches across many years. In other countries, children are expected to enter the adult world of work when they are still quite young: girls assume domestic responsibilities, and boys do outside farm work. In addition, in Asian cultures, parents understand an infant's personality in part in terms of the child's year and time of birth.
Impact of birth order
The position of a child in the family, whether a firstborn, a middle child, the youngest, an only child, or one within a large family, has some bearing on the child's growth and development. An only child or the oldest child in a family excels in language development because conversations are mainly with adults. Children learn by watching other children; however, a firstborn or an only child, who has no example to watch, may not excel in other skills, such as toilet training, at an early age.
As babies are cared for by their parents, both parties develop understandings of the other. Gradually, babies begin to expect that their parent will care for them when they cry. Gradually, parents respond to and even anticipate their baby's needs. This exchange and familiarity create the basis for a developing relationship.
parent-infant attachment One of the most important aspects of infant psychosocial development is the infant's attachment to parents. Attachment is a sense of belonging to or connection with a particular other. This significant bond between infant and parent is critical to the infant's survival and development. Started immediately after birth, attachment is strengthened by mutually satisfying interaction between the parents and the infant throughout the first months of life, called bonding. By the end of the first year, most infants have formed an attachment relationship, usually with the primary caretaker.
If parents can adapt to their babies, meet their needs, and provide nurturance, the attachment is secure. Psychosocial development can continue based on a strong foundation of attachment. On the other hand, if a parent's personality and ability to cope with the infant's needs for care are minimal, the relationship is at risk and so is the infant's development.
By six to seven months, strong feelings of attachment enable the infant to distinguish between caregivers and strangers. The infant displays an obvious preference for parents over other caregivers and other unfamiliar people. Anxiety , demonstrated by crying, clinging, and turning away from the stranger, is revealed when separation occurs. This behavior peaks between seven and nine months and again during toddlerhood, when separation may be difficult. Although possibly stressful for the parents, stranger anxiety is a normal sign of healthy child attachment and occurs because of cognitive development . Most children develop a secure attachment when reunited with their caregiver after a temporary absence. In contrast, some children with an insecure attachment want to be held, but they are not comfortable; they kick or push away. Others seem indifferent to the parent's return and ignore them when they return.
The quality of the infant's attachment predicts later development. Youngsters who emerge from infancy with a secure attachment stand a better chance of developing happy and healthy relationships with others. The attachment relationship not only forms the emotional basis for the continued development of the parent-child relationship, but can serve as a foundation for future social connections. Secure infants have parents who sensitively read their infant's cues and respond properly to their needs.
When children move from infancy into toddlerhood, the parent-child relationship begins to change. During infancy, the primary role of the parent-child relationship is nurturing and predictability, and much of the relationship revolves around the day-to-day demands of caregiving: feeding, toileting, bathing, and going to bed.
As youngsters begin to talk and become more mobile during the second and third years of life, however, parents usually try to shape their child's social behavior. In essence, parents become teachers as well as nurturers, providers of guidance as well as affection. Socialization (preparing the youngster to live as a member of a social group) implicit during most of the first two years of life, becomes clear as the child moves toward his or her third birthday.
Socialization is an important part of the parent-child relationship. It includes various child-rearing practices, for example weaning, toilet training, and discipline.
Dimensions of the parent-child relationship are linked to the child's psychological development, specifically how responsive the parents are, and how demanding they are. Responsive parents are warm and accepting toward their children, enjoying them and trying to see things from their perspective. In contrast, nonresponsive parents are aloof, rejecting, or critical. They show little pleasure in their children and are often insensitive to their emotional needs. Some parents are demanding, while others are too tolerant. Children's healthy psychological development is facilitated when the parents are both responsive and moderately demanding.
During toddlerhood, children often begin to assert their need for autonomy by challenging their parents. Sometimes, the child's newfound assertiveness during the so-called terrible twos can put a strain on the parent-child relationship. It is important that parents recognize that this behavior is normal for the toddler, and the healthy development of independence is promoted by a parent-child relationship that provides support for the child's developing sense of autonomy. In many regards, the security of the first attachment between infant and parent provides the child with the emotional base to begin exploring the world outside the parent-child relationship.
