2005, Number 2
Salud Mental 2005; 28 (2)
Gracia E, Lila M, Musitu G
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ABSTRACTIntercultural research indicates that two dimensions of parental behavior can be identified in human societies: acceptance and rejection. According to Rohner, parental behavior can be defined as a continuum. In one end of the continuum we could find parents that manifest love and affection towards their children, both verbally and physically. In the other, we could find parents with aversive feelings towards their children, who use severe and abusive practices. Parental rejection is, according to Rhoner, the absence or the significant withdrawal of warmth, affection or love from parents toward their children.
Rohner’s framework proposes three dimensions of parental rejection: a) hostility and aggression; b) indifference and negligence and, c) indifferenciated rejection. A long research tradition has demonstrated that parental styles characterized by anger, aggressiveness, and rejection, are related with children´s mental health problems. Normally, this field of research has analyzed the relationship between parents and children without differentiating the father from the mother. However, recent research suggests that fathers and mothers, behaviors can have differential effects on the psychological adjustment of their children. Also, research on parents-children relationships, has traditionally used perceptions or observations of either parents or children.
The definition of a parent as hostile or as rejecting or affectionate and warm can not be made only by observing parents' behavior, since acceptance and rejection are not fixed qualities of behavior. From this point of view the effects of parental behavior on their children depends not only from objective elements but also from children’s perceptual and inferential processes. Parents and children do not necessarily perceive in the same fashion parental acceptance, demands or punishments. These caveats underlie the importance of analyzing parental behavior both from parents’ and children’s perspectives.
On behalf of these ideas, the aim of this paper is to analyze the relationships between parental and maternal rejection and the psychological and social adjustment of their children. In order to do so, this study will use both children and parents perceptions. That is, this study will observe the children’s perceptions of their mothers and fathers behaviors towards them, as well as the perception of their own psychological adjustment. Also, this study will examine parents perceptions of their parental practices as well as parents perceptions of their childrens’ psychological and social adjustment.
Participants in this study are a total of 444 families distributed into two groups (risk and comparison groups). The first group (risk group) consists of 100 families in which parent-child relationships were considered as disfunctional or not adecuate. The second group of families (comparison group) consists of 344 families in which parent-child realtionships were considered as adecuate. The group of families considered at risk were identified by school teachers in public schools (Valencian Community, Spain). Children ranged in age from 7 to 13 years. Of the children 54% were male and 46% female. All the children were atttending school at the time of the research. Teachers had also to contact parents to obtain their agreement to collaborate in the study. Of the parents’ questionnaires, 77% were completed by mothers and 23% by fathers.
Measures were the following:
Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire (PARQ). This self-report questionnaire (Rohner et al.) measures perceptions of parental treatment of the child in terms of four dimensions, a) parental warmth and affection, b) parental hostility and aggression, c) parental indiference and neglect, and c) parental undifferentiated rejection. The two forms used in this study allowed us to obtain three measures of parental acceptance-rejection: parents perceptions of their treatment of their children, and children’s perceptions of the way they are treated by both their mothers and fathers.
Personality Assesment Questionnaire (PAQ). This self-report questionnaire (Rohner et al.) asseses the way in which children perceive their own personality and behavioral dispositions. The following scales constitute the child PAQ: a) hostility/aggression, b) dependence, c) negative self-esteem, d) negative self-adequacy, e) emotional irresponsiveness, f) emotional uncertainty, and g) negative world view.
Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). This cheklist (Achenbach & Edelbrock) evaluates the behavior problems and social competencies of children as reported by their parents. The behavior problems measure used in this study is composed of two broad dimensions: internalizing and externalizing. Internalizing includes anxious, obsessive, somatic complaints, schizoid behavior, depressed withdrawal, being immature, and being uncommuni- cative. Externalizing includes being delinquent, aggressive, cruel, or hyperactive.
Results show that rejected children are psychologically and socially different from those children who have adequate relationships with their parents (characterized by parental acceptance). Rejected children, when compared to children in the comparison group, manifested significantly more problems. The personality of these children was characterized by dependency, low self-esteem and self-adjustment, emotional instability, and a negative world view.
Because an alternative explanation is that those children with psychological and social problems could bias their perception of their parents behavior as rejecting, this study included also an analysis of parents perceptions of their treatment of their children, as well as their perceptions of their children behavior. By including both perceptions (parents and children) in the study design, the parent-child interaction can be better defined (in terms of acceptance and rejection), and possible biases in the definition of parental behavior can be avoided.
These analyses showed that parents from the risk group, when compared to the comparison group, perceive their children as having more behavior problems expressed both in an externalizing fashion (i.e., being aggressive, hyperactive, disobedient, overactive, and destructive), and in an internalizing fashion (i.e., being anxious, uncommunicative, immature, submissive, and withdrawn).
The results obtained in this study show clearly that rejected children are “different”, in both psychological and social dimensions, from other childrens whose parent-child relationships are characterized by parental acceptance. These findings would be consistent with Rohner’s parental acceptance-rejection theory according to which these characteristics are manifested by children who experience rejection. Children in the risk group perceive less warmth and affection (expressed psysically or verbally), and more rejection (manifested by hostility and agression, indifference and neglect, and undiferentiated rejection) in the way they were treated by their parents. Also it is interesting to note that these results hold, independently from who is reportimg parental behavior (parents or children).
This study has shown that childrens perceived rejection, either from the mother or the father has a negative outcome for their psychological and social adjustment.