Table of Contents
Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory and Court-Involved Adolescent Females: An Exploration of Parent-Child Relationships and Student-Teacher Relationships
Kathleen S. Tillman and Cindy L. Juntunen
University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Kathleen S. Tillman, Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Services, University of North Dakota; Cindy L. Juntunen, Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Services, University of North Dakota.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Kathleen S. Tillman, Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Services, University of North Dakota, 264 Centennial Dr., Grand Forks, ND 58202; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
KEYWORDS: parental acceptance-rejection theory, juvenile justice, parent-child relations, student-teacher relations, adolescent
This study examined whether the assumptions of the Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory (PARTheory) can be applied to understanding predictors and correlates of social-emotional functioning among court-involved adolescent females. Participants were court-involved adolescent females (n = 35) in the upper Midwestern United States and their parents/guardians (n = 35). Findings suggest that court-involved adolescent females experienced low levels of acceptance from parents and teachers. Perceived teacher rejection by adolescents was related to higher levels of psychological distress and social problems. Neither perceived paternal nor maternal rejection contributed directly to the regression model predicting adolescent psychological distress and social problems, but maternal rejection may have influenced perceptions of teacher rejection. Future research should explore the potential mediating effect of maternal rejection on teacher rejection and adolescent psychosocial functioning, and the longitudinal impact of parental and teacher acceptance-rejection on the development of psychological distress and involvement in illegal activities among girls. Recommendations for relationship-based programming for court-involved adolescent females are discussed.
Juvenile crime rates have been decreasing since hitting an all-time high in the mid-1990s, but the percentage of adolescent females who are involved with the juvenile justice system continues to increase (Puzzanchera & Adams, 2011). In 2009, more than 500,000 arrests of females under the age of 18 were made, accounting for 30% of all juvenile arrests. Furthermore, female juvenile arrests have either decreased less or increased compared to male juvenile arrests across multiple categories of offenses (Puzzanchera & Adams, 2011). For example, 45% of juveniles arrested in 2009 for larceny-theft were female, compared with 26% in 1980 (Puzzanchera & Adams, 2011). This increase in court-involved female adolescents has left many professionals wondering how best to support and intervene with these young women, and how to ultimately decrease the number of adolescent females involved in the juvenile justice system.
The Girls Study Group, established by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in 2008, has reviewed more than 1,600 publications that examine risk factors for delinquency, and identified several factors as potential contributors to delinquent behavior by girls. These include biological factors (such as early-onset puberty), mental health concerns, family influences (including stability, quality of relationships, and family criminal activity), peer relationships, neighborhood effects, religious involvement, and school performance and engagement (Zahn et al., 2010).
The majority of court-involved adolescents experience considerable psychological distress, with greater than 80% of court-involved adolescent females meeting diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder (Shufelt & Cocozza, 2006). In general, researchers have found that adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system often experience high rates of psychiatric disorders. These youth experience an array of psychological disturbances, including both internalizing and externalizing disorders (Arroyo, 2001; Dixon, Howie, & Starling 2004; Wasserman, McReynolds, Lucas, Fisher, & Santos, 2002). While it may be obvious that individuals involved in the legal system are engaging in acting-out behaviors and would be at increased risk for having an externalizing disorder, many court-involved adolescent females also experience clinically significant levels of internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression (Rohde, Mace, & Seeley, 1997).
In addition to psychological difficulties, adolescents who are involved in the court system tend to have low levels of prosocial beliefs; associate with deviant peers; and have strained relationships with the adults in their lives (Andrews, Leschied & Hoge, 1992; Hoge, Andrews, & Leschied, 1994; Kazdin, 1987; McGee & Baker, 2002; McMahon & Estes, 1997). Adolescents with high levels of prosocial beliefs tend to respect and adhere to generally accepted values such as honesty, respecting the rights and property of others, following rules, and not intentionally causing harm to others. Adolescents with low levels of prosocial beliefs tend to engage in rulebreaking and law-breaking behaviors (Brown, et al. 2005). Similarly, court-involved adolescents frequently report that their friends engage in law-breaking behaviors, including substance use, property destruction, and physical assault (McGee & Baker, 2002; Rodney, Tachia, & Rodney, 1999).
One important protective factor for adolescent girls is the presence of caring and influential adults. In fact, the Girls Study Group found that “girls who had a caring adult in their lives during adolescence were less likely to commit status or property offences, sell drugs, join gangs, or commit simple or aggravated assault during adolescence” (OJJDP, 2008, p. 4). Such findings support the need for adults to attend more fully to the relationships of adolescents central to their lives. Of particular importance are relationships with adults in the family and school settings, which have been shown to influence relationships with delinquent peers (Crosnoe, Erickson, & Dornbusch, 2002).
