Adolescent mothers' self-esteem and role identity and their relationship to parenting skills knowledge.
According to Erikson's theory, the primary developmental task of adolescents is to achieve a positive role identity (Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987; Rasmussen, 1964). One essential factor in achieving a positive role identity is the understanding by adolescents of their present self in terms of their past developmental achievements, and uniting it with their future aspirations and expectations of competence (Shirk & Renouf, 1992). This sense of continuity between present, historic, and future self is a hallmark of resolving one's identity crisis. Another hallmark of an achieved identity is positive self-esteem (Gross, 1987). In order to resolve the identity crisis, adolescents need an opportunity to feel that they are persons of worth.
Once adolescents have a positive sense of worth and a basic sense of continuity of self, they are ready to move to succeeding psychosocial stages (Erikson, 1963). Adolescents then focus their psychosocial energy on intimacy formation - sharing themselves with another person while maintaining their own identity. Once basic identity and intimacy have been achieved, they enter the generativity stage of parenting (Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987).
Following Erikson's theory, it was assumed here that positive self-esteem should be a predictor of positive parenting; that is, competent parenting requires that the mother has achieved a mature sense of psychosocial identity (Ketterlinus, Lamb, & Nitz, 1991). Thus, understanding how adolescent self-esteem relates to eventual parenting is necessary for delineating the predictors of positive parenting practices by adolescent mothers. It is important to underscore that this conclusion is based upon the assumption that developmental stages are more predictive of behavior than is age. However, it is recognized that age and developmental stages are correlated.
This study explores the question of how the adolescent mother's self-esteem relates to her knowledge of parenting skills. The literature review that follows summarizes the findings to date.
Parenthood for adolescents remains a serious concern. Adolescent mothers are more likely than their peers who did not become pregnant during adolescence to live below the poverty level, to be unemployed, and to hold lower-paying jobs if employed (Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987; Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; McLaughlin, Pearce, Manninen, & Winges, 1988). Data indicate that adolescent mothers as compared to adolescents who relinquish their babies for adoption have lower educational attainment, marry earlier, and have another child sooner (McLaughlin et al., 1988).
In 1991, 115 of every 1,000 adolescent females between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant (Ventura et al., 1995). Approximately 90% of African-American and 54% of Caucasian adolescent mothers remain unmarried (Furstenberg et al., 1987; Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995). This high rate of pregnancy among adolescents is especially alarming as the adolescents have to deal with the stage of generativity before they are ready; it is likely that they have not had the opportunity to adequately resolve the stages of role identity and intimacy. This places their social and emotional development at risk of being delayed or even halted. It also places their children at risk because they are not developmentally capable of dealing with the demands of parenting.
Brooks-Gunn and Chase-Lansdale (1995) support this position. They argue that one implication of adolescent parenting is that the adolescent has less opportunity to develop an autonomous sense of self. Adolescent mothers often experience more than one life circumstance change simultaneously. They experience the usual changes such as separation from their mothers and formation of other intimate relationships and, in addition, the transition to pregnancy and parenthood. Multiple changes have been found to correlate with negative effects such as low serf-esteem (Simmons, Blyth, VanCleave, & Bush, 1979) and poor peer relationships (Chase-Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Paikoff, 1991). Adolescent parents are thus less likely to have the opportunity to develop their role identity adequately. According to Erikson's theory and the literature, this puts their parenting at risk.
Not only are adolescent mothers at risk, but their offspring are at risk as well. Studies have shown that adolescent parents as compared to adult parents interact more negatively with infants (Culp, Appelbaum, Osofsky, & Levy, 1988), have less accurate knowledge about child development (Roosa & Vaughan, 1984), and have more negative attitudes about parenting (Roosa & Vaughan, 1984). Miller (1984) found that children of adolescent mothers are more likely to experience abuse than are children of older mothers - especially physical abuse. Additional data by Hubbs-Tait, Osofsky, Hann, and Culp (1994) and Hubbs-Tait, Hurlbut, Culp, and Culp (1995) support the hypothesis that factors such as the mother's self-esteem, her level of depression, and continuity of maternal depression predict adolescent parenting and child outcomes.