Various parenting styles evolve during the preschool years. Preschoolers with authoritative parents are curious about new experiences, focused and skilled at play , self-reliant, self-controlled, and cheerful.
During the elementary school years, the child becomes increasingly interested in peers, but this is not be a sign of disinterest in the parent-child relationship. Rather, with the natural broadening of psychosocial and cognitive abilities, the child's social world expands to include more people and settings beyond the home environment. The parent-child relationship remains the most important influence on the child's development. Children whose parents are both responsive and demanding continue to thrive psychologically and socially during the middle childhood years.
During the school years, the parent-child relationship continues to be influenced by the child and the parents. In most families, patterns of interaction between parent and child are well established in the elementary school years.
As the child enters adolescence , biological, cognitive, and emotional changes transform the parent-child relationship. The child's urges for independence may challenge parents' authority. Many parents find early adolescence a difficult period. Adolescents fare best and their parents are happiest when parents can be both encouraging and accepting of the child's needs for more psychological independence.
Although the value of peer relations grows during adolescence, the parent-child relationship remains crucial for the child's psychological development. Authoritative parenting that combines warmth and firmness has the most positive impact on the youngster's development. Adolescents who have been reared authoritatively continue to show more success in school, better psychological development, and fewer behavior problems.
Adolescence may be a time of heightened bickering and diminished closeness in the parent-child relationship, but most disagreements between parents and young teenagers are over less important matters, and most teenagers and parents agree on the essentials. By late adolescence most children report feeling as close to their parents as they did during elementary school.
Parenting has four main styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive (indulgent), and detached. Although no parent is consistent in all situations, parents do follow some general tendencies in their approach to childrearing, and it is possible to describe a parent-child relationship by the prevailing style of parenting. These descriptions provide guidelines for both professionals and parents interested in understanding how variations in the parent-child relationship affect the child's development.
Parenting style is shaped by the parent's developmental history, education, and personality; the child's behavior; and the immediate and broader context of the parent's life. Also, the parent's behavior is influenced by the parent's work, the parents' marriage, family finances, and other conditions likely to affect the parent's behavior and psychological well-being. In addition, parents in different cultures, from different social classes, and from different ethnic groups rear their children differently. In any event, children's behavior and psychological development are linked to the parenting style with which they are raised.
Authoritarian parents are rigid in their rules; they expect absolute obedience from the child without any questioning. They also expect the child to accept the family beliefs and principles without questions. Authoritarian parents are strict disciplinarians, often relying on physical punishment and the withdrawal of affection to shape their child's behavior.
Children raised with this parenting style are often moody, unhappy, fearful, and irritable. They tend to be shy, withdrawn, and lack self-confidence. If affection is withheld, the child commonly is rebellious and antisocial.
Authoritative parents show respect for the opinions of each of their children by allowing them to be different. Although there are rules in the household, the parents allow discussion if the children do not understand or agree with the rules. These parents make it clear to the children that although they (the parents) have final authority, some negotiation and compromise may take place. Authoritative parents are both responsive and demanding; they are firm, but they discipline with love and affection, rather than power, and they are likely to explain rules and expectations to their children instead of simply asserting them. This style of parenting often results in children who have high self-esteem and are independent, inquisitive, happy, assertive, and interactive.
Permissive (indulgent) parents have little or no control over the behavior of their children. If any rules exist in the home, they are followed inconsistently. Underlying reasons for rules are given, but the children decide whether they will follow the rule and to what extent. They learn that they can get away with any behavior. Indulgent parents are responsive but not especially demanding. They have few expectations of their children and impose little or inconsistent discipline. There are empty threats of punishment without setting limits. Role reversal occurs; the children act more like the parents, and the parents behave like the children.
Children of permissive parents may be disrespectful, disobedient, aggressive, irresponsible, and defiant. They are insecure because they lack guidelines to direct their behavior. However, these children are frequently creative and spontaneous. Although low in both social responsibility and independence, they are usually more cheerful than the conflicted and irritable children of authoritarian parents.
