AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
How children formulate their own system of values is a complicated process and has been a topic of interest to developmental psychologists for decades. Research has identified a number of parental discipline strategies that encourage prosocial behavior and values internalization in children, and scholars continue to determine which strategies are most effective and why. In addition to more traditional notions of parenting styles and practices, recent reconceptualizations suggest that researchers should examine characteristics of the situation and the child when studying the internalization of values (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994). One avenue that Grusec and Goodnow highlight as important in predicting whether children will adopt parental socialization messages is how appropriately children perceive their parents' reactions. In addition, although a number of researchers acknowledge the impact parental strategies have on adolescents' behaviors in prosocial contexts (Carlo and Randall, 2001; Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998; Staub, 1979;Wyatt and Carlo, 2002), the majority of research in the area of values internalization focuses on the impact parental strategies have on adolescents' behaviors in antisocial or transgressive contexts. However, a recent study by Wyatt and Carlo (2002) suggested that parental reactions in prosocial contexts may be equally, if not more important in fostering adolescents' prosocial behaviors and discouraging antisocial behaviors than parental reactions in antisocial contexts. In light of research suggesting the importance of perceived appropriateness, and the knowledge that both antisocial and prosocial contexts are important when studying the internalization of values, the current study examined how adolescents' reports of parental reaction, adolescent emotion, and parental intent were related to adolescents' perceived appropriateness of parental reactions in both antisocial and prosocial situations.
In general, research examining the impact of parental discipline strategies on adolescents' behaviors suggests that parenting strategies are most effective when they allow the child to attend to the semantic content of the message and give the child a feeling of autonomy and choice (Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998; Hoffman, 1970). Eisenberg and Fabes (1998) also stress the importance of the amount of control used by the parent, and claim that whether control is perceived as arbitrary or reasonable has an impact on values internalization. In addition to the impact of parental discipline, factors such as emotional climate and adolescents' perceptions of parental intentions also influence how children formulate their own value system (Carlo et al., 1999; Eisenberg et al., 1991b; Grusec and Goodnow, 1994).
Parental Discipline Strategies
Hoffman's (1970, 1983, 2000) theory of values internalization focuses on induction's role in moral development and suggests that induction is unique from other discipline strategies in 2 ways: (1) it calls attention to the feelings of the victim and (2) a child's processing of inductions under optimal conditions leads to feelings of empathic distress and guilt, which are both essential to the internalization process. If the parent exerts too much pressure when using inductive strategies, the child's attention is oriented towards the verbal content of the message instead of the semantics of the message, and internal motivation is jeopardized because compliance is perceived as being forced. Research supports a relation between compliance and other-oriented inductions (Hoffman, 1970, 1983), particularly when the parent provides explanations that include affective moralizing (Zahn-Waxler et al., 1979). Research also supports the relation between parents' use of induction and children's prosocial behaviors, which suggests utility in considering parental use of induction when examining values internalization (Krevans and Gibbs, 1996).
In contrast to inductive parenting strategies, power assertive or punitive discipline strategies are related negatively to children's prosocial development (Bar-Tal et al., 1980; see Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998). Research suggests that when compliance is encouraged by power-assertive techniques, children attribute their compliance to external motives such as fear of punishment, rather than internal motivation provided by use of inductions (Hoffman, 1970).
Preaching is another parental strategy that research has explored, although findings are not consistent. Preaching differs from induction in that it is not necessarily an attempt to reason with the child or justify good behavior, but is merely instruction given by the parent about how the child should act, and is often perceived by the child as lecturing. However, other-oriented preaching that places emphasis on the benefits of prosocial behaviors on the feelings of others, which closely mirrors the concept of induction, is effective at encouraging prosocial behaviors (see Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998).
In regards to parental practices that predict positive behaviors in prosocial contexts, early researchers note the importance of verbal praise and positive reinforcement and suggest that praise and other forms of positive interactions increase sharing behaviors in children (Staub, 1979). Although external rewards sometimes produce short-term compliance in children, they might have the opposite effect over time, suggesting that praise is the preferred method of positive reinforcement for long-term compliance (Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998). However, age of the child and type of praise have important impacts on effectiveness, with older children being more able to generalize praise to multiple contexts than younger children, and praise focusing on the child's positive disposition being more effective than praise about the act itself (Grusec and Redler, 1980). Overall, a parent's use of praise helps the child to create a prosocial self-image, which may result in increased prosocial behaviors.
The emotional climate of the parent-child relationship is also important in fostering prosocial behavior and encouraging the internalization of values. Children's prosocial behaviors are positively related to high degrees of positive emotions (Eisenberg et al., 1991a), and low sympathetic concern is positively related to high degrees of negative emotions (e.g., anger) (Eisenberg et al., 1992). Scholars stress the importance of positive emotions as reinforcers of prosocial behavior that result from behaving well in tempting situations (Eisenberg, 1986; Staub, 1979). Furthermore, a child's temperament might influence the internalization of values via feelings of guilt associated with wrongdoing, especially feelings of empathic guilt (Hoffman, 1983, 2000). Young children who experience more affective discomfort in response to wrongdoing, for example, fear or anxiety, are also more likely to comply with parental wishes (Kochanska, 1993, 1995). Although some degree of anxiety is necessary for induction to be effective, internally motivated prosocial behavior is undermined when children who are not able to self-regulate or who are exposed to continuous anger become overstimulated and in turn experience unfavorable, self-oriented responses (Eisenberg et al., 1994). If parent-child inductive interactions are coupled with a great deal of anger from the parent and anxiety from the child, these practices may produce lower levels of prosocial behavior than inductive techniques coupled with positive emotion or mild anxiety on the part of the child (Denham et al., 1994). For this reason, it is important to not only explore the role of parental discipline in the process of values internalization, but also the role of valence and intensity of emotions.
Perceptions of Parental Intentions
In addition to parental discipline strategy and the emotional climate of the interaction, Grusec and Goodnow (1994) suggest that children's perceptions of parental intentions are important to the process of values internalization. If children perceive their parents' actions as ill intended, or not in their own (the child's) best interest, they are less likely to make the effort to attend to the message. Socialization research also suggests that children's perceptions of how their parents behave is more important than how parents actually behave (Acock and Bengtson, 1980; Bugental and Goodnow, 1998), suggesting that how children interpret their parents' intentions may be more important than parents' actual intentions. Thus, when examining the process of values internalization it is also important to explore children's perceptions of their parents' intentions.
The gender of both the child and the parent are important factors of the parent-child relationship that have been found to impact the quality of parent-child interactions (Fagot, 1995). Parent-child interactions are shaped differently, in part, because of gender stereotypes that are present from birth (Rubin et al., 1974). These gender stereotypes manifest themselves in many ways, one of which may be higher levels of reported emotions from girls than boys (with the exception of anger), as it is more socially acceptable for girls to express emotions (Fagot, 1995). As children grow older, parents tend to respond and relate …