Other data also show that many children of adolescent mothers do not fare well (Furstenberg et al., 1987; Zuravin, 1988), particularly academically. The findings concerning academic failure in a 17-year follow-up of children of adolescent mothers were so strong that Furstenberg et al. (1987, p. 148) labeled it as "massive school failure." Zuravin (1988) found that adolescents who experience parenthood are often off the life course for normal adolescents and that this deviation correlates with maltreatment of their children.
Hubbs-Tait et al. (1994) argue that adolescent parenting can only be understood as a process that relates to the adolescent stage of development and through specifying the constellation of variables that influences adolescent parenting. The present paper examines this constellation by studying the relationship between the two variables of self-esteem and knowledge related to parenting. It is assumed that self-esteem is an indicator of the developmental stage of role identity.
Global self-esteem measures include an evaluative component that concerns the degree to which we feel successful in areas that we consider to agree with our aspirations (Block & Robins, 1993; Harter, 1986). We want to feel successful in what we consider important. Although there has been debate as to whether adolescent self-esteem is represented by specific domains or in terms of a global sense of self (Harter, 1986; Simmons, 1987), the consensus is that both global and task-specific constructs of self-esteem offer important information for the understanding of how the adolescent judges herself (Harter, 1986; Simmons, 1987). Here the focus is on the adolescent mother's global self-esteem.
Although data have been equivocal concerning changes in self-esteem during adolescence, recent composite data indicate either no change (Block & Robins, 1993) or an increase in global self-esteem (McCarthy & Hoge, 1982; O'Malley & Bachman, 1983; Savin-Williams & Demo, 1984; Wylie, 1979). Simmons (1987) found no effect of puberty changes on the overall self-esteem of either males or females. There was a domain-specific difference, with females showing negative self-esteem on body image and males showing positive self-esteem on that construct. Analyzing longitudinal data, Block and Robins (1993) supported earlier data (Simmons et al., 1979) which indicate gender differences in self-esteem during adolescence. Boys show no change while females show a decline. Although such findings indicate that adolescence is generally a period of continuity of growth of earlier self-esteem, individual differences, gender, and environmental factors do influence its development.
Block and Robins (1993) found that personality factors were related to gender differences in self-esteem. Sociability for females and independence for males were predictive of higher self-esteem during adolescence. Magill and Hurlbut (1986) also showed that sociability was a salient variable in determining gender differences in self-esteem, especially as it interacted with the adolescent's physical characteristics. They found that nondisabled females scored significantly higher on sociability measures of self-esteem than did males. In contrast, females with cerebral palsy scored significantly lower than males with cerebral palsy and nondisabled males and females. Simmons (1987) further found that the number of environmental changes experienced during the adolescent period and the timing of these changes related to the self-esteem of females but not males. Her data and those of Nottelmann (1987) indicate that females who experience multiple transitions simultaneously (i.e., dating and puberty) during early adolescence have lower self-esteem than do females who do not experience these early, multiple transitions. Since parenthood adds an extra transition, the adolescent mother is more at risk for low self-esteem than are female adolescents who do not become parents.
Not only are gender and the number of life circumstance changes predictive of adolescent self-esteem, there are other predictive factors such as depression, coping strategies, and parenting. McCullough and Scherman (1991) found that a substantial number of adolescent mothers reported negative feelings about themselves as daughters. Colletta, Hadler, and Gregg (1981) found that the level of self-esteem correlated positively with reported coping strategies of adolescent mothers in problem situations. Other data also indicate that the adolescent mother's parenting skills relate to her self-esteem and her sense of self-mastery. Unger and Wandersman (1985) found that self-esteem and a sense of self-mastery related negatively to parenting anxiety. In another study (Braun & Fuscaldo, 1988), adolescent mothers with low self-esteem advocated the use of corporal punishment more than did those with high-esteem.
The mother's self-esteem also relates to the social competence of her children, to beliefs about discipline practices, and to abusive attitudes about children (Braun & Fuscaldo, 1988; Hubbs-Tait et al., 1994). Hubbs-Tait et al. (1994) used longitudinal data to support their model in which adolescent parenting and child outcomes are influenced by three predictor variables, one of which is self-esteem. They found that maternal self-esteem predicted children's social competence with friends.