When children are rejected by their parents, their sense of conscientiousness is likely to be negatively affected, their feelings of empathy are likely to be lowered, and their perception of their self-worth is likely to be negative (Buikhuisen, 1988). Parents who are cruel, rejecting, or display anti-social traits have been found to significantly influence the manifestation of behavioral problems in children and adolescents Barnow, Schuckit, Lucht, & Freyberger, 2002; Patterson, 1999). Young women tend to act in problematic, externalizing ways when low levels of maternal support are present (Barnes & Farrell, 1992).
Related longitudinal studies have concluded that parental rejection has the tendency to precede engagement in problematic behaviors (Ge, Best, Conger, & Simon, 1996; Loeber & Stouthamer- Loeber, 1986; Simons, Robertson, & Downs, 1989). Consequently, adolescents who experience low levels of emotional support from their parents and who perceive their parents to be rejecting engage in significantly more problematic behaviors than peers who perceive their parents to be supportive (Kumpfner & Turner, 1990).
Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory
Children’s relationships with parents and primary caregivers influence their psychological, behavioral, and social functioning during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Although there are many important aspects of the parent-child relationship, research has consistently shown that in order for children to experience healthy social and emotional development, they must receive accepting responses from their parents and primary caregivers. Children who receive accepting responses from their parents tend to be relatively emotionally stable and interpersonally adept (Rohner & Khaleque, 2005). Children who do not receive accepting responses from their parents and primary caregivers, however, experience difficulties with self-esteem and interpersonal relationships and are at increased risk for depression, substance use disorders, and externalizing behavioral problems (including delinquency) during adolescence and adulthood (Ge, et al., 1996; Rohner & Khaleque, 2005).
Findings such as these can be examined and understood through the lens of parental acceptance- rejection theory (PARTheory), which is rooted in tenets of socialization and lifespan development theories. PARTheory postulates that an adolescent’s perceptions of her parental relationships, specifically the warmth or lack of warmth in these relationships, will influence her psychological and behavioral functioning. PARTheory measures warmth by examining parental acceptance and rejection and aims to explain and predict (a) the causes of parental acceptance-rejection, (b) the consequences of experiencing parental acceptance-rejection, and (c) the relationships between parental acceptance- rejection and additional constructs. The theory postulates that when children experience parental rejection, they will experience negative effects of this rejection as a result (Rohner, Khaleque, & Cournoyer, 2007). In order to best understand the construct of parental acceptancerejection, the theory is further divided into three subtheories: personality, coping, and sociocultural systems. The personality subtheory aims to predict and explain psychological consequences of perceived parental acceptance-rejection. The coping subtheory aims to predict and explain factors that contribute to an individual’s ability to effectively cope when experiencing perceived parental rejection. The sociocultural systems subtheory aims to predict and explain societal and individual factors that contribute to parents acting in loving, accepting, distant, neglecting, and/ or rejecting ways (Rohner, 1986, 2004; Rohner, et al., 2007; Rohner & Rohner, 1980). Researchers have suggested that PARTheory is relevant for at least 25% of cultures worldwide, since these cultures include parents who act in rejecting ways that are congruent with the theory’s definition (Rohner & Rohner, 1980).
Based on an individual’s subjective experiences with parents and primary caregivers—including caregiver behaviors, spoken sentiments, and feelings—the overall quality of the parent-child relationship can be classified as being more or less loving, which is identified by the balance of parental acceptance and parental rejection. Parental acceptance is characterized by parents who care about their children’s well-being and provide them with comfort, support, love, and affection. Parental rejection is characterized by parents who do not provide, or withdraw in times of need, qualities such as affection, care, comfort, support, and love. Rejecting parents may also act in physically and emotionally harmful ways. These two classifications of parental behavior—parental acceptance and parental rejection—come together to form the warmth dimension of parenting, which is essentially a continuum with parental acceptance at one end and parental rejection at the other (Rohner & Khaleque, 2005).
Relationships with adults other than parents are also instrumental in shaping the development of children and adolescents. There is some evidence that increased interaction with non-parental adults can support a thriving adolescence, particularly in the area of leadership development (Scales, Benson, Leffert, & Blyth, 2000). Perhaps the most important non-parental adult relationship for many children and adolescents is their relationship with teachers.
