Effects of parenting, father absence, and affiliation with delinquent peers on delinquent behavior among African-American male adolescents
Delinquent behavior by African-American male adolescents is of special concern to society due to their overrepresentation in juvenile detention centers and adult prisons, morbidity and mortality statistics, and reports of academic underachievement (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2000; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2000; National Center for Health Statistics [NCHS], 2000; Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). In 1997, African-American adolescents represented about 15% of the total U.S. adolescent population, but they represented 41% of juvenile delinquency cases involving detention and 52% of juvenile delinquency cases judicially waived to criminal court (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). In 1998, 47% of homicide victims in the 15.- to 19-year-old age group were African-American males (NCHS, 2000). The high rate of violence-related mortality is consistent with self-reports of violent behavior by African-American male students. In 1999, 44% of African-American male high school students reporte d that they had been in a physical fight in the past 12 months and 23% reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife, or club) at least once in the past 30 days (CDO, 2000). High rates of delinquent behavior on school property also have been reported by African-American male high school students (CDC, 2000), which has adversely affected their relationships with peers and teachers, led to a disproportionately high frequency of disciplinary actions, and contributed to persistent academic underachievement (Gibbs et al., 1988; NCES, 2000; Taylor, 1991). For these reasons, understanding and preventing delinquent behavior among African-American male adolescents must be a priority.
Research and theory suggest that parenting is an important determinant of delinquent behavior among adolescents in general (Baumrind, 1991; Hirschi, 1969; Jackson, Henriksen, & Foshee, 1998; Jessor & Jessor, 1977), and among young African-American males in particular (Mincy, 1994). Poor parental supervision and monitoring, harsh and! or inconsistent disciplinary practices, infrequent parent-adolescent communication, and poor parent-adolescent relations have been shown to be associated with higher levels of delinquency and aggression among adolescents in general (e.g., Clark & Shields, 1997; Mason et al., 1994; Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984). However, relatively few studies have investigated the effects of these aspects of parenting specifically among African-American male adolescents (e.g., Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Griffin et al., 1999; McLoyd et al., 1994; Paschall, Ennett, & Flewelling, 1996).
Cernkovich and Giordano (1987) compared the effects of parental control and supervision to intimate parent-adolescent communication and relations and found parent control and supervision to be more strongly (and inversely) associated with delinquent behavior in a sample of African-American male 12- to 19-year-olds. Similarly, Griffin et al. (1999) found parental monitoring to be more strongly (and inversely) associated with substance use and delinquent behavior than parent-adolescent communication in a sample of African-American male adolescents; parent-adolescent communication was positively associated with delinquent behavior in their sample. In a study focusing on violent behavior by male adolescents, Paschall, Ennett, and Flewelling (1996) found no relationship between attachment to parents and violent behavior among African-American males. Thus, several studies focusing on African-American male adolescents (Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Griffin et al., 1999; Paschall, Ennett, & Flewelling, 1996) found no evidence for protective effects of parent-adolescent relations, as reflected in measures of attachment and communication, on delinquent behavior. However, due to the limited number of studies that have focused on young African-American males, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about which aspects of parenting are most important as deterrents of delinquent behavior.
The present study examines the effects of four aspects of parenting on African-American male adolescents' delinquent behavior: (1) mothers' monitoring of their sons' behavior, (2) mothers' perceived control over their sons' behavior, (3) mother-adolescent communication about school, friends, and behavior, and (4) mother-adolescent relations. We test the hypothesis that mothers' monitoring and perceived control will be more strongly associated with, and predictive of, delinquent behavior than mother-adolescent communication and relations. Our study focuses on parenting by mothers, as mothers are generally recognized as the primary caregivers of young African-American males (Gibbs et al., 1988; McLoyd et al., 1994; Mincy, 1994; Taylor, 1991). Our parenting measures are limited to data collected from mothers because analogous measures of parenting were not included in the adolescent survey instrument.
There has been a great deal of concern about the absence of fathers from African-American families and the negative effect this may have on the development of young African-American males (Gibbs et al., 1988; Mincy, 1994). Single African-American mothers often have limited financial resources, greater social isolation, and fewer coping resources than mothers in a two-parent family, which may limit their ability to monitor, supervise, and communicate effectively with their children (McLoyd et al., 1994; Taylor, 1991).
Not surprisingly, the majority of studies to date with a focus on African-American male adolescents and their families have examined the effects of living in a single-parent household (almost always mother-only) versus a two-parent household on delinquent behavior (e.g., Brounstein et al., 1989; Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Dornbusch et al., 1985; Ensminger, Kellam, & Rubin, 1983; Monahan, 1957; Paschall, Ennett, & Flewelling, 1996; Robins, West, & Herjanic, 1975; Sampson, 1987). Findings of these studies and others have been mixed and inconclusive, as indicated in one meta-analytic review (Wells & Rankin, 1991). For example, two studies using official law enforcement records (e.g., arrests, convictions) as measures of delinquency and crime found a positive relationship between living in a single-parent family and delinquency among African-American male adolescents (Monahan, 1957; Sampson, 1987), but one study using official law enforcement data found no such relationship (Robins, West, & Heijanic, 1975). Sev eral studies based on self-report measures of delinquency (Brounstein et al., 1989; Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Ensminger, Kellam, & Rubin, 1983) found no association between family structure (or father absence) and delinquent behavior reported by African-American male adolescents. These studies are contradicted by a larger study of delinquent behavior among African-American male adolescents who participated in the 1966-1970 National Health Interview Survey (Dornbusch et al., 1985), and by a more recent study of violent behavior by Paschall, Ennett, and Flewelling (1996), both of which found a significant positive relationship between living in a single-parent family and delinquent behavior. The mixed and inconclusive findings of these studies indicate the need for additional research on the effects of father absence on delinquent behavior among African-American male adolescents.
Griffin et al. (1999) examined the possible interactive effects of family structure and parenting practices on substance use and delinquent behavior in their sample of African-American adolescents. They found a stronger (and inverse) relationship between indicators of (1) parent monitoring (frequency of checking homework) and (2) parent-adolescent interaction (eating dinner with children) and delinquent behavior in single-parent than two-parent families. The present study investigates the possible moderating effects of father absence on relationships between measures of mothers' parenting and adolescents' delinquent behavior. We test the hypothesis that the effects of mothers' parenting on delinquent behavior will be stronger in families without a father or father surrogate.
Affiliation with Delinquent Peers