[Candid, not monitored children run less risk of becoming delinquent]

H Stattin
Läkartidningen 2001 June 20, 98 (25): 3009-13
Monitoring (tracking and surveillance) of children's behavior is considered an essential parenting skill. Numerous studies show that well monitored youths are less involved in delinquency and other norm-breaking behaviors, and scholars conclude that parents should track their children more carefully. We have questioned that conclusion. We point out that monitoring measures typically assess parents' knowledge, but not its source, and parents could derive knowledge from their children's free disclosure of information as well as their own active surveillance efforts. In our study of 14-year-olds in central Sweden and their parents, parental knowledge came mainly from child disclosure, and child disclosure was the source of knowledge that was most closely linked to broad and narrow measures of delinquency (norm-breaking and police contact). Parents' control efforts were related to good adjustment only after the child's feelings of being controlled, which were linked to poor adjustment, were partialled-out. These results held for both children's and parents' reports, for both sexes, and independent of whether the children were exhibiting problem behavior or not. We conclude that tracking and surveillance is not the best prescription for parental behavior, and a new prescription must rest on an understanding of the factors that determine child disclosure. As adolescents spend increasing amounts of time away from home, parental trust should become important, but little is known about how trust develops. We propose that parental trust is based on knowledge, primarily. We have pitted three types of knowledge about the child against each other in the prediction of parental trust--knowledge of: feelings and concerns, past delinquency, and daily activities. Results showed that knowledge of daily activities was more important than knowledge of past delinquency. In further analyses, knowledge of daily activities that came from the child's spontaneous disclosure was most closely linked to parents' trust. These findings add support to our reinterpretation of parental "monitoring" as parental knowledge that mainly comes from spontaneous child disclosure. Additionally, the role of parental trust for dysfunctional family relations was examined, and it was found that the relations between the child's delinquency and family dysfunction were mediated by parental trust. Finally, even though there was substantial agreement between parents and children about parents' trust in the child, the individual's unique perspectives were important. Family dysfunction from the child's perspective was based on whether they believed that their parents trusted them, and parents' perceptions of family dysfunction were based on their trust in the child.

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