Although the data show that overall self-esteem remains stable during adolescence, adolescent self-esteem is lower than adult self-esteem (Penny, Watson, Saunders, & Womble, 1993). Penny et al. (1993) also found that adolescent mothers scored lower than adult mothers on Rasmussen's (1964) Ego Identity Scale. Even though socioeconomic status and maternal education explained much of the variance, their data indicate that self-esteem and ego identity are variables that need to be studied in order to understand adolescent parenting. One reason adolescents scored lower than adult mothers may be that adolescent mothers have not had enough opportunity for role experimentation in which to adequately develop their role identities and therefore a more positive self-esteem.
To summarize, the reviewed data are in accord with our earlier argument that self-esteem is a predictor of parenting. The data indicate that self-esteem and depression are related to certain domains of parenting behavior and certain outcomes for children. Self-esteem correlates positively with parenting while depression correlates negatively with parenting and outcomes for children of adolescent mothers. The data further indicate that although adolescent self-esteem remains lower than adult self-esteem, the self-esteem of adolescents remains relatively constant or increases from the age of fourteen through the early twenties. There is, however, some data that support gender differences in adolescent self-esteem. Thus, there is a need to study the adequacy of the continuity hypothesis for adolescent females.
Parenthood most often begins while the adolescent is involved in resolving her identity status. Therefore, it is likely to occur prior to the adolescent's "developmental readiness" to parent, and to present the adolescent mother with multiple transitions. These transitions often reduce the adolescent mother's opportunity to develop her role identity and the subsequent parenting stage of generativity. If, as has been argued here, the adolescent mother's self-esteem is an indicator of identity formation and achieved identity precedes the development of generativity, then the level of self-esteem of adolescent mothers is likely to be predictive of their readiness to parent.
The complex pattern of parenting that is predicted by self-esteem remains to be fully delineated. The present study expands on previous literature by focusing on knowledge of parenting skills rather than on children's outcomes. This knowledge relates to a parent's attitudes and information about appropriate parenting practices and expectations of children's behaviors. Here, parenting knowledge is defined in terms of (a) appropriate differentiation of parental and children's roles, (b) empathy, (c) appropriate expectations of children's developmental level, and (d) the use of corporal punishment.
The basic question concerns how the self-esteem of the adolescent mother relates to her parenting skills knowledge, specifically when her infant is three and six months old. It is hypothesized that higher self-esteem will correlate positively with more appropriate knowledge concerning role reversal, empathy, developmental expectations, and the use of corporal punishment. In addition, we explored the issue of developmental continuity or discontinuity of adolescent self-esteem. If the mother's self-esteem is developmentally continuous, it would either increase over time or remain stable, while if it is developmentally discontinuous, it would decrease over time. It was hypothesized that self-esteem would increase or show no significant change from baseline to when the baby was three months old.
The participants in this study were 24 first-time mothers who were 21 years old or younger (range = 16.1 to 21.1 years; M = 18.2 years) at the time of their baby's birth. The mothers were participants in an ongoing rural Midwestern county health department parenting program. Seventy-five percent were Caucasian, 17% African American, and 8% multiethnic; 63% were attending high school, 17% had earned a high school degree or GED, and 20% were attending vocational school; 61% were living with their parents or stepparents, 22% with a boyfriend or husband, 13% with others, and approximately 4% by themselves; 48% were living in households with less than $6,000 annual income, 39% less than $12,000, and 13% less than $24,000.
The mothers completed a demographic questionnaire and a self-esteem assessment before their baby was born, and repeated the self-esteem measure when the baby was three months old. They also completed a parenting skills questionnaire when the baby was three months old and again at six months.
Demographic questionnaire. A one-page questionnaire asked for information on the mother's race, age, education, and income.