Finally, disengaged (detached) parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They may be careless or unaware of the child's needs for affection and discipline. Children whose parents are detached have higher numbers of psychological difficulties and behavior problems than other youngsters.
Child's development is affected by family conditions such as divorce, remarriage, and parental employment. The parent-child relationship has a more important influence on the child's psychological development than changes in the composition of the household. Parenting that is responsive and demanding is related to healthier child development regardless of the parent's marital or employment status. If changes in the parent's marital status or work life disrupt the parent-child relationship, short-term effects on the child's behavior may be noticeable. One goal of professionals who work with families under stress is to help them reestablish healthy patterns of parent-child interaction.
Discipline is also a concern of parents. Children's behavior offers challenges to even the most experienced and effective parents. The manner in which parents respond to a child's behavior has an effect on the child's self-esteem and future interactions with others. Children learn to view themselves in the same way the parent views them. Thus, if the parent views the child as wild, the child begins to view himself that way and soon his actions consistently reinforce his self image. This way, the child does not disappoint the parent. This pattern is a self-fulfilling prophecy. While discipline in necessary to teach a child how to live comfortably in society, it should not be confused with punishment.
Adolescence —A period of life in which the biological and psychosocial transition from childhood to adulthood occurs.
Coping —In psychology, a term that refers to a person's patterns of response to stress.
Culture —A test in which a sample of body fluid is placed on materials specially formulated to grow microorganisms. A culture is used to learn what type of bacterium is causing infection.
Discipline —In health care, a specific area of preparation or training, i.e., social work, nursing, or nutrition.
Family —Two or more emotionally involved people living in close proximity and having reciprocal obligations with a sense of commonness, caring, and commitment.
Kohn, Alfie. Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Reason and Love. Riveside, NJ: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
Post, B. Bryan, et al. For All Things a Season: An Essential Guide to a Peaceful Parent/Child Relationship. Mountain View, OK: M. Brynn Publishing, 2003.
"Parenting." MedlinePlus. Available online at <www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/parenting.htm>(accessed December 18, 2004).
Aliene S. Linwood, RN, DPA, FACHE
"Parent-Child Relationships." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationships
"Parent-Child Relationships." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-child-relationships
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Of all the interpersonal relationships humans develop across their life spans, none is more enduring or important than the parent-child relationship. The nature of the parent-child relationship is a primary factor underlying one’s personality, social, and cognitive development. Although there is little debate among family researchers regarding the importance of the parent-child relationship to later adult life, the attributes of a good parent-child relationship are still debated.
Throughout most of human history, parents have been concerned primarily with their children internalizing parental values and cultural norms. Thus, parenting was heavily focused on teaching children to be obedient to parental authority and the social and religious order through strict discipline and harsh punishments for disobedience. Most parent-child relationship research has focused on explaining the ways in which parents achieve these goals.
Behaviorists in the early part of the twentieth century argued that children learn how to behave in a culturally normative way through a series of punishments for unwanted behaviors and rewards for desired behaviors. These reinforcers were posited to lead to the development of behavioral habits in children. The major behaviorists of the time instructed parents not to show too much affection to children because they would develop habits of dependence and weakness. Behaviorists admonished parents who did not maintain firm control and a strict regiment of rules and structure.
Many schools of thought emerged that directly challenged these ideas of emotional distance and harsh punishment. For example, psychodynamic theory was based on the idea that children are born with innate drives and impulses for pleasure and self-fulfillment that may conflict with parental goals. Psychoanalysts suggested that parents learn to channel the energy from children’s unmet desires instead of repressing them. This led to the idea that parents should be less rigid, more accepting of children’s behavior, and emotionally available to children.
Based primarily on psychodynamic thought, Benjamin Spock (1903–1998) wrote the most influential parenting book in history, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1945). In it, Spock advocated unconditional love, allowing children freedom to explore their surroundings, and limited use of parental authority. Spock, as well as other psychodynamic theorists, stressed increasing disciplinary reasoning and reducing parental power assertions such as spanking.