There exists significant evidence that teachers influence adolescent development and can be a critical developmental asset in both preventing risk behaviors (Edwards, Mumford, Shillingford, & Serra-Roldan, 2007) and promoting well-being (Scales, et al. 2000). Positive teacher-student relationships have been found to influence improved mental health and wellness (Suldo, McMahan, Chappel, & Loker, 2012), improved use of active coping behaviors (Zimmer-Gembeck & Locke, 2007), and higher levels of hope and lower levels of psychosocial distress (Ludwig & Warren, 2009), to name just a few factors relevant to the focus of this study. Furthermore, a positive teacherstudent relationship has been demonstrated to serve as a protective factor for adolescents who are in less than nurturing family relationships (Hughes, Cavell, & Jackson, 1999), a finding that has been replicated even among children as young as preschool and kindergarten age (Buyse, Verschueren, & Doumen, 2011).
Teachers have long been identified as critical influences in the prevention of juvenile delinquency (Dobbs, 1950). Some empirical support suggests that teacher disapproval may be related to delinquent outcomes, particularly as such disapproval may contribute to the increased likelihood of maintaining relationships with delinquent peers (Adams & Evans, 1996). Although there is limited evidence on the influence of teachers among court-involved girls, there is some suggestion that close connections to one or more teachers can serve an important protective factor for female adolescent delinquency (Crosnoe et al., 2002).
Teachers and PARTheory
The basic tenets of PARTheory have been expanded to address not only parental figures but all attachment figures, including teachers. Similar to parental acceptance-rejection, teacher acceptance-rejection theory postulates that an adolescent’s perceptions of her relationships with teachers, specifically the perceived level of acceptance and rejection in these relationships, will impact her psychological and behavioral functioning (Rohner et al., 2007).
Despite the abundance of research investigating the role of parents in the functioning of juvenile offenders, the specific role of teachers has not yet been investigated in published literature. More specifically, given the recent development of PARTheory at the time of this writing, the relationships between teacher acceptance-rejection and adolescent socio-emotional functioning had not been investigated.
Research has shown that parental rejection contributes to the development of delinquent behaviors (Chen et al., 1997; Ge et al., 1996; Rohner & Khaleque, 2005). When adolescents believe that their parents are not concerned about their well-being, are not interested in them, and are not supportive of them, they are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors than peers who feel accepted and supported by their parents (Simons et al., 1989). Due to the recent development of teacher acceptancerejection theory, which is similar to PARTheory, the relationships between teacher rejection and adolescent socio-emotional functioning has not yet been investigated (Rohner et al., 2007). Given findings from previous studies indicating the influence of parent-child relationships on youth socio-emotional functioning, it seems logical to investigate the influence of teacher-student relationships on youth socio-emotional functioning. In addition, PARTheory has not yet been examined specifically in relation to court-involved adolescent females, since previous studies have used combined samples of males and females and have not analyzed findings for these groups separately.
The present study sought to examine whether the assumptions of the PARTheory could be applied to understanding important parental and teacher relationship predictors and correlates of social and emotional functioning among court-involved adolescent females. As mentioned above, this is a novel application of the PARTheory, since the role of teacher acceptance-rejection has not been investigated in this population. Using PARTheory’s hypothesis that a universal relationship exists between parental acceptance, teacher acceptance, and adolescent socio-emotional functioning (Rohner, 2004; Rohner, et al., 2007), this study analyzed the relationships between perceived parental acceptance, teacher acceptance, and adolescent socio-emotional functioning in a sample of court-involved adolescent females. For the purposes of this study, socio-emotional functioning includes internalizing and externalizing disorders, adolescent friendships, school functioning, family interactions, prosocial beliefs, engagement with delinquent peers, and parental ratings of behavioral, social, and emotional functioning.
Adolescent participants in this study were recruited through a juvenile court system in the upper Midwestern United States. Every female adolescent who was seen by the district court judge, and who was assigned to be on probation, was invited to participate in the study. At the time of intake, if these young women agreed to participate in the study, study packets were given to them, as well as to their guardians. After each packet was completed by the adolescent-parent dyad, participants mailed the completed research packet to the primary researcher. Data were collected over a 10-month period during two consecutive years.
Adolescent participants in the current study were young women (n = 35) who ranged in age from 14 years to 18 years (M = 16.4; SD = 1.03) and who were receiving services through a juvenile court system in the upper Midwestern United States. Of the 35 adolescent participants, 83% were White, 11% were Native American, 3% were African American, and 3% chose not to respond to a question about their race or ethnicity. Of the total sample, 43% reported living with both biological parents, 31% reported living with one biological parent and one step-parent, 20% reported living with their biological mother, and 3% reported living with a grandmother. Most of the adolescent participants (40%) lived with one sibling in the home, 23% lived with two siblings in the home, 23% did not have any siblings in the home, and 11% resided with three or more siblings. The participants reported they initially became involved in the legal system as teenagers. The self-reported spectrum of law-breaking behaviors for these adolescents was wide. Table 1 presents frequencies and percentages regarding adolescent involvement in the legal system.
