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Parenting and children’s developmental outcomes

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1 Parenting and children’s developmental outcomes
Anne H. Gauthier London conference 27 March 2009

2 “Yes, we must provide ladders to success for young men who fall into the lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; the government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; the fathers must take responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children” (Obama. 28 August 2008). I would like to start my lecture today with a quote from Barack Obama during his nomination for presidency at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. While we may disagree with his emphasis on fathers – as opposed to parents --- this quote clearly indicates the belief that parents matter in children’s development. Now, obviously I do not need to convince this audience about that. What I want however to do today is to bring together various pieces of information about parenting and children’s development. Part of my talk will be based on a paper that I recently completed with Lucia Tramonte and Doug Willms in Canada, but part will also draw from a new project that I am carrying out with Frank Furstenberg and Shelley Pacholok, a Canadian colleague.

3 Overview What do parents do? What impact do they have on children? What about early adolescents? What support do parents want?

4 1. What do parents do? Let me first start by explaining how parenting, or what parents actually do, has been defined and measured in the empirical literature.

5 What do parents do? Parenting practices = specific behaviours
Parental investment = time and money Parenting styles = grouping of different dimensions (e.g. demandingness and responsiveness) It is usually done in three main ways: in terms of parenting practices, that is, specific parenting behavior (such as reading to a child, playing with a child, helping with homework) in terms of parental investment, that is the amount of time and money devoted to children; or in terms of parenting styles which encompass different dimensions, for example how warm a parent is in his/her interaction with his/her child, or how strict he/she is. In this literature, the two key dimensions that have usually been used to define parenting style are demandingness and responsiveness. I will come back to these dimensions of parenting styles in a few minutes. But let me first present data on parental time investment into children.

6 Parental time investment
Time-use surveys Time spent on childcare activities The data come from time-use surveys carried in various countries since the 1960s and measure the total amount of time that parents devote to childcare activities. This is a wide category and includes things such as playing with the child, caring for the child, and helping the child. Now, when we did this analysis a few years ago, the media was quite adamant that parents were devoting less time today to their children than in the past. What we found was exactly the opposite. Today’s parents, as opposed to some 30 years ago, are devoting more time to their children, about one hour per day.

7 Source: Gauthier, Smeeding, Furstenberg (2004)

8 Source: Gauthier, Smeeding, Furstenberg (2004)

9 Source: Gauthier, Smeeding, Furstenberg (2004)
Similar trends were also observed in countries for which data were available. Now, this was an important finding as it went against what had been reported by the media. This is not to deny that parents today may feel more rushed or more time stressed (although this is something for which there is no historical data), but for sure what appears to be happening is that parents do value very much the time that they devote to their children and that they therefore make time reallocation in order to preserve the time with their children. In most cases, they appear to take time away from personal activities (such as sleep) or leisure activities. Now, it is important to recognize here is that there is a wide range among parents in what they do and in the amount of time that they devote to their children: variations that are the results of different beliefs about what parents should do, different cultures of parenting, but also variations that arise as a result of constraints on parents’ time and/or financial constraints: issues that I do not have time to explore here. Source: Gauthier, Smeeding, Furstenberg (2004)

10 UK What we also know is that parental time investment varies substantially across countries. The following slides come from European data collected around the year 2000. The figure here refers to full-time employed fathers and again gives the average allocation of time to childcare activities. What it shows is that fathers in countries such as Sweden and Norway tend to devote more time to their children than fathers in most other countries. At the other end of the spectrum, we find countries such as Lithuania, Bulgaria and Latvia. Now, I have to stress again that these cross-national differences can result from differences in societal norms, for example the norm of involved fathers, and/or from time constraints. In particular, our analysis showed that fathers in several Eastern European countries work very long hours of work, something that prevents them from devoting more time to their children. Source: Hetus data (as calculated by Gauthier and Monna, unpublished paper)

11 UK We are still in the process of analysing these data in order to better understand the reasons behind these cross-national differences. What is however clear is that children in Europe differ considerably in terms of the amount of time that their parents devote to them. In some cases, parental time may be replaced by grandparents’ time or by a childcare worker. These are possible substitutions that we will need to further analyze, especially from a cross-national perspective. Source: Hetus data (as calculated by Gauthier and Monna, unpublished paper)

12 2. What impact do parents have on their children?
Let me now turn to my second question: what impact do parents have on their children? What we know from the literature is that parents have a large impact on their children on a wide range of outcomes, cognitive, behavioural, emotional. However, we also know there are some limitations to this body of evidence, among them the fact that most of the studies are based on cross-sectional data, that is, data that are collected at one point in time and that give us a snapshot of parents and children. While such data can give us a rich description of parenting, they do not allow us to make any statement of causality, ie that parenting has a genuine impact on children’s well-being. This is one of the key issues that we wanted to address in a recent paper with Canadian colleagues by using longitudinal, rather than cross-sectional, data.