The research by Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) in the 1930s on group atmospheres was also influential to later ideas of effective parenting. In one of the most important studies, Lewin and colleagues examined the effects of autocratic, laissez-faire, and democratic leadership styles on preadolescent boys’ motivation and behavior. Autocratic leaders were trained to have a rigid structure in which they made all the decisions with little input from group members. Laissez-faire leaders were trained to not provide any structure or direction: The boys had complete freedom to work on their group projects as they saw fit. The democratic leaders were taught to provide structure, make suggestions, and list the goals, but seek input from the boys for most decisions. The results showed that the boys in the democratic group were more motivated and more cooperative, they produced a better final project, and they were more likely to work in a constructive manner when the leader left the room. The boys in the autocratic group produced an adequate final project, but when the leader left the room, chaos ensued. Those in the laissez-faire group produced the worst group project and displayed little interaction or cooperation.
Alfred Baldwin later applied these ideas to parents in the 1940s. In a longitudinal study, Baldwin found that parents he described as emotionally warm and who allowed their children a great deal of freedom had children with the best intellectual development. He argued that emotionally detached, authoritarian parenting was detrimental to children. Separate research into the authoritarian personality around this same time echoed these same concerns.
Probably the most ardent opponents of the behaviorist approach to child rearing were the attachment theorists. Based on ethology, cybernetics, and psychodynamic principles, the groundbreaking theory developed by John Bowlby (1907–1990) and Mary Ainsworth (1913–1999) in the 1950s and 1960s made it explicitly clear that the best parent-child relationship is one in which there is mutual trust, respect, and an emotional bond. Furthermore, the attachment theorists argued that a mother’s degree of responsiveness to her infant’s needs and demands dictated the nature of the relationship. Highly responsive mothers tended to have infants who formed secure attachments with them. Less responsive mothers tended to have infants with ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachments. A large body of research has shown that those with secure attachments to their primary caregivers tend to have better relationships with others, perform better in school, and are on the whole better adjusted than those with nonsecure attachments.
These different strands of research and theory on authoritarian parenting, psychodynamic theory, attachment theory, and other influential work in humanistic psychology all came to the same basic conclusion—the best parents are emotionally responsive to their children’s needs and desires. This new trend in parenting led to the common belief that parents should be less concerned with discipline and child obedience and instead focus on the emotional climate of the relationship, accepting children for who they are, and not stifling their individuality. Although Spock and other psychodynamic theorists warned against spoiling children by avoiding disciplinary encounters and even picking up crying infants too much, and Lewin clearly warned against laissez-faire leaders, many in the general public took this to mean that punishment should give way to unconditional acceptance of child behavior.
This new focus on parental responsiveness and child freedom was in stark contrast to the behaviorist and religious fundamentalist focus on structure, order, and firm discipline. At the heart of this controversy were differing socialization goals. The authoritarian’s goals were to have children comply with rules of existing social structures, as well as develop an emotional resiliency that would allow them to handle the challenges of life. Those who focused on parental responsiveness were more concerned with developing children’s self-esteem and agency, as well as their cognitive development. Thus, they were fearful of stifling children’s potential, whereas authoritarians were fearful of creating emotionally fragile and disobedient children. The political controversies surrounding these opposing views remain as virulent today as ever. However, the influential research on parenting styles by Diana Baumrind and similar models have helped to rectify much of the controversy in mainstream research.
Probably the most influential research-based parenting theory to date, Baumrind’s authoritative model revolutionized the study of parenting when it was first proposed in the 1960s. Based on several studies, principles from behaviorism, psychodynamic theory, attachment theory, Lewin’s leadership styles, and critical theoretical contributions from Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin (1983), Baumrind argued that there were four dispositional parenting styles, distinguished by their levels of parental demandingness and parental responsiveness.
According to Baumrind, parental demandingness refers to the degree to which parents facilitate structure in their children’s lives, have control of the parent-child relationship, monitor children’s behavior and whereabouts, use firm and consistent discipline, set high maturity demands for their children, and are willing to confront noncompliance by children. Based on concepts from attachment theory and psychodynamic theory, Baumrind defined parental responsiveness as the degree to which parents are warm, emotionally connected, and supportive of their children, as well as the amount of freedom and decision-making they allow children, their use of disciplinary reasoning, and their tendency to acquiesce to their children’s needs and demands. Baumrind examined both major parenting dimensions simultaneously in defining the authoritarian, permissive, authoritative, and neglectful parenting styles.