Of the 35 parent/guardian participants, the majority were biological mothers (88%), while 6% were step-fathers, 3% were biological fathers, and 3% were grandmothers. Female caregivers ranged in age from 31 years to 56 years (M = 41.5; SD = 5.79) and biological male caregivers ranged in age from 34 years to 59 years (M = 42.76; SD = 6.14). The majority of female caregivers identified themselves as White (91%), while 3% identified themselves as Native American, and 6% did not report their racial/ethnic identity. The majority of male caregivers identified themselves as White (77%), while 6% identified themselves as Native American, 3% identified themselves as African American, 3% identified themselves as Asian American, and 11% did not report their race or ethnicity.
Table 1. Youth Legal Involvement: Criminal Activity
|Motor Vehicle Theft||1||2.9|
|Breaking and Entering||3||8.6|
|Theft (over $40)||8||22.9|
|Forgery and Counterfeiting||1||2.9|
|Buying, Receiving, or Possessing Stolen Property||2||5.7|
|Possession or Use of Drugs||2||5.7|
|Possession or Use of Alcohol||21||60.0|
|Driving Under the Influence||1||2.9|
|Driving without a License||1||2.9|
Parent/guardian participants reported varying income levels in this study. The majority of parents indicated incomes ranging between $20,000 and $30,999 (20%), and between $31,000 and $40,999 (20%). A minority of the sample reported lower incomes, with 2.9% reporting an annual income of less than $10,000 and another 5.7% reporting an income between $10,000 and $19,999. The remaining families were fairly equally represented across higher income categories: $41,000 to $50,999 (8.6%); $61,000 to $70,999 (8.6%); $71,000 to $80,999 (11.4%); and $90,000 and above (8.6%). The remainder (14.2%) chose not to respond to a question about their income.
Participants in the study completed a series of surveys. Adolescents completed surveys that assessed their perceived parental and teacher acceptance or rejection, their socio-emotional functioning, their thoughts about criminal behavior, and their engagement with delinquent peers. Guardians completed a survey that assessed their child’s socio-emotional functioning. These surveys are described below.
Perceived parental and teacher acceptance or rejection. Adolescent participants completed three acceptance-rejection questionnaires: the Child Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire with Control Scale: Mother Version (short form) to assess their relationship with their mother; the Child Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire with Control Scale: Father Version (short form) to assess their relationship with their father; and the Teacher Acceptance-Rejection/Control Questionnaire: Child Version (short form) to assess their relationship with a teacher of their choice. Each acceptance-rejection questionnaire sought to determine the overall quality of the adolescent’s relationships with key adults in her life. More specifically, each of these measures is a 24-item questionnaire designed to assess the youth’s perceptions of adult behaviors in terms of acceptance, rejection, and controlling behaviors (Rohner, 1999). Scores between 24 and 44 characterize adult-youth relationships that are primarily accepting and include affection, support, and warmth. Scores between 45 and 59 characterize adult-youth relationships with low levels of acceptance. Scores higher than 60 characterize adult-youth relationships that are primarily rejecting, lacking in acceptance, and include high levels of indifference, aggression, and neglect. In terms of reliability, Cronbach’s alpha for the Child PARQ: Mother ranged from 0.72 to 0.90. With regard to convergent validity, all of the scales within the measure were significantly related to their matched validation scale (p < 0.001) (Rohner & Khaleque, 2005). Cronbach’s alpha for the Child PARQ/Control mother version was acceptable (0.71), father version was high (0.85), and teacher version was minimally acceptable (0.63).
Adolescent socio-emotional functioning. The Youth Self-Report for Ages 11–18 (YSR/11–18) (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001) is a self-report measure that assesses internalizing and externalizing disorders, adolescent friendships, school functioning, family interactions, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Adolescents rate the degree that each prompt currently applies to them, or has applied to them within the past 6 months. Items included in the study were scored on a 3-point Likert-scale (“Not True,” “Somewhat or Sometimes True,” and “Very True or Often True”). This study utilized the following scales from the YSR/11–18: Affective Problems (Depression), Anxiety Problems, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Problems, Oppositional Defiant Problems, Conduct Problems, and Social Problems. The content validity of the YSR, in its various editions, “has been strongly supported by nearly four decades of research, consultation, feedback, and refinement, as well as by the current evidence for the ability of all the items to discriminate significantly (p < .01) between demographically similar referred and nonreferred children” (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001, p. 109). Cronbach’s alpha for this study yielded acceptable results for scales contained in the YSR/11–18 (0.65–0.80).
