Applied Psychology OPUS

Parental Monitoring and Disapproval of Peers: The Role of Parents in the Development of Adolescent Externalizing Behavior

Hope White

During adolescence, youth foster a sense of self through the development of autonomy. Autonomy is often established as youth spend more time with peers and less time with parents throughout adolescence (Cook, Buehler, & Henson, 2009). In addition to the development of autonomy, adolescence is a period in which antisocial and externalizing behaviors, such as substance use and delinquency, increase in prevalence and are considered, to an extent, normative (Cook et al., 2009; Pardini, Loeber, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 2005). Parents and peers are important social influences in the decision making of adolescents, especially decisions regarding antisocial behavior (Cook et al., 2009). However, even as the influence of peers increases throughout middle adolescence, adolescents continue to report parents as a significant influence in their avoidance of antisocial behaviors (Cook et al., 2009). The influence of the family context, with a focus on parenting in particular, has been the subject of a multitude of studies examining its role as both a risk and a protective factor in the development of antisocial behavior (Rothbaum & Weisz, 1994).
Parenting constructs implicated in the development of youth antisocial behavior include parental warmth and control, monitoring of child behavior, and the communication of disapproval of peers (Pettit et al., 2001; Stattin & Kerr, 2000; Tilton-Weaver & Galambos, 2003; Zhou et al., 2002). The influence of parenting style on the development of youth antisocial behavior has been extensively studied, therefore this review will not examine the parenting style literature (Rothbaum & Weisz, 1994).

Studies on the effects of parental monitoring include the distinct constructs of parental knowledge and child disclosure. The level of parental knowledge achieved through parental monitoring is dependent on the accuracy of information revealed to parents by the child (child disclosure; Stattin & Kerr, 2000). This review seeks to examine how parental monitoring and parental communication of disapproval relate to the development of antisocial behavior in adolescents and how this relation is moderated by child disclosure and parental knowledge.

Parental Monitoring

Effective parental monitoring of peer groups and behaviors is one of the strongest protective factors against the development of antisocial behavior and is associated with decreased levels of antisocial behavior (Dillon, Pantin, Robbins, & Szapocznik, 2008; Loeber & Southhamer-Loeber, 1986; McAdams et al., 2014). Traditionally, parental monitoring was believed to consist of active information-seeking and tracking of a child’s location and activities (Dishion & McMahon, 1998; Patterson & Southhamer-Loeber, 1984). However, scholars have expanded upon this definition to include not only parental tracking of behavior, but actual knowledge of children’s activities stemming from the child’s willingness to share information without being prompted.

While parents can attain knowledge of their child’s activities through monitoring behavior such as information-seeking (asking questions and demanding information about behaviors) and surveillance (tracking locations through peers’ parents), knowledge obtained through child disclosure, or the child’s self-initiated sharing of information with parents, differs in that it is a reflection of the parent child-relationship quality and the level of trust the child has in the parents (Fletcher, Steinberg, & Williams-Wheeler, 2004; Smetana, 2008; Soenens et al., 2006; Stattin & Kerr, 2000). Studies have revealed that adolescents who disclose more information to their parents have less norm-breaking behavior (Coohey, Renner, & Sabri, 2013; Kim, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1999; Stattin & Kerr, 2000). Unfortunately, disclosure can be inhibited by adolescents’ fear of parental disapproval, which adolescents consistently cite as the main reason for lack of disclosure of risky behavior to parents (Smetana, 2008; Yau, Tasopoulos-Chan, & Smetana, 2009; Nucci, Smetana, Araki, Nakaue, & Comer, 2013). Therefore, a positive, reciprocal relationship between parents and their adolescents that includes not only warmth and responsiveness, but also behavioral control is needed to promote child disclosure that will lead to reductions in antisocial behavior (Laird, Pettit, Bates, & Dodge, 2003; Smetana, 2008).

