January 2003

Grant Results

SUMMARY

In 1999–2001, the University of Utah Department of Psychology conducted the third round of data collection and analysis for the Young Parenthood Project.

The long-term goal of the Young Parenthood Project is to develop and implement a preventive intervention program designed to facilitate positive adjustment to parenthood.

Key Findings

  • Adjustment to parenthood is influenced by a complex confluence of factors.
  • Many young couples appeared to have adjusted to parenthood more positively than expected given their particular set of obstacles.
  • The quality of a young couple's relationship is a potent predictor of how well an adolescent mother and her partner will function as parents and co-parents.
  • Young couples' own parents are valuable resources in their adjustment to parenthood.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with a grant of $107,910 from September 1999 to August 2001.

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THE PROJECT

A number of research studies have focused on the parental functioning of adolescent mothers and on the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of absent fathers. However, relatively little research has been directed at understanding the paternal functioning of young inner-city fathers or the psychological mechanisms underlying paternal absence.

In 1996, investigators at the University of Utah Department of Psychology initiated the Young Parenthood Project — a cross-ethnic, longitudinal study of young economically disadvantaged parents and their children. The objectives of the overall study were to:

  1. Collect a sample of young expectant couples representative of the ethnic population in Chicago and follow the couples over a period of two years.
  2. Describe the psychological and interpersonal functioning of young expectant mothers and their partners.
  3. Describe the process through which young parents adjust to parenthood — particularly how they negotiate that adjustment with each other.
  4. Clarify links between psychological-interpersonal risk and protective factors and the adjustment to parenthood; for example, does a pattern of hostile interactions between the young parents predict hostile behavior toward their children, and conversely, does a pattern of nurturing interactions between the young parents predict nurturing behavior toward their children?.
  5. In the long term, develop and implement an intervention program designed to facilitate positive coparenting and parenting behavior among young expectant mothers and fathers.

The study team recruited 183 young couples from schools and clinics in the Chicago area. The expectant fathers were 14–24 years old, and the first-time expectant mothers were 14–19. The ethnically diverse sample included 58 percent African-American, 26 percent Hispanic and 15 percent white couples. The project investigators say the study was not truly representative of young fathers in the community: they were unable to include fathers who were already disengaged at the time of recruitment, and they encountered some difficulty in finding and recruiting white couples.

Project investigators conducted two waves of data collection: the first, prior to the birth of the couple's child (time 1) and the second, when their child was 12–15 months old. This grant from RWJF supported a third wave of data collection — when the child reached 24–27 months old — and data analysis (time 3).

Other Funding

The Office of Population Affairs' Adolescent Family Life Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided $550,000 in funding for the first two rounds of data collection for the Young Parenthood Project. The University of Utah Research Foundation provided a $25,000 bridge grant to cover the period between the end of funding of the family life program and the beginning of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grant.

Methodology

The investigators used several methods for collecting data and information, including:

  1. A series of semistructured interviews designed to gather information — in a qualitative, exploratory manner — about the experiences of young parents.
  2. Structured diagnostic interviews designed to assess base rates of psychopathology (defined as a chronic mental disorder often associated with abnormal social behavior, which may include emotional instability).
  3. A videotaping for gathering and coding observational data on the co-parenting relationship and the parent-child relationship.
  4. A series of questionnaires focusing on parenting variables such as stress, behavior and attitudes; psychological/ psychosocial variables such as presence of a diagnosable mental disorder, educational background and job status; and relational-contextual variables such as the quality of the young couple's interaction with each other and with their own parents.

The videotaped interactions at time 1 (couples) and time 3 (mother-child; father-child) were coded by means of an observational coding scheme based on the structural analysis of social behavior instrument. Based on two dimensions of behavior — affiliation and interdependence, both defined later — the structural analysis is used to describe interpersonal behavior in terms of simple and complex combinations of hostility, warmth, control, submission, autonomy giving and autonomy taking/assertiveness.

The affiliation dimension of the structural analysis model describes the degree of warmth and/or hostility in any given interpersonal exchange, ranging from attack (extreme hostility) to love (extreme warmth). The interdependence dimension is used to describe the degree of enmeshment (control or submit) and/or differentiation (autonomy giving or autonomy taking/independence) observed in a given behavior.

The investigators used the structural analysis model to assign scores to the couple's interactions for each of the following interpersonal processes: demand-withdraw, nurture-disclose, control-autonomy, demand-sulk, control-submit, nurture-trust. (See Table one for details.)

Table One. Descriptions of SASB Couple Types
SASB-Based Couple TypeDescription
Demand-withdrawOne partner exhibits high rates of blaming behavior such as criticism or condescension, whereas the other partner exhibits high rates of walling-off or ignoring behavior.
Demand-sulkBoth partners exhibit high rates of hostility, particularly mutually blaming and sulking behaviors such as whining, poor-me statements and resentful compliance.
Control-submitOne partner exhibits high rates of controlling behavior — for example, saying "Do as I say" — while the other partner exhibits high rates of submissive behavior such as giving, yielding and complying.
Nurture-trustOne partner exhibits high rates of nurturing behavior such as taking care of, protecting, teaching and guiding), while the other partner exhibits high rates of relying and trusting behaviors such as willingly receiving help or learning in a childlike way.
Nurture-discloseOne partner exhibits high rates of nurturing behavior, while the other partner exhibits high rates of disclosing behavior such as being friendly and offering open sharing of ideas, experiences and feelings.
Control-autonomyBoth partners exhibit high rates of controlling behavior — such as monitoring the other by saying, "Do as I say" — and high rates of autonomy-seeking or assertive behaviors such as acting independently and asserting one's own ideas and beliefs.
SASB = structural analysis of social behavior