Adolescents’ thoughts on criminal behavior. The Prosocial Beliefs subscale of the Communities that Care: Youth Survey (Hawkins & Catalano, 2004) is made up of six items that are scored on a 4-point Likert-scale (“Very False,” “Somewhat False,” “Somewhat True,” and “Very True”). High scores on the Prosocial Beliefs subscale characterize adolescents with prosocial beliefs that include adherence to and reverence for generally accepted values regarding honesty, respecting the personal rights and property of others, following rules, and not intentionally causing harm to others. Low scores on the Prosocial Beliefs subscale characterize adolescents with antisocial beliefs that include a lack of adherence to generally accepted values regarding honesty, respecting the personal rights and property of others, following rules, and not intentionally causing harm to others. Cronbach’s alpha for this study was acceptable for the Prosocial Beliefs subscale (0.57). Data regarding the performance of the Prosocial Beliefs subscale in previous studies is unknown.
Adolescents’ engagement with delinquent peers. We assessed peer deviance using the Peer Deviance subscale of the Communities that Care: Youth Survey (Hawkins & Catalano, 2004). The subscale consists of 16 items that ask adolescents to think about their four best friends and to answer a series of questions about their friends’ drug and alcohol use, legal histories, violent and antisocial behaviors, and positive behaviors such as involvement in extracurricular activities and being a member of positive communities. High scores on the Peer Deviance subscale are indicative of adolescents who have close social networks of peers who engage in problematic, antisocial behaviors. Low scores on the Peer Deviance subscale are indicative of adolescents who have a close social network of peers who engage in prosocial behaviors. Cronbach’s alpha for this study was high (0.84). Data regarding the performance of the Peer Deviance subscale in previous studies is unknown.
Guardians’ perceptions of child’s socio-emotional functioning. The Child Behavioral Checklist for Ages 6–18 (CBCL/6–18) (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001) was designed to assess, via parent/guardian report, the emotional, behavioral, and social functioning of children and adolescents. The CBCL/6–18 consists of 118 items that evaluate emotional and behavioral problems and 20 items that assess social functioning. Items included in the study were scored on a 3-point Likertscale (“Not True,” “Somewhat or Sometimes True,” and “Very True or Often True”). As a whole, the CBCL/6–18 assesses internalizing and externalizing disorders, adolescent friendships, school functioning, family interactions, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Internal consistency, as measured by Cronbach’s alpha, has been moderately high (0.63–0.79) for specific problem scales. Scales oriented toward the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text revision; DSM-IV-TR) yielded alphas in the moderately high to high range (0.72–0.91). Empirically based problem scales yielded alphas in the moderately high to high range (0.78–0.97). Cronbach’s alpha for this study yielded acceptable results for scales contained in the CBCL/6–18 (0.67–0.91).
Adolescent girls ages 13 to 18 years were referred to the study by staff at a rural juvenile court system in the upper Midwestern United States. Adolescents who reported breaking the law prior to the age of 13 were excluded from the study because this study sought to examine late-onset adolescent-limited offenders— those whose criminal behaviors are typically limited to their adolescent years. Referral occurred at the time of intake into the juvenile court system, when juvenile court staff distributed study packets to adolescent girls and their legal guardians. Study packets included separate parent/guardian and adolescent consent forms and study questionnaires, and an envelope that was stamped and addressed to the primary researcher. Youth and parent participants completed separate study packets at their convenience. After each packet was completed by the adolescent-parent dyad, participants mailed completed packets to the primary researcher. Eight hours of previously assigned community service were waived for adolescents who chose to participate in the study.
Adolescent mean scores for perceived maternal acceptance (M = 49.37, SD = 12.34), paternal acceptance (M = 53.61, SD = 18.23), and teacher acceptance (M = 52.15, SD = 10.23) indicate that the court-involved adolescents in this sample experienced low levels of acceptance from parents and teachers.
The results of the correlational analyses are presented in Table 2. The correlation between maternal acceptance-rejection and teacher acceptance-rejection was significant (r = 0.37). The correlation between father acceptance-rejection and mother acceptancerejection was not statistically significant (r = 0.09), nor was the correlation between father acceptance-rejection and teacher acceptancerejection (r = 0.03).