Authoritarian parents are defined as being high on demandingness but low on responsiveness. Thus, authoritarian parents attempt to maintain firm parental control by confronting disobedience and restricting the amount of decision-making and general freedom a child has. Authoritarian parents do not usually reason with children or explain the rules, believing that a child should accept the rules without necessarily understanding them. Many have equated this style with certain behaviorist and religious fundamentalist views of parenting.
Permissive parents represent the antithesis of the authoritarian parents. They are low on demandingness and high on responsiveness. They attempt to be emotionally connected and have a warm relationship with their children, and they tend to be accepting of children’s impulses and behaviors. Permissive parents also assert very little direct power to get their children to comply with their authority. Instead of direct confrontation, permissive parents often use various forms of psychological control as a means of getting their children to comply. Many have equated the permissive style with Spock’s model of optimal parenting.
Authoritative parents essentially combine the best attributes of the authoritarian and permissive parenting ideas. They are high on both demandingness and responsiveness. They value independence in their children, but maintain firm control. Authoritative parents attempt to achieve the goals of behavioral compliance as well as psychological autonomy and agency by judiciously allowing freedom and decision-making in their children, and by giving them age-appropriate maturity demands and structure.
Neglectful parents are low on both demandingness and responsiveness, and they have chaotic and dysfunctional relationships with their children. Whereas the other parenting styles develop primarily from parents’ child-rearing goals and philosophy about what is best for children, the neglectful parents’ behavior is more a consequence of social circumstances than of philosophy. Neglectful parents tend to have the most children, the least income and education, and more mental health problems than other parents. Consequently, most of their parenting can be explained by dire social circumstances that prevent them from fulfilling their parenting duties.
As Baumrind predicted, European American youth with authoritative parents are more competent, well-adjusted, and high achieving, and less likely to use illicit drugs or engage in risky behaviors compared to those with nonauthoritative parents. In authoritarian homes, boys tend to be aggressive, and girls tend to be low in independence and dominance. Those with permissive parents tend to have problems with self-confidence, impulse control, and achievement. Not surprisingly, those with neglectful parents are at risk for virtually every negative outcome researchers have measured.
The research on parenting styles has shed much light on the most effective parenting strategies for European American youth, but the research on other groups is less clear. For instance, European Americans are more likely to have authoritative parents than Asian Americans, and Asian Americans are more likely than European Americans to have authoritarian parents, even though Asian Americans have higher overall academic achievement. Furthermore, some studies in the 1980s and early 1990s found no relation between parenting style and African American youth’s academic achievement. Others found that authoritarian parenting was not as detrimental to Asian American and African American youth as it was for European American youth.
Based on these findings, many suggested that the effects of parenting styles could only be understood in a specific cultural context. Often referred to as the “cultural specific model,” its proponents argue that African American youth may do better with authoritarian parenting because firm parental control is adaptive in the more dangerous inner cities. Similarly, Ruth Chao (1994) proposed the idea that Baumrind’s authoritative model was not a good description of the optimal parenting strategies for Asian American youth because it did not take into consideration the important cultural traits of filial piety, communalism, or other beliefs about expressions of emotion. The basic premise of the cultural specific approach to parenting styles is that the cultural context gives parenting behaviors meaning, so it is not the specific behaviors that matter, but the meaning that youth ascribe to the behaviors.
Counter to this perspective, the cultural equivalence model suggests that the effects of parenting styles are consistent across cultural groups. According to this model, all children, regardless of their ethnic background, gender, or other demographic factors, have the need for warmth, support, connection to others, structure, and autonomy. Consequently, the authoritative parenting practices such as reasonable behavioral control, provisions of emotional support and warmth, and psychological autonomy are important for all children. More recent studies in Asian countries and with African Americans lend support to this idea, finding that those Asian and African American youth with authoritative parents perform better in school and in other areas compared to those with other types of parents.
