Well-Being of Children in Working Poor and Other Families: 1997 and 2004. Measures associated with how well a child will develop


While in the previous section we focused on how well children are currently developing, in this section, we focus on variables describing the environment in which a child is being raised.  These variables are associated with how well a child will develop in the future.  They are divided into two major categories  those measuring the home environment and those measuring how the child and the childs family are interacting with the broader community.

Measures of the home environment

Television rules.  Excessive television viewing has been associated with lower scores on reading tests, reduced readiness for school, and a higher incidence of aggressive acts (Zaslow, Halle, Zaff, Calkins, & Margie, 2000). Additionally, the frequency of television viewing or the occurrence of a television in a childs bedroom has been associated with a higher likelihood of becoming overweight (Dennison, Erb, & Jenkins, 2002). Exposure to televised commercials influences childrens food preferences, food requests, and the frequency with which they request toys (The Future of Children, 2006; Robinson et al., 2001; The Future of Children, 2006).

Conversely, children from families with rules for television viewing tend to watch less television and more programs with academic content than children from families without television controls (Roberts & Foehr, 2004). Children who view more educational programming have higher academic motivation, adolescent achievement, and more creativity and imagination than children who view educational programs less frequently (Anderson et al., 2001). Children whose parents limit their television viewing are also more likely to be identified as academically talented (Konstantopoulous, Modi, &  Hedges, 2001).

We have measured the degree to which television viewing is under parental control through the use of an index that measures the number of rules which parents employ.  The index varies from zero (no rules at all) to three (three different types of rules).

Meals with parents.  The amount of time children spend with their parents is important. Sharing family meals enabled children to spend time with their families and provided opportunities for parent-child conversation (Tubbs, Roy, & Burton, 2005). Similarly, family meals have been associated with contributing to the development of strong parent-child relationships and family connectedness (Child Trends DataBank, 2003). The time children and parents spend together is positively associated with the amount of education children receive later in life (Haveman & Wolfe, 1994). Frequent father-child interactions have also been associated with childrens greater sense of self-control, social competence, and ability to empathize (Hofferth, Pleck, Stueve, Bianchi, & Sayer, 2001; Lamb, 1997).  Additionally, children who eat meals with their parents are more likely to develop nutritional eating habits. They eat more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products than their peers who eat meals without their parents present (Child Trends DataBank, 2003).

We have constructed two measures varying from 0-14, which measure the total number of meals, specifically breakfast and dinner, a child eats with each of the childs parents. 

Parental aggravation. Parental psychopathology (including parental aggravation, antisocial behavior, and depression) is likely to play a substantial and negative role in predicting parental attitudes toward their infants (Eiden & Leonard, 2000). High levels of parental aggravation can inhibit parents ability to provide cognitively simulating parenting and inhibit their contributions to the socio-emotional development of their children (Macomber, Moore, & Brown, 1999; McGroder, 2000). As a result, the children of aggravated parents and/or parents with minimal nurturance score lower on measures of cognitive school readiness, verbal ability, and socio-emotional maturity than their peers with nurturing or less aggravated parents (Ibid). In addition, negative, affectionless parenting is associated with depressed or anxious children, and parents who provide inconsistent and disruptive parenting with little monitoring characteristically have children with behavioral disorders (Berg-Nielsen, Vikan, & Dahl, 2002). Such outcomes may be the result of associations between parents emotional distress and less responsive or hostile parenting practices (Ehrle, Moore, & Brown, 1999; Fagan, Bernd, & Whiteman, 2007).

We have constructed an index varying from 0-12 based on responses to four questions about whether the child is perceived by the parents as harder to care for than other children, doing things that really bother me, requiring the parent to giv[e] up more of my life to meet my childs needs than I ever expected, and making them feel angry with the child.  Children whose parents are highly aggravated are more likely than other children to have both cognitive and socioemotional problems (McGroder, 2000).  Higher values for the index indicate lower levels of aggravation.   

Father involvement.  As noted, more frequent father-child interactions have been associated with children experiencing a greater sense of self-control, social competence, and an ability to empathize. Father involvement is associated with less delinquent behavior among adolescents and increases in childrens civic engagement (Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2006; Wilcox, 2002). Children whose fathers are involved in their schooling are more likely to earn higher grades and enjoy school than children of less involved fathers (Brown, Michelsen, Halle, & Moore, 2001). Sons with involved fathers are more likely to have strong communication, interpersonal, and parenting skills (Morman & Floyd, 2006). They are also more likely to be highly involved in their own childrens lives, assuming responsibility for them and treating them warmly (Ibid). High father involvement also reduces the tendency for adolescents to transition into substance abuse and father children during their adolescence compared to adolescents who experience less father involvement (Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2006; Forste & Jarvis, 2007).

We have constructed an index of father involvement which varies from 0-12 based on responses to three questions concerning the degree to which the father interacts with, has expectations for, and praises his child. Higher index values indicate a higher level of involvement.

Mother involvement.  In spite of socio-economic constraints, low-income mothers still take intentional strides to spend time with their children (Tubbs, Roy, & Burton, 2005). Mothers are more involved with their adolescents and more aware of their adolescents peer interactions than fathers (Updegraff et al., 2001). Children of involved mothers are more likely to have higher educational aspirations, a greater desire to achieve, and higher achievement levels (Blevins-Kanbe & Musun-Miller, 1996; Smith-Maddox, 1999). In fact, children whose mothers provided sensitivity, support, and stimulation had greater pre-academic skills, language skills, social skills, and fewer behavioral problems than children whose mothers demonstrated less of these maternal behaviors (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002). Similarly, mothers interest in their children predicated their childrens educational attainment (Flouri, 2006). Sons whose mothers were involved when they were seven years old are more likely to be satisfied with their lives when they are 42 years old (Flouri, 2004).

Living apart from parents.  Any significant separation of a child from his or her primary caregivers residence can traumatize a child and has been linked with poor academic performance and teenage pregnancy (Aquilino, 1996; Bowlby, 1973; Wu, 1996). Children who spend time in a single-parent household are more likely to display poor behaviors and cognitive outcomes than children spending more time in two-parent households (Carlson & Corcoran, 2001). Furthermore, children who live apart from both parents have a higher risk of divorce than their peers who live with both their parents (Teachman, 2002). Additionally, a child born out of wedlock, with no experience with divorce or death, has a high risk of marital disruption (Ibid).

Parental educational aspirations.  Parents educational expectations for their children have been linked to subsequent academic achievement of both white and black children (Davis-Kean, 2005; Halle, 1997).  Parental educational aspirations have been shown to be associated with educational resilience among less privileged adolescents (Schoon, Parsons & Sacker, 2004).  We measure three levels of educational aspirations: (1) less than college graduate; (2) college graduate; and (3) more education and training after college.

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