Table 2. Bivariate Correlations Among Main Study Variables
|1. PARQ Mother||1.00|
|2. PARQ Father||0.09||1.00|
|3. PARQ Teacher||.37*||0.03||1.00|
|Adolescent Socio-emotional Functioning|
|6. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity||0.15||0.1||.48*||.58*||.66*||1.00|
|7. Oppositional Defiant||0||0.19||0.25||.37*||.39*||.55*||1.00|
|8. Conduct Problems||0.12||0.2||.40*||.46*||.36*||.53*||.73*||1.00|
|9. Social Problems||0.17||0.14||.41*||.72*||.72*||.74*||.63*||.62*||1.00|
|10. Peer Deviance||-0.01||0.16||.33*||0.24||.33*||.45*||.49*||.59*||.40*||1.00|
|11. Prosocial Beliefs||-0.08||-0.13||-.40*||-0.21||-0.2||-.31*||-.54*||-.67*||-.30*||-.46*||1.00|
Acceptance and Rejection as Predictors of Adolescent Socio-Emotional Functioning
A series of multiple regression analyses were conducted to evaluate how well maternal, paternal, and teacher rejection predicted a range of socio-emotional characteristics of court-involved adolescent females. The results of these analyses are summarized in Table 3.
Table 3. Beta and Partial Correlations of the Predictors for Youth Socio-Emotional Functioning
|Predictors||Beta||p||Correlation between each predictor and the depression index controlling for all other predictors|
|Youth Attention Deficit|
|Youth Attenction Defiance|
|Youth Conduct Problems|
Internalizing Problems. In order to understand the influence of parental and teacher acceptance and rejection on internalizing disorders, depression and anxiety were identified as criterion variables. The linear combination of rejection measures was not significantly related to youth depression, F (3, 31) = 1.12, p > 0.05 or youth anxiety, F (3, 31) = 1.59, p > .05. For youth depression, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.31, indicating that approximately 10% of the variance of the depression index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. For anxiety, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.37, indicating that approximately 13% of the variance of the adolescent-reported youth anxiety index can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. As expected, the rejection measures correlated positively with both depression and anxiety indices, with the exception of maternal rejection and youth anxiety. None of the partial correlations were significant for depression, but teacher rejection did correlate significantly with anxiety (0.36, p = .05). Teacher rejection accounted for 8% (0.28 = 0.08) of the variance on the youth depression index and 10% (0.31 = 0.10) of the variance on the youth anxiety index.
Externalizing Problems. In order to understand the influence of parental and teacher acceptance and rejection on externalizing disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and conduct problems were identified as criterion variables. The linear combination of rejection measures was significantly related to youth attention-deficit hyperactivity, F (3, 31) = 3.19, p < .05. However, the linear combination of rejection measures was not significantly related to youth oppositional defiance, F (3, 31) = 1.29, p > .05 or youth conduct problems, F (3, 31) = 2.57, p > .05. For youth attention-deficit hyperactivity, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.49, indicating that approximately 24% of the variance of the attention-deficit hyperactivity index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. For youth oppositional defiance, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.33, indicating that approximately 11% of the variance of the oppositional defiant index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. For youth conduct problems, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.45, indicating that approximately 20% of the variance of the conduct problems index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. Again, as expected, paternal and teacher rejection measures correlated positively with attention-deficit hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and conduct problem indices. Maternal rejection measures, however, correlated negatively with attention-deficit hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and conduct problem indices. None of the partial correlations were significant for oppositional defiance, but teacher rejection did correlate significantly with attention-deficit hyperactivity (0.49, p = 0.01) and conduct problems (0.42, p = 0.02). Teacher rejection accounted for 11% (0.33 = 0.11) of the variance on the youth oppositional defiance index, 23% (0.48 = 0.23) of the variance on the youth attention-deficit hyperactivity index, and 16% (0.40 = 0.16) of the variance on the youth conduct problems index.
Social Functioning. In order to understand the influence of parental and teacher acceptance and rejection on youth social functioning, prosocial beliefs, social problems, and peer deviance were identified as criterion variables. The linear combination of rejection measures was not significantly related to youth prosocial beliefs, F (3, 31) = 2.35, p > 0.05, youth social problems, F (3, 31) = 2.29, p > 0.05, or youth association with delinquent peers, F (3, 31) = 1.91, p > .05. For prosocial beliefs, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.43, indicating that approximately 19% of the variance on the prosocial beliefs index could be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. Once again, paternal and teacher rejection correlated positively with social problems, delinquent peers, and prosocial belief indices. Maternal rejection correlated negatively with delinquent peers and positively with prosocial beliefs indices. For social problems, the sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.43, indicating that 18% of the variance on the social problems index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures. The sample multiple correlation coefficient was 0.40, indicating that 16% of the variance on the delinquent peers index in the sample can be accounted for by the linear combination of rejection measures.