13 Parenting style But first, remember that I referred earlier to the fact that in the literature what parents do is often captured by their parenting styles and that two of the most frequently used dimensions are responsiveness and demandingness. When we classify parents according to these two dimensions, we get four categories: Authoritative style (scoring high on both dimensions) Authoritarian (scoring high on demandingness and low on responsiveness) Permissive (scoring low on demandingness and high on responsiveness) Neglectful (scoring low on both dimensions) This typology has been used in numerous studies. In general, it shows that an authoritative parenting style is optimal for children’s outcomes. However, as I will show, the impact is not exactly the same across outcomes.

14 Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)
Started in 1994 with a sample of 20,000 children age 0 to 11; re-interviewed every other year For this paper, 10 years or 6 cycles of data Age 0-1 at cycle 1  age at cycle 6 Age at cycle 1  age at cycle 6

15 Outcome measures* Health status (age 0 to 15)
Inattention (age 2 to 11) Physical aggression (age 4 to 11) Self-esteem (age 11 to 15) Mathematics score (age 6 to 15) Dependent variables: Parenting style: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, neglectful Family structure (single-parent) Family income Mother and father education Mother and father employment status I will show you rapidly some results. In general, an authoritative parenting style appears to lead to the best outcomes in children. However, the impact is not uniform across the various outcomes. * All dichotomized in order to facilitate the interpretation.

16 Low self-esteem Source: Gauthier, Tramonte, Willms (2009)

17 Inattention

18 Physical aggression

19 Poor physical health

20 Low mathematics score So, the key message here is that the large majority of children are doing well, but those whose parents use an authoritative style appears to do even better on most indicators. These are however average results that could hide differences for specific sub-groups of children. For example, our sample was too small to be able to analyze differences by race or ethnicity. There are suggestions in the literature that while caucasian children may respond well to an authoritative style, children of other race or ethnicity may have better outcomes for example when an authoritarian style is instead used. The literature is also showing that some parenting styles may be better suited to some neighbourhoods than others. For example, in dangerous or risky neighbourhoods, parents may have to protect more their children and again an authoritarian style may be preferred. We were not able to check this in our analysis.

21 3. How about early adolescents?
So far, I have been talking about parenting in general. So, let me know turn to my third question and look more specifically at the case of early adolescents.

22 Source: Gauthier, Tramonte, Willms (2009)
First of all, it is important to acknowledge that parenting style is not static but changes as children grow up. In particular, based on Canadian data, what we were able to observe is that while the large majority of parents use an authoritative style when children are very young, the share of the other styles grows considerably as children grow older. The end result is that by the age of 12 to 15, only about 25% of parents use an authoritative style. Perhaps this is not surprising. For example parents may feel that the behaviours and moods of their early adolescents require a totally different parenting style. But perhaps this figure gives a somewhat wrong impression of what parents actually do with their adolescents. As I mentioned earlier, Frank Furstenberg, Shelley Pacholok and I are currently involved in a project on parenting. What we are interested in is how much parents of early adolescents invest in their children and what forms these investments take. In other words, we are interested in parental strategies for their children. Source: Gauthier, Tramonte, Willms (2009)

23 Parental strategies How much money parents spend on their children
What investments (e.g. school, extra-curricular activities, neighbourhood) What do they hope for their children future? And what they fear for their children? To analyze these strategies, we are conducting qualitative interviews with a small sample of parents in Canada and the United States. These parents have all a child between the age of 11 and 14 years old . What we are documenting is: How much money parents spend on their children What investments do they make in terms for example of type of school, extra-curricular activities, neighborhood. But we are also looking at what do they hope for their children’s future, and what do they fear for their children. This is a project in the making, so I cannot report here a full set of results. What I can however say is that parents across the board want to do their best for their children. Some parents appear however to strategize more than others (something that appear to be partly driven by their own educational level), and some parents appear to be more constrained than others in what they can actually do for their children: constraints that stem from their time availability (dictated by their job) and their financial situation.