The couples were then grouped according to the predominant type of behavior pattern exhibited:

  1. Control-autonomy, and control-submit.
  2. Nurture-disclose and nurture-trust.
  3. Demand-withdraw and demand-sulk.

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FINDINGS

The long-term goal of the Young Parenthood Project is to develop and implement a preventive intervention program designed to facilitate positive adjustment to parenthood. To provide data for developing such a program, investigators needed to clarify the risk factors associated with poor adjustment and the protective factors associated with more-positive adjustment. The following were the findings related to this goal:

  • Young fathers who had a history of conduct disorder (defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM] IV-R as "a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated") and/or substance abuse at time 1 (prior to the birth of the couple's child) were more likely to engage in higher rates of controlling behavior when interacting with the children than young men who did not report a history of psychological problems.
  • Young mothers who were assessed at time 1 with a history of depression, conduct disorder or anxiety disorder tended to have a higher risk of child abuse and a higher rate of parenting stress and were observed to ignore their children more during structured play activity than the young women who did not report having psychological problems.
  • Young fathers who reported positive relations with their own mothers and their partners reported lower rates of parenting stress and lower risk for child abuse. These young fathers were also more likely to remain involved as co-parents. Together these findings suggest that the level of support a young father receives from his own mother often plays an important role in how well he adjusts to parenthood.
  • Mothers who reported positive relations with their fathers were less at risk for abusing their child.
  • Mothers who maintained a positive relationship with their partners over time reported lower levels of parenting stress at time 3, when the child reached two years of age.
  • Fathers and mothers who were classified in the demand-withdraw group at time 1 were more likely to become violent toward one another. Also, young fathers and mothers in this group tended to be more controlling and less nurturing toward their children. Consistent with this finding, children with parents in the demand-withdraw group tended to be more submissive and sulky and less trusting than children whose parents were classified in the nurture-trust group at time 1.

Summary of Key Information

  • Adjustment to parenthood is influenced by a complex confluence of factors. These include the young parents' educational/vocational functioning, individual psychological functioning and the quality of relations with his or her mother, father and partner. This complexity underscores the need for a flexible approach to preventive intervention.
  • Many young couples appeared to have adjusted to parenthood more positively than expected given their particular set of obstacles. Those couples that buck the trend represent important sources of information for helping other parents who are coping less effectively. Qualitative data analysis will help illuminate the circumstances and capacities of those who make a successful transition to parenthood, according to the investigators.
  • The quality of a young couple's relationship is a potent predictor of how well an adolescent mother and her partner will function as parents and co-parents. Designing programs that help young couples become more nurturing, disclosing and trusting with each other will facilitate their ability to engage in more-positive parenting behaviors.
  • Young couples' own parents are valuable resources in their adjustment to parenthood. Programs should be designed to make optimal use of the positive support provided by the couples' own parents and diminish the impact of negative relationship factors such as the absence of the father of the baby.

Limitations

While this non-representative sampling may limit the general scope of the study, the investigators say the participants represent young fathers who are most amenable to preventive intervention programs. The investigators also noted the limitations of the structural analysis model, which is most commonly used with adults, in assessing the behaviors of children.

Communications

Project investigators wrote two book chapters and three journal articles based on this study and made presentations at six national conferences. In addition, investigators are preparing "The Young Parenthood Project Manual: A Co-Parenting Program for Young Expectant Couples." (See the Bibliography for details.)

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LESSONS LEARNED

  1. It is difficult, but possible, to collect rich, clinically relevant data from a transient, disadvantaged and highly stressed population. Conducting research with the young mothers and fathers was time-consuming, according to the investigators, and required that research assistants have good interpersonal skills and a genuine appreciation for the difficulties facing study participants. (Project Director)

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AFTER THE GRANT

Using information gathered through their research, the investigators developed the Young Parenthood Program, a preventive intervention program designed to help young expectant couples develop their interpersonal skills so they can (1) establish and maintain a supportive coparenting alliance and (2) provide their child with a nurturing family context. RWJF turned down a grant request to test this program; the investigators are seeking other funding.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Study of Young, Economically Disadvantaged Parents and Their Children

Grantee

University of Utah Department of Psychology (Salt Lake City,  UT)

  • Amount: $ 107,910
    Dates: September 1999 to August 2001
    ID#:  036768

Contact

Paul Florsheim, Ph.D.
(801) 585-5676
Florsheim@psych.utah.edu

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Book Chapters

Florsheim P, Moore D and Edgington C. "Romantic Relations Among Adolescent Parents." In Adolescent Romantic Relations and Sexual Behavior, Florsheim P, ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Articles

Florsheim P, Sumida E, McCann C, Winstanley M, Fukui R, Seefeldt T and Moore D. "Adjustment to Parenthood Among Young African American and Latino Couples: Relational Predictors of Risk for Parental Dysfunction." Journal of Family Psychology, 17(1): 65–79, 2003. Abstract available online.

Moore D and Florsheim P. "Interpersonal Process, Relationship, Satisfaction, and Relationship Status Among Young Couples Across the Transition to Parenthood." Unpublished.

Winstanley M, Meyers S and Florsheim P. "Psychological Correlates of Intimacy Achievement Among Adolescent Fathers." Journal of Youth and Adolescence, (31): 91–100, 2002.

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Report prepared by: David Kales
Reviewed by: Kelsey Menehan
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Katherine Kraft

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