All of the partial correlations between teacher acceptance-rejection and social problems (0.40, p = .03), delinquent peers (0.39, p = .04), and prosocial beliefs (-0.44, p = .02) were significant. Teacher rejection accounted for 16% (-0.40 = 0.16) of the variance on the youth prosocial beliefs index, 16% (0.41 = .16) of the variance on the youth social problems index, and 16% (-0.40 = .016) of the variance on the peer deviance index.
The adolescent females in this study perceived their relationships with parents and teachers to be lacking comfort, support, love, and affection. PARTheory postulates that when adolescents experience these sorts of negative perceptions, they experience negative consequences as a result. PARTheory asserts that an adolescent’s perceptions of her parental relationships will affect her psychological and behavioral functioning. We, therefore, hypothesized that adolescents who reported low levels of parental and teacher acceptance would also report high levels of internalizing and externalizing disorders. However, neither maternal acceptance-rejection nor paternal acceptance-rejection was a direct predictor of the social, emotional, and behavioral functioning of the court-involved adolescent females in this study. Specifically, PARTheory’s assertion that adolescents who report low levels of parental acceptance would report high levels of internalizing and externalizing disorders was not supported. However, when these girls experienced low levels of acceptance from their mothers, they also tended to experience low levels of acceptance from their teachers—and the relationship between teacher acceptance-rejection and adolescent socio-emotional functioning was significant. Consequently, teacher-student relationships were more closely related to adolescent socio-emotional functioning than parent-child relationships.
Adolescent females who felt rejected by their teachers experienced higher levels of psychological distress and social problems than those who felt accepted and supported by their teachers. Although causality cannot be assumed in this study, teacher rejection accounted for the greatest variance in socio-emotional functioning among court involved adolescent females. Teacher rejection significantly contributed to youth anxiety, low levels of prosocial beliefs, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct problems, social problems, and association with delinquent peers. This is the first study to date that documents the significant role of teachers in regard to adolescent socio-emotional functioning by applying the PARTheory. The role that teachers play in the psychological functioning of youth has been traditionally understudied in psychological literature, and teacher acceptancerejection is a fairly new concept that is in need of additional research. The finding that there were no significant relationships between paternal rejection and adolescent socio-emotional functioning challenges PARTheory to consider not only the influential roles of parents on adolescent functioning, but also the roles of other potentially influential adults, including teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and informal mentors.
These results suggest that an adolescent female’s experiences with maternal rejection are associated with her perceived experiences with teachers. In turn, it appears that teacher rejection has the greatest influence on an adolescent female’s problematic social and psychological functioning. It is possible that her experience with maternal rejection affects her interpersonal relationships with authority figures later in life. Alternatively, it is also possible that teachers are responding to inappropriate behaviors in the classroom and, as a result, adolescent females perceive their teachers as rejecting. While teachers are required to maintain classrooms that adhere to zero tolerance policies regarding acting out and potentially dangerous activities, parents are not required to similarly maintain their homes. This conflict may confuse adolescent females and they may, in turn, perceive standard disciplinary actions in the classroom to be negative and rejecting. In addition, it is possible that as a result of spending more time at school than at home, and consequently more time with teachers than with parents, court-involved adolescent females place increased value on their relationship with teachers. These findings may have also occurred because teachers are highly influential during adolescence, and because parents may have less influence on their daughters than teachers during this time. Together, these possibilities highlight the importance of examining the role that teachers play in the lives of at-risk youth.
Limitations of the Study
Although the current study had many strengths, including assessing the socio-emotional functioning of an underresearched population and testing a novel application of PARTheory, several limitations must also be acknowledged. First, the study sample size was small and adolescent participants were recruited from a single referral source, which limits the generalizability to courtinvolved adolescent girls in the rural, Northern Plains. In addition, the racial/ethnic distribution in this sample was not representative of populations in other parts of the country. Second, the study did not include a measure of social desirability for adolescents and parents, which is something that applies specifically to parental reports of adolescent socio-emotional functioning. As a result, the parents in this study may have felt a need to present their court-involved daughters as fitting within societal norms to a greater extent than they actually did. Third, the study had adolescent participants complete questionnaires assessing maternal and paternal acceptance-rejection without giving them the opportunity to describe their relationship with each caregiver. If, for example, participants answered questions about their relationship with a caregiver with whom they had little to no contact, the significance of that relationship might be diminished; that is, the type of relationship itself could, in fact, reduce its likelihood of influencing adolescent socio-emotional functioning.
