Parental Support, Psychological Control, and Behavioral Control

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Parental Support, Psychological Control, and Behavioral Control: Assessing Relevance Across Time, Method, and Culture
Brian K. Barber, University of Tennessee, Heidi E. Stolz, California State University, San Bernardino, Joseph A. Olsen, Brigham Young University, and Suzanne L. Maughan, University of Nebraska at Kearney

The fundamental goals of the research reported in this monograph were to provide more precision and more definitiveness to understanding the role of parents in the development of their children. The greater precision was achieved by testing a conceptual framework that asserted unique or specialized associations between relevant parenting dimensions and key domains of child functioning. The hypothesized pathways of this framework were derived from the substantial empirical and theoretical literatures demonstrating links between parenting and child development. These literatures were interpreted to be compelling enough to recommend a move toward greater precision in understanding these associations, as well as to recommend the specific hypothesized pathways of the model.

The increased definitiveness was achieved by systematically testing the model parameters in a variety of ways. Thus, the validity of the findings of the study was based on evidence of patterns of findings across multiple different types of tests, analytical strategies, and samples.  Specifically, the model was tested: (1) cross-sectionally on three consecutive waves of data from the same sample of children as they progressed through the years of pubertal development and school transitions; (2) for key sample subgroups based on age, sex of child, sex of parent, and religious affiliation of the family; (3) for linear, non-linear and interactive properties of the hypothesized pathways; (4) using standard structural equation modeling that seeks to identify the unique contribution of predictive variables once controlling for shared variance among independent and dependent constructs; (4) also using dominance analysis which specifically includes both the shared and non-shared variance among predictors in determining the overall predominance of one parenting construct over the others in predicting each criterion variable; (5) longitudinally, looking at both simple change over time and residual change over time, the latter controlling for prior levels of both parenting and child variables and assessing child effects on the parenting variables, and (6) in cross-sectional data in 11 nations/ethnic groups that varied strategically by language, level of economic development, individualistic versus collectivist cultural orientations, political stability, religious affiliation, and family size.

Before proceeding to describe the model and its hypothesized pathways, it is important to ground the selection of the model’s variables. Several criteria were used in choosing the aspects of parenting and child functioning to be tested. Because a major goal of the study was to provide specificity and confidence in associations among already recognized constructs, the most important of these selection criteria – particularly for the choice of the parenting variables – was to assure that the selection was justified as a adequate representation of the voluminous work that has been conducted over the past three-quarters of a century on the parent-child relationship. At the outset this task seems daunting given the sheer quantity of studies and the inevitable conceptual incompatibility that emerges when scholars from many different disciplines study the same interpersonal dyads but use different terminology and conceive or operationalize parenting at different levels of abstraction or generality.

Fortunately, however, navigating this conceptual and empirical terrain is rendered much easier both because many past scholars have sought to identify central or general aspects of the “gross anatomy” (Becker, 1964) of parenting and because there has been substantial consensus across time and method in the molar dimensions they have found.