Adolescents receive various messages from their mothers. But a new study, led by Laura Wray-Lake of the School of Behavioral and Organization Sciences at Claremont Graduate University, suggests that messages of caution and compassion have a particularly significant influence on the socialization and behaviors of teens. Compassion messages are inferences that people should all be treated with respect and value, whereas caution messages teach children to be wary of the world and people around them. Wray-Lake and her colleagues looked at several factors that influenced the value messages of the mothers, specifically, socioeconomic status (SES), neighborhood cohesion, family construct, and age and gender of the teens.
SES is particularly relevant to value messages. Studies have shown that mothers from lower SES communicate more messages of caution to their teens. This is due in part to the perception of higher crime and availability of drugs. Mothers in these underprivileged neighborhoods believe their children are at greater risk of harm, violence, or drug use than mothers in more cohesive neighborhoods. Conversely, mothers from a higher SES tend to use value messages demonstrating compassion more often than caution messages.
Wray-Lake interviewed 1,933 students from 5th to 12th grade over a 3-year period. She found that the construct of the family and stability of family cohesion was directly related to compassion value messages. As she theorized, Wray-Lake also discovered that low SES led to more caution messages. Surprisingly, the study revealed no level of change in compassion messages when the mothers realized their children were being bullied. Rather than increasing their compassion messages to their children, the mothers decreased them, suggesting that mothers instinctively want to protect their children from attack rather than offering kindness to the aggressor. The study also demonstrated positive effects of religiosity on compassion. Wray-Lake added, “Further examining contextual influences on socialization messages may bring important insights into contextual and cultural variations in parenting and adolescent development.”
Wray-Lake, L., Flanagan, C. A., Maggs, J. L. “Socialization in Context: Exploring Longitudinal Correlates of Mothers’ Value Messages of Compassion and Caution.” Developmental Psychology 48.1 (2012): 250-56. Print.
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