In the current study, no attempt was made to identify the primary caregiver(s) of adolescents, and additional relationship variables were not explored (e.g., time spent with each parent on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis; or childhood history of time spent with each parent on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis). This lack of information may have inadvertently affected study results. For example, a small number of adolescent participants stated they lived with their grandparents, but completed study questionnaires about their mothers and fathers. If these girls identified their primary caregivers as their grandparents but completed questionnaires about their parents, the role of the primary caregivers (grandparents) relating to current socio-emotional functioning may have been underestimated. This inability to determine the relative significance of each parent-child relationship may have led to the paucity of significant findings regarding the relationships between parental acceptance-rejection and adolescent socio-emotional functioning.
Recommendations for Future Research
The results of this study suggest that future research should focus on the relationships between students and teachers and their influence on criminal behaviors and on the socioemotional functioning of youth. Research should be conducted to fully understand the directional influences of the teacher and youth relationship on socio-emotional functioning in forensic populations. Future research should investigate possible causality in both directions via longitudinal or cross-sectional studies. In other words, future research should seek to answer the following questions: do teachers react negatively to adolescents with behavioral problems, do adolescents develop certain socio-emotional problems when they do not feel accepted by teachers, or do court-involved adolescent females simply perceive their relationships with adults as lacking in acceptance, whether or not that acceptance is present? At this point, we can posit that courtinvolved female youth who experience socioemotional problems also experience low levels of acceptance from their teachers. Regardless of how the problem develops, the two variables interact and are likely to build on one another. However, if future research can answer these questions, interventions can be developed to effectively address the needs of at-risk youth.
Related to the previous recommendation, future research should explore the specific relationships between maternal and teacher acceptancerejection. Additional attention needs to be paid to the influence of mother-child relationships on student-teacher relationships, and the influence of student-teacher relationships on the development of criminal behaviors. It will be important for future research to explore potential causal relationships, and consider teacher acceptancerejection as a mediating variable for the development of criminal behaviors. From an attachment standpoint, one might seek to answer this question: do adolescents learn how to interact with their mothers (or primary caregivers) and then replicate these interactions, thoughts about adults, expectations of adult-youth interactions, and behavioral patterns of interacting? In addition, how are these two variables specifically related to one another? These relationships could be explored using a longitudinal or cross-sectional research design.
Related to the assessment of peer delinquency on future studies, self-report measures may be less than ideal for accurately measuring this variable (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Matsueda & Anderson, 1998). Although it was outside the scope of the present study, future research might consider (a) asking peers to refer their close friends to the study and having those adolescents complete their own measures of behavioral functioning; (b) asking parents to complete measures of behavioral functioning pertaining to their child’s close friends; or (c) conducting a longitudinal study that asks youth to report their perceptions of their friends’ behaviors from a young age, and relate their responses to lawbreaking behaviors.
Finally, future studies should include larger sample sizes and a comparison group composed of a nonforensic sample. This could be accomplished by conducting a multisite study that would include court-involved and non-court-involved adolescent girls from several rural communities with similar family and community demographics. Nevertheless, the decision to seek participants from a single jurisdiction for the present study does help to illuminate the relationships between parental and teacher acceptance and rejection while controlling for factors that may vary as a function of geography, access to resources, access to criminal activity, and myriad other issues that can influence these relationships among the adolescent female population. Future research with more diversified samples will help to identify and integrate influences on adolescent female perceptions and functioning not considered as part of this study.
Implications for Future Interventions
The results of this study highlight the need for relationship-based programming for courtinvolved adolescent females. In order to support these adolescents, preventive programming and responsive interventions should address not only emotional and behavioral problems, but should also focus on strengthening relationships with potentially influential adults at school, at home, and within the community.
The first, and possibly most obvious, implication of the study is that interventions for at-risk girls should involve helping girls develop healthy and supportive relationships at school, specifically with teachers. Related to this, if teachers can positively influence the social, emotional, and behavioral functioning of adolescent girls, other positive non-parental adults may be influential as well. The second suggestion is to help these girls develop healthy and supportive relationships with positive adults in their communities
About the Authors
Kathleen S. Tillman, PhD, is assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Services, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Cindy L. Juntunen, PhD is professor and co-training director in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Services, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
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