Self-esteem of the mothers was evaluated with the Index of Self-esteem (ISE; Hudson, 1982). This is a 25-item questionnaire encompassing questions about how a person feels about him/herself. The questions were answered on a Likert-type scale from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating "rarely or none of the time" and 5 indicating "most or all of the time." The items include such statements as "I feel that I need more self-confidence" and "I feel that I bore people." For this measure the scores range from 25 to 125. High scores indicate low self-esteem and low scores indicate high self-esteem.
Testing the ISE on six samples (N = 1,745), Hudson (1982) found reliability estimates ranging from .91 to .95. The internal consistency of the ISE for an adolescent sample (n = 44) had a Cronbach's alpha of .90 (Hubbs-Tait et al., 1994). The test-retest reliability for the ISE was .90 when tested over ten months with adolescent mothers (Hubbs-Tait et al., 1994). Finally, the scale has been shown to have acceptable discriminant validity. Hudson (1982) found that it discriminated between people who did and did not have significant self-esteem problems as judged by therapists in an independent clinical diagnosis.
Knowledge of parenting skills of the mothers was measured using the Adult-Adolescent Parenting Inventory (AAPI; Bavolek, 1984). This is a 32-item assessment of parenting and child-rearing practices standardized on 2,000 adults and 6,500 adolescents. The AAPI has four subscales: (a) Reversing Parent-Child Family Roles (Role Reversal), (b) Lack of Empathic Awareness of Children's Needs (Empathy), (c) Inappropriate Developmental Expectations of Children (Developmental Expectations), and (d) Strong Parental Belief in the Use of Corporal Punishment (Corporal Punishment). The Role Reversal subscale measures whether the parent uses the child to satisfy the parent's needs (e.g., "Young children should be expected to comfort their mother when she is feeling blue."). The Empathy subscale measures whether the parent empathizes, recognizes, and values children's needs. The parent fears spoiling children if he or she nurtures them (e.g., "Parents who are sensitive to their children's feelings and moods often spoil their children."). The Developmental Expectations subscale measures whether the parent demands specific behaviors that exceed the child's developmental capability (e.g., "Children should be expected to verbally express themselves before the age of one year."). The Corporal Punishment subscale measures whether the parent believes that hitting, spanking, and slapping children teach them right from wrong and help them develop strong and healthy characteristics. The parent does not know alternatives to spanking and believes in strong discipline (e.g., "Parents have the responsibility to spank their children when they misbehave."). The questions are answered on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." High scores on each subscale indicate appropriate parenting skills knowledge. Low scores indicate poor parenting skills knowledge.
Several studies which tested the reliability and validity of the AAPI are reported and summarized by Bavolek (1990). Years of research to determine the diagnostic and discriminatory validity of the AAPI have been carried out with thousands of adolescents and adults nationwide (Bavolek, 1990; Bavolek, Kline, & McLaughlin, 1979; Stone, 1980). Item generation, construct development, and content validation are reported by Bavolek et al. (1979). The results of the content validation indicated 100% agreement among the experts relative to the completeness and validity of the parenting constructs. Items were selected for the inventory that met the pre-set criterion of 80% or better agreement among the experts that the item was measuring the intended construct. Inter-item correlations range from .17 to .55. The internal reliability of the AAPI ranges from .70 to .86 for adults and adolescents. The internal consistency of the items indicated adequate levels of reliability for each construct (Expectations: .70; Empathy: .75; Corporal Punishment: .81; and Role Reversal: .82). The test-retest reliability coefficient of the items showed an adequate level of stability over a one-week period (.76).
The data were analyzed using SPSS (Norusis, 1992) and a one-tailed significance level at probability equal to or less than .05. Pearson product moment correlations were used to test the relationship between self-esteem and the four dimensions of parenting skills knowledge: (a) role reversal, (b) empathy, (c) developmental expectations, and (d) corporal punishment for the two times of measurement. At measurement time one, when the baby was three months old, the correlations between baseline self-esteem and role reversal, empathy, and developmental expectations were each significant, while that for corporal punishment did not reach significance. There was a significant negative correlation, r(24) = -.43, p = .02, between the mothers' self-esteem scores and their role reversal scores. This negative correlation actually indicates a significant positive relationship between higher self-esteem and fewer inappropriate role reversals. As noted previously, a high score on self-esteem reflects low self-esteem (i.e., adolescent mothers with higher self-esteem have a better understanding that the role of a parent is separate and distinct from the role of a child).