In conclusion, the study of parent-child relationships has changed dramatically since the beginning of the twentieth century, but many of the same controversies remain. Ultimately, the parenting goals of the authoritarian and the permissive groups are both desirable. Modern parents must find a balance between getting children to conform to parental authority and control their impulses and encouraging them to develop a sense of independence, agency, and critical thinking abilities. However, the empirical evidence is strikingly clear: Both the traditional authoritarian and more modern permissive methods for achieving those goals are limited. A combination of demandingness and responsiveness is best for achieving most pro-social parental goals. Although differences among cultural groups might lead to some variation in effective strategies for rearing children, given children’s universal needs for both affection and direction, authoritative parenting is most likely an optimal strategy for rearing all children.
SEE ALSO Ainsworth, Mary; Attachment Theory; Authority; Baumrind, Diana; Behaviorism; Bowlby, John; Child Development; Children; Developmental Psychology; Leadership; Lewin, Kurt; Norms; Parenthood, Transition to; Parenting Styles; Peer Influence; Spock, Benjamin
Baldwin, Alfred L. 1955. Behavior and Development in Childhood. New York: Dryden.
Baumrind, Diana. 1971. Current Patterns of Parental Authority. Developmental Psychology 4: 1–103.
Baumrind, Diana. 1996. The Discipline Controversy Revisited. Family Relations: Journal of Applied Family and Child Studies 45: 405–414.
Bretherton, Inge. 1992. The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology 28: 759–775.
Chao, Ruth K. 1994. Beyond Parental Control and Authoritarian Parenting Style: Understanding Chinese Parenting through the Cultural Notion of Training. Child Development 65: 1111–1119.
Dobson, James. 1992. The New Dare to Discipline. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
Grusec, Joan E., and Paul D. Hastings, eds. 2007. Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research. New York: Guilford.
Lamborn, Susie D., and Amanda J. Felbab. 2003. Applying Ethnic Equivalence and Cultural Values Models to African-American Teens’ Perceptions of Parents. Journal of Adolescence 26: 605–622.
Lewin, Kurt, Ronald Lippitt, and Ralph K. White. 1939. Patterns of Aggressive Behavior in Experimentally Created “Social Climates.” Journal of Social Psychology 10: 271–299.
Maccoby, Eleanor E., and John Martin. 1983. Socialization in the Context of the Family: Parent Child Interaction. In Socialization, Personality, and Social Development. Vol. 4 of Handbook of Child Psychology, ed. Paul H. Mussen and E. Mavis Hetherington, 1–101. New York: Wiley.
Spock, Benjamin. 1946. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce.
Steinberg, Laurence, Sanford M. Dornbusch, and B. Bradford Brown. 1992. Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Achievement: An Ecological Perspective. American Psychologist 47: 723–729.
"Parent-Child Relationships." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/parent-child-relationships
"Parent-Child Relationships." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/parent-child-relationships
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
parent and child
parent and child, legal relationship, created by biological (birth) relationship or by adoption, that confers certain rights and duties on parent and child; in some states the courts have given the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner of a parent standing as a parent in a legal context. Parents are ordinarily obliged to support the child (to provide "necessaries" ), and they have the right to his or her custody and control. The father's right was long superior, but courts today, in custody disputes, favor either the father or the mother, whichever is deemed better suited to rear the child. In case of divorce, custody may be granted to either parent or divided between them. Although courts are reluctant to intervene in family matters, custody may be awarded to other persons or to an institution when neither parent is held fit to perform the duties of parenthood (see guardian and ward). The mother of an illegitimate child has the right to its custody; the father usually must contribute to support; legitimation occurs when the parents of an illegitimate child marry. Whoever has the lawful custody of a child has the right to control and punish him or her, so long as the means used are not excessive. In some cases when the income of a child is substantial, current earnings can be held in trust until the child reaches adulthood. Emancipation is the dissolution of the parent-child relationship. It may occur if the parents abandon the child, or at the parents' option (but usually not before the child is 18 years old), or when the child marries or attains majority. For the sociological and psychological aspects of the relationship, see family.
"parent and child." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-and-child
"parent and child." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parent-and-child