Research reviews

The parenting of youth
Gill Jones and G Martin, University of Keele

Nine out of 10 parents believe it is harder for today’s
young people to achieve independence than it was for their own
generation, according to this study funded by the Economic and
Social Research Council. Financial dependence on parents was a fact
of life for young people, but parents themselves were unclear about
their responsibilities.

Government policies assume that young people will be subsidised
by their parents into their mid-twenties, but most parents thought
their legal obligation to provide food, clothing and shelter ended
when their children reached age 16, and were not aware of any
formal duty on them to subsidise students or low paid workers.

How much support young people can rely on, and what they have to
do to get it, varies greatly between families. Some parents were
autocratic, and young people could only escape their control by
leaving home. In other families, parents recognised that their
children needed to make a gradual transition to independence, but
even where relationships were good, many parents could not afford
to provide the financial support young people needed.

Sometimes young people’s choices about work or education
were determined by short-term considerations under pressure from
parents. Few parents in the study had themselves been to college.
Middle class parents were more likely to value education for its
own sake, while working class parents saw it as a way of getting a
better job. Most but not all students had some financial help from
their parents who often took on extra work or cashed savings.
Students fearful of mounting debt often responded by getting jobs,
but this affected their studies and caused some to drop out of
their courses.

Fathers’ involvement with their secondary
school-aged children
Eirini Flouri, Ann Buchanan, Elaine Welsh and Jane Lewis,
Oxford University

Older children’s well-being is more closely linked to the
quality of family relationships and their parents’ mental
health than to than poverty or family size, according to this large
scale study.

Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it found that
secondary school-aged children whose fathers lived with them were
slightly better adjusted than children with non-resident fathers.
Both groups of children were more likely to experience emotional
and behavioural problems if there was a high level of conflict
between the parents, or if parents had mental health problems.
Children living with their biological fathers were better adjusted
if he had good mental health, was well educated and was highly
involved in their day-to-day lives. Another important influence on
the well-being of these children was their mother’s

Most intact families took a traditional view of the
father’s role, in which he was expected to “be there”, to
provide for and to guide the family rather than share activities or
be involved in the children’s every day lives. Fathers were
more likely to be involved with the children if the mothers were
also involved, and if the fathers held egalitarian views of gender

The young people with resident fathers or father figures rated
them as only slightly more involved in their lives than
non-resident fathers. And, unlike some other studies, this research
found no significant benefit to children from a non-resident father
being involved in their lives.

The researchers point out that the restricted role fathers are
playing in many intact families helps explain why they find it
difficult to be involved in their children’s lives when they
are no longer living with them. “Because a large part of the
‘being there’ role is not available to them,
non-resident fathers have to establish new roles and relationships
if their contact is to be rewarding and effective.”

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