There were similar findings for the correlations between self-esteem and empathy, r(24) = -.46, p = .01, and self-esteem and developmental expectations, r(24) = -.37, p = .04. There was a positive and significant relationship between positive self-esteem and appropriate knowledge concerning a parent's need to empathically respond to children's needs. In addition, these data show a positive and significant relationship between positive self-esteem and mothers' appropriate developmental expectations of their children.
There was an even higher significant negative correlation, r(24) = -.51, p = .005, between baseline self-esteem and role reversal at measurement time two, when the baby was six months old. The negative correlation between the mother's baseline self-esteem and her knowledge concerning the use of corporal punishment was also significant at time two, r(24) = -.37, p = .04, while the correlations between baseline self-esteem and scores on empathy and developmental expectations only approached significance at time two. Table 1 presents a complete set of correlations, means, and standard deviations for all measures at each time of measurement.
Table 1 Correlations Between Baseline Maternal. Self-esteem and Subscale Scores on the AAPI at Time One and Time Two Time of Measurement Subscales Time One(a) Time Two(b) Role Reversal r -.43(*) -.51(**) M 29.00 33.21 SD 5.11 5.18 Empathy r -.46(*) -.28 M 33.54 33.71 SD 4.68 3.38 Developmental Expectations r -.37(*) -.30 M 22.29 24.83 SD 3.63 2.87 Corporal Punishment r -.22 -.37(*) M 37.08 40.38 SD 4.54 5.72 Note. Negative correlations represent a positive relationship between self-esteem level and appropriate knowledge. n = 24 for each subscale. * p [less than or equal to] .05, one-tailed. ** p [less than or equal to] .01, one-tailed. a Time One measurement = 3-month-old infant. b Time Two measurement = 6-month-old infant.
The sample for the test of self-esteem across time was 21 of the 24 mothers (three of the mothers did not have self-esteem scores at measurement time one). A one-tailed, paired t test was used to test the hypothesis that the mother's self-esteem was developmentally continuous. The results, t(20) = 1.41, p = .09, were in accord with the hypothesis and showed no significant change from baseline to when the baby was three months old. Although the differences in self-esteem were not significant between the two times, self-esteem tended to increase from baseline, M = 36.84, SD = 14.35, to when the baby was 3 months old, M = 33.71, SD = 15.84. As noted, high scores on the ISE reflect low self-esteem. This support for developmental continuity of self-esteem between baseline and measurement time one was strengthened by a significant correlation, r(21) = .78, p = .000, between the two times of measurement.
These data support the hypothesis that the adolescent mother's knowledge of parenting skills relates to her self-esteem. In this study, self-esteem correlated positively with three dimensions of parenting skills knowledge at time one, and two dimensions of parenting skills knowledge at time two.
The significant correlation between a positive sense of self-esteem and appropriate knowledge concerning role reversals was consistent across both times. Even as the mother gained more experience as a parent, her self-esteem was strongly related to how likely she was to see the child as an object for gratifying her needs. As the mother's self-esteem decreased, she was more likely to believe that the child should gratify her needs.
This significant correlation between role reversal and maternal self-esteem in adolescent mothers supports the theoretical perspective that self-esteem, as an indicator of role identity, is predictive of parenting. According to Erikson's theory, role identity is the primary developmental task of adolescence. In order to achieve role identity, the adolescent needs to experiment with many roles and have an opportunity for positive social support during this experimentation. One of the possible risk factors of adolescent parenting is that the adolescent mother does not have adequate time to resolve her role identity.
