As children mature into adulthood, they strive to achieve their own identity and independence. During this process, many young adults vow to “never become like my mother or father.” However, research suggests that regardless of how motivated a child is to parent his or her children differently, the chances are pretty good that similar parenting styles will be employed. Jay Belsky of the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of California-Davis recently conducted a study designed to test the theory that adults who deferred parenting—specifically, waited until they were in their thirties rather than their twenties before having children—would be less likely to have trans-generational parenting styles.
To test this theory, Belsky gathered data from two decades of birth records and assessed several hundred individuals who had children in their early to mid-twenties. He found that for the most part, these young parents raised their children in ways that were very much like their parents had raised them. He compared that to the methods, attitudes, and behaviors used among individuals who became parents in their thirties, assuming that the further someone was from his or her own childhood, the weaker the effect parents’ influences would be. Instead, Belsky found that the trans-generational dynamic was nearly as strong in the older parents.
The finding that there was virtually no difference in how generational parenting affected older and younger parents was unexpected. “Because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, caution is called for before concluding that age does not ever or at all moderate the intergenerational transmission process,” Belsky said. He hopes that this study will motivate other research to explore this effect in samples that include individuals who become parents in their forties. The results presented here represent only the first step in understanding how future generations, those who put off parenting for several years, will function as parents. This will be a rich area of research and will impact childhood behaviors and shed light on how clinicians can prevent maladaptive parenting strategies, such as violence, neglect, and emotional abuse, from being passed from one generation to the next.
Belsky, Jay, Robert J. Hancox, Judith Sligo, and Richie Poulton. Does being an older parent attenuate the intergenerational transmission of parenting? Developmental Psychology 48.6 (2012): 1570-574. Print.
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