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  • Ego Development 1

    The Relationship Between Adolescent Ego Development

    and Patterns of Parental Control

    Dana Celeste Keener

    Distinguished Majors Thesis

    University of Virginia

    Advisor: Joseph P. Allen

    Second Reader: Charles L. Fry

    Running head: EGO DEVELOPMENT

  • Ego Development 2


    Research has shown that parenting styles are involved in the internalization of children's beliefs

    about themselves and the world around them. This paper examines the relationship between various

    types of parental control and adolescent ego development. Analyses were based on self and parent

    reports of 24 female and 25 male youth. Results revealed that positive parental influence, control and

    knowledge of adolescent decision making are positively related to adolescent ego development.

    However, parental control that is restrictive and overcontrolling in nature was found to be negatively

    related to ego development in teenagers. Additionally, mothers' controlling behaviors generally revealed

    stronger relationships with teen ego development than fathers' controlling behaviors. Finally, it was

    found that adolescent ego development relates positively to parental control over adolescent decisions

    involving issues of deviance, while no relationship was found between adolescent ego development and

    parental control over adolescent decisions involving issues of character. These findings suggest that the

    relationship between parental control and the psychosocial development of adolescents may depend on

    whether the imposed method of control facilitates or inhibits healthy levels of autonomy within

    adolescents. This study supports the need for further investigation of parental control as related to

    adolescent development.

  • Ego Development 3

    The Relationship Between Adolescent Ego Development

    and Patterns of Parental Control

    Adolescence is a period within the life span characterized by fundamental biological, cognitive

    and social changes (Peterson & Spiga, 1982). These changes generally lead adolescents towards a

    desire for greater freedom from the restrictions imposed upon them by authority, specifically by their

    parents. Thus, the teenage years are a time when children and parents negotiate this process of

    realignment and growth towards greater independence (Collins, 1990; Pardeck & Pardeck, 1990;

    Steinberg, 1990; Youniss & Smollar, 1985).

    The negotiations which occur between parents and teens during the process of establishing

    independence can be developmentally healthy for children (Steinberg, 1990). Even expressed conflict

    can be a constructive part of the process when it occurs in the context of closeness and trust (Cooper,

    1988). Such growth towards independence, along with the healthy maintenance of a parent-child

    relationship, has been variously referred to in research as the establishment of interdependence,

    (Youniss & Smollar, 1985); individuation (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986); autonomy and relatedness

    (Allen, Aber, & Leadbeater, 1990); attachment and autonomy (Hill & Holmbeck, 1986); and cohesion

    and adaptability (Olson, Sprenkle & Russell, 1979). These various approaches are similar in that they

    all consider the importance of maintaining a mutual connection and bond between parents and teens as

    the relationship is redefined in terms of greater freedom and shared decision-making.

    Past research has found positive outcomes in teens to be associated with parent-child

    relationships characterized by interdependence and other related constructs. Lamborn and Steinberg

    (1993) found emotional autonomy and relationship support in teens to be related to academic

    competence and to psychosocial adjustment. Allen, Hauser, Bell and O'Connor (1994) found display

    of adolescent autonomy and relatedness to be related strongly to measures of self-esteem and ego

    development. Grotevant and Cooper (1985, 1986) revealed a positive relationship between family

    interaction styles that encouraged individuation and the identity exploration of teens.

  • Ego Development 4

    Although adolescent autonomy and individuation is normal and healthy, parents are often

    reluctant to allow it to occur. It can be frightening for parents to observe their children grow older and

    cultivate interests over which parents have little control. Although teens tend to be anxious to loosen ties

    to their parents, they generally replace these parental ties with strong connections to their peers (Youniss

    & Smoller, 1985). This process may often lead parents to feel as if they have less influence over their

    children. Some parents may respond to such feelings by imposing more control upon their children or at

    least by attempting to do so.

    A large body of research has examined constructs related to overcontrolling parenting and its

    relationship to various outcomes in children. Maccoby and Martin (1983), in a historical overview of

    family interactions involved in the socialization of children, reviewed findings related to authoritarian or

    autocratic parenting styles. This definitional style, according to the researchers, represents parenting that

    lacks balance between the demands placed upon children and parents' acceptance of their children.

    Parents characterized by this style of discipline, value the maintenance of their authority and do not allow

    their children to question the positions of parental control. They impose strict limits upon their children

    and demand complete obedience to all rules. Children's ability to express needs and desires is greatly

    inhibited under this style of parenting (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

    Authoritarian parenting has been found to be related to childhood outcomes such as low social

    interaction with peers, obedience towards authority figures, domination by peers, lack of such

    characteristics as spontaneity, affection, curiosity, and originality (Baldwin, 1949); social withdrawal

    (Baumrind & Black, 1967); low levels of conscience (Hoffman & Saltzstein, 1967); low self-esteem

    (Coopersmith, 1967; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991; Loeb, Horst, & Horton,

    1980); and external locus of control (Loeb, 1975).

    In contrast to overcontrolling styles of parenting, healthy styles of parental control are very

    important for effective child rearing. Positive control can best be seen in what Maccoby and Martin

    (1983) refer to as authoritative and reciprocal parenting. These terms refer to parenting that expects

  • Ego Development 5

    responsiveness from children to parental demands while being equally responsive to the needs and

    reasonable desires of children. Additional characteristics of this form of parenting include firm

    reinforcement of rules, encouragement of individuality in children, and open communication (Baumrind,


    Authoritative and reciprocal parenting styles have been related to outcomes in children such as

    social competence in preschoolers (Baumrind & Black, 1967); high self-esteem (Coopersmith, 1967;

    Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991); acquisition of prosocial behavior (Yarrow, Waxler

    & Scott, 1971); conscientiousness (Hoffman & Saltzstein, 1967); academic achievement (Steinberg,

    Elmen & Mounts, 1989); high competence and less delinquency (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg &

    Dornbusch, 1991).

    Based on these findings which associate parental disciplinary styles with various aspects of

    adolescent development, it is seems that parenting styles are involved in the way children internalize

    certain beliefs about themselves and can affect the personal framework from which children view the

    world. Loevinger (1976) postulates that such a framework of thinking about the self and others is

    represented by the construct of ego development. The concept of ego development, developed by

    Loevinger and her colleagues, is based in several theories associated with the self, moral reasoning, and

    cognitive development (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; see also Hauser, 1976; Loevinger, 1976). Thus,

    the model encompasses four domains of development, including interpersonal style, cognitive style,

    impulse control and moral development.

    The function of the ego, according to Loevinger (1976), is to create a frame of reference from

    which an individual's inner experiences and perception of external events can be understood. The ego

    remains stable and maintains its identity by shielding from itself observations that are inconsistent with

    this framework of meaning. Every person's developmental framework is unique and can be

    operationalized along an abstract continuum of sequential stages known as ego development.

    There are several themes of progression that occur through the course of ego development.

  • Ego Development 6

    These themes involve tolerance of ambiguity, sense of control over the environment, ability to relate to

    others, differentiation skills and the value of autonomy and individuality.