24 Parental strategies Proactive Reactive A strategy???
In general, part of what parents do is what can be termed ‘pro-active’. They may have carefully selected the neighborhood where they wanted to raise their children, they may have also selected the school for their children, their children are enrolled in extra-curricular activities for specific reasons, to enhance their self-confidence, for team building skills, for their health, etc. Some parents have also started from an early age to save money for their children’s higher education. I have to say that these strategies are not confined to rich parents. It is obviously clear that money may make some of these strategies easier, but some parents with modest income are also very pro-active. But it is also clear that all sorts of expected and unexpected events may come in the way, and part of what parents also do is instead what can be termed ‘reactive’. They may for example be living in a neighborhood where there are drugs and vandalism and part of what they do is to actually protect and monitor their children. Or the children have health or behavioral problems and parents actively try to seek solutions. Or they have complicated work schedules and part of what they do is to juggle everybody’s schedule and make sure everybody is OK. Some parents appear to be absorbed by the day to day management of their family, especially when confronted to financial strain or inflexible work schedule. Do parents have a clearly spelt out strategy for their children? Some parents articulate their strategies and goals for their children better than others. All want their children to do well and to be happy. They want their children to do better than themselves or equally well. However, some are concerned about the challenges that will be facing their children. Some parents appear also to have difficulties implementing a strategy for their children because of a lack of understanding about the nuts and bolts of the system. For example, how to apply to college or university or how to apply for scholarships.

25 4. What support do parents want?
Finally, let me conclude this presentation by reflecting on the policy implications of some of the findings that I have presented, and also on what parents in the interviews have told us in terms of what they actually want in terms of support.

26 What do parents want? Financial support Parental time
Parenting support In general, there are three main types of support that parents desire. Financial support especially in the context of the current financial crisis: support when it comes to saving for higher education, support to enrol their children in various extra-curricular programs, and general support through tax relief for families with children; Support in terms of time. For example when it comes to young children, European countries have made much progress in terms of parental leave scheme, but also in encouraging fathers to share part of the leave. There is still a long way to go, but most of Europe is already miles ahead of the United States where there is no universal maternity leave scheme. Parents also want and need flexibility in their work schedules to balance work and family responsibility. Taking time off work because of a sick child is for example close to impossible for numerous parents. Parents also want support in their parenting role especially when they deal with difficult children or children with specific needs. I have shown earlier that parenting style changes as children grow up. What is clear from that is that the relationship between parents and children is not uni-directional. Yes what parents do influence their children, but what children do also influence the way parents respond to them. This is often neglected in the literature and yet parents may be confronted with specific behaviour of their children that they may have difficulty understanding how best to address them. For example, in our interviews we heard from parents struggling to help their child with attention deficit disorders: struggling to get the help that they and the child needed.

27 Parental support programs
Financial support Parental time Parenting support When best to intervene? When it comes to policy implications, there is however also the key questions as to when is it best to intervene? The current policies found in several countries have been partly influenced by the work of the economist James Heckman who has demonstrated that the actual returns are much larger when governments invest in very young children, for example through quality pre-school education. This has resulted in a renewed interest for such programs and an expansion of early childhood education. While I am not denying the importance of such programs, it is also important to remember that parents of older children may also need help, and so do their children. While interventions at an early age and early childhood education may help prevent problems at an older age, it remains that some adolescents may still find themselves with cognitive difficulties, behavioral or emotional difficulties. These children, and their parents, also need help.

28 Parents do a lot for their children Parenting matters
Conclusions Parents do a lot for their children Parenting matters Parents have high hopes for their children Diversity among parents and children Let me now conclude with four main conclusions. While the media is bombarding us with images and messages about parental neglect and violence committed by teenagers (for example school shooting), we should not forget that the large majority of parents do their best for their children and that the majority of children function well. What we should not forget either is that what parents do matters for their children: short-term and long-term consequences. Parents have great hopes for their children and they need to be supported in trying to achieve their aims. No unique solution. Great heterogeneity among parents, financially but also in view of the ethnic and racial make-up of our populations. This means that while some programs such as early childhood education, parental leave, and health care, are important, the programs have to stay sensitive to the needs of parents and their children.

29 References Gauthier, Anne H., Smeeding, Timothy M., Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr. (2004). ‘Are parents investing less time in children? Trends in selected industrialized countries’. Population and Development Review, 30, 4: 647—71. Gauthier, A.H., Monna, B. (non-published). Cross-national differences in parental time. Gauthier, A.H., Tramonte, L., Willms, J.D. (2009). The Effects of Parenting Practices on Children’s Developmental Outcomes. Government of Canada. HRDSC paper.

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