Parental Knowledge

Though all forms of parental monitoring contribute to increased parental knowledge, child disclosure is one of the more effective means of attaining knowledge, a key factor associated with adolescent behavior and the development of externalizing behavior (Abar, Jackson, & Wood, 2014; Marceau et al., 2014; Soenens et al., 2006). This association is well established, despite the fact that parental knowledge typically decreases over time in adolescence (Abar et al., 2014; Marceau et al., 2014; Soenens et al., 2006). Several studies report that higher levels of parental knowledge are correlated with lower levels of antisocial behaviors (Abar et al., 2014; Soenens et al., 2006). However, the mechanisms of the association between parental knowledge and antisocial behavior are less established. Some research suggests that parents exhibit a direct environmental effect on antisocial behavior. That is, parental knowledge of adolescents’ behavior affects their parenting style in that knowledge of certain behaviors will lead some parents to become more restrictive or permissive, allowing greater opportunity to engage in antisocial behavior (Dishion & McMahon, 1998; Marceau et al., 2014). Contrastingly, others suggest that the association is child-driven in that children who are less involved in antisocial behavior disclose more information to their parents, thereby increasing parental knowledge (Stattin & Kerr, 2000). Current research also suggests a possible bidirectional relationship between parents and children, rather than a model in which child-driven or parent-driven effects operate independently. In a bidirectional relationship, children affect parents’ knowledge through self-disclosure and this knowledge of the adolescent’s behaviors then impacts parenting style, level of monitoring, and behavioral control (Laird et al., 2003; Pardini, Fite, & Burke, 2008; Hamza & Willoughby, 2011).

Parental Disapproval of Delinquent Peers

Communicating disapproval of adolescents’ peers is another method parents can employ to manage adolescent antisocial and risk taking behaviors (Titlon-Weaver, Burk, Kerr, & Stattin, 2013). This disapproval of peers is intended to interfere with adolescents’ delinquent peer association, which can include the prohibition of contact with delinquent peers (Titlon-Weaver et al., 2013).
Given the strong influence of delinquent peers on adolescent development of externalizing behavior, researchers have begun to examine the effects of parental expressions of disapproval of peers on adolescent peer associations and behavior (Haynie, 2002; Tilton-Weaver & Galambos, 2003; Tilton-Weaver et al., 2013; Whitney, Renner, & Herrenkohl, 2010). Studies of parental disapproval of peers report mixed findings regarding the influence of disapproval on the adolescent’s association with delinquent peers (Mounts, 2001, 2002; Keijsers et al., 2012; Tilton-Weaver et al., 2013). Overall, parental disapproval and prohibition of contact with deviant peers typically increases the likelihood of adolescents associating with delinquent peers and is associated with an increase in adolescent delinquency, though the relationship may vary based on the age and level of delinquent behavior in which the adolescent typically engages (Keijers et al., 2012; Mounts, 2001; Tilton-Weaver et al., 2013). While there is a significant body of research on parental monitoring, few studies focus on parental disapproval as a specific construct of parenting implicated in adolescent delinquency (Mounts, 2001).

Limitations of Existing Studies

The existing studies on parental monitoring and disapproval of peers have several limitations. Many recent studies of parental knowledge measure adolescents’ perceptions of parental knowledge and monitoring via self-report, but do not include measures of child disclosure or parental report of monitoring or solicitation of information (Abar et al., 2014; McAdams et al., 2014; Tilton-Weaver et al., 2014). The tendency of studies to draw from community samples with low base rates of substance use and delinquent behavior further limits the generalizability of their findings to adolescents with high rates of antisocial and delinquent behavior, such as those who may be involved with the juvenile justice system (Abar et al., 2014; Marceau et al., 2014). Most samples were not diverse in terms of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (Cook et al., 2009; Kim et al., 1999; Marceau et al., 2014; Soenens et al., 2006). However, several studies have specifically examined parental monitoring of behavior and of peers in minority groups (Coohey et al., 2013; Dillon et al., 2008).

Conclusion

Parental monitoring is a protective factor in the development of adolescent externalizing behavior (Dillon et al., 2008; McAdams et al., 2014). While parental monitoring describes the active surveillance behavior of parents, accurate parental knowledge is strongly influenced by child disclosure of behavior and quality of the parent-child relationship (Smetana, 2008; Stattin & Kerr, 2000). Findings regarding parental disapproval of peers and antisocial behavior suggest communicating disapproval and restricting contact may increase association with delinquent peers and adolescent delinquency (Tilton-Weaver et al., 2013).
Future studies of parental monitoring, disapproval of peers and externalizing behavior should incorporate mother, father, and child reports of monitoring and perceived knowledge, as well as reliable measures of peer delinquency such as the peer nomination method (Boman et al., 2014; Stattin & Kerr, 2000; Soenens et al., 2006). Samples should be racially and economically diverse and large enough to have sufficient power to examine gender differences, which have been suggested as a necessary component of future research (Cook et al., 2009; Coohey et al., 2013; Dillon et al., 2008; McAdams et al., 2014; Whitney et al., 2010). Future studies should also incorporate parent and peer attachment and relationship quality as potential moderators of the relationship between parental monitoring and disapproval of peers in the development of adolescent delinquency (Abar et al., 2014; Cook, 2009; Soenens et al., 2009; Stattin & Kerr, 2000).  

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