If an adolescent is unable to experiment adequately in order to develop a personal sense of role identity that is consistent with her past achievements and her future aspirations, she is in danger of role confusion (Shirk & Renouf, 1992). As such, she is not ready to proceed to the next developmental stages (i.e., intimacy and generativity). One of the characteristics of role confusion is that the person is unable to differentiate his/her roles from others' roles. Such adolescents take on the roles of another person as their own or attribute their roles to another person. A mother in role confusion would thus have a tendency to confuse her child's roles and her own. The data here offer a clear indication that the adolescent is experiencing role confusion. Thus, the data support the construct that self-esteem, which is an indicator of role identity, is a predictor of role reversal, which is viewed as an indicator of role confusion. When the mother has a low sense of self-esteem, she has difficulty viewing other people, including her children, beyond her own needs.
The data on empathy and developmental expectations offer further support that self-esteem is a good indicator of a mother's parenting knowledge. Although the correlations were significant only at measurement time one, the nonsignificant correlations at time two were each in the direction hypothesized with a probability of less than .10. The reduction in the level of correlation at measurement time two may be due to the fact that the mothers, who then had six months of parenting practice, had gained some hands-on experience that moderated the effects of self-esteem and underdeveloped generativity. For instance, they had learned how to empathize with a child's feelings enough to know when a child needs comforting.
The correlation between baseline self-esteem and the corporal punishment scores suggests that self-esteem becomes predictive of appropriate punishment knowledge as punishment becomes more of an issue. At three months of development, the mother is less likely to be confronted with infant behavior that she would inappropriately punish than she is when her infant is six months old. If this trend continues, the negative correlation between self-esteem and corpora] punishment scores should continue to increase. These data on corporal punishment are of particular importance since children of adolescent mothers are more likely to experience abuse, especially physical abuse, than are children of older mothers (Miller, 1984). This correlation and the increase in correlation between role reversal and self-esteem at time two indicate the significance of the adolescent's developmental stage for her parenting (Hubbs-Tait et al., 1994). It appears that self-esteem, as an indicator of the status of role identity, becomes more predictive of inappropriate role reversal and inappropriate knowledge about the use of corporal punishment as the infant develops.
The test of the secondary hypothesis supported the previous literature (e.g., O'Malley & Bachman, 1983; Savin-Williams & Demo, 1984). Global self-esteem is represented by a continuous developmental trajectory during late adolescence. The present data showed no significant change in global self-esteem and a nonsignificant positive growth in self-esteem over the three-month period. Self-esteem of even those adolescent females who experience multiple transitions grows in a continuous developmental trajectory. These findings are important in that data such as Nottelmann's (1987) could be interpreted to indicate that adolescent mothers, with their multiple transitions, would likely show a discontinuous developmental trajectory.
SUMMARY AND IMPLICATIONS
Hubbs-Tait et al. (1994) argue that adolescent parenting can only be understood as a process that relates to the adolescent stage of development. The data reported here support this view, as well as Erikson's theory that self-esteem, which is an indicator of the developmental stage of role identity, predicts parenting. The adolescent mother's parenting is at risk if she has not developmentally achieved her role identity, because role identity is a prerequisite to achieving generativity.
Although the present data report only on parenting attitudes and knowledge, Baranowski, Schilmoeller, and Higgins (1990) noted a relationship between attitudes and parenting behavior. They found that adolescent mothers with inappropriate expectations scored lower on parenting skills than did adolescent mothers with more appropriate expectations. These data underscore the importance of the present findings. They indicate that attitudes such as those measured here influence the parenting behavior of the adolescent mother. As such, one way to improve her parenting behavior is to focus training on her attitudes.
The present data indicate that the achievement of role identity may be what Unger and Wandersman (1985) label the "active ingredient" that renders intervention programs effective. If this is the case, intervention programs need to focus on facilitating the adolescent mother's opportunity to achieve her role identity. Such programs could provide the skills that promote positive role experimentation and an environment in which the adolescent could work on achieving basic role identity. By supplying the opportunity to develop an adequate role identity and therefore positive self-esteem, the adolescent mother would be better prepared for parenting, with its generativity demands.
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Anne McDonald Culp, Ph.D., and Patrice Butler, M.S., Department of Family Relations and Child Development, Oklahoma State University.
Saigeetha Jambunathan, M.S., Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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|Author:||Hurlbut, Nancy L.; Culp, Anne McDonald; Jambunathan, Saigeetha; Butler, Patrice|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1997|
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