Friday, April 28, 2017

Measuring the Nature of Parenting Practices in Studies

A "scientific" journal article entitled, “Which dimension of parenting predicts the change of callous unemotional traits in children with disruptive behavior disorder?” By Muratori and others in the August 2016 issue of Comprehensive Psychiatry attempted to determine whether parenting practices influenced the development of so called callous and unemotional (CU) character traits in children. Alternatively, are those traits – which are common in children with disruptive behavior –more genetic in origin? 

In the study, no significant relationship was found between "negative" parenting and CU traits; these two variables were also unrelated when "positive" parenting was considered in the same model. However, using a slightly different model, higher levels of positive parenting predicted lower levels of CU traits.

Although I would like to believe and tend to agree that “positivity” in parent-child relationships helps decrease acting out behavior in children, a huge problem with this type of study is how the hell can you precisely measure the nature of the relationship between parents and children? The biggest problems with that include the fact that these relationships are not constants but vary across time and situational contexts. Parents might be good disciplinarians when it comes to providing children with adequate curfews, for example, but terrible at allowing them to stay up all hours of the night. Furthermore, the disciplinary practices certainly change over time as the children get older.

Second, how does a study even attempt to measure the tone of parenting practices? This study used a measure called The Alabama Parenting Questionnaire (APQ) [40] mother report. This parent report measure has five subscales: parental involvement, positive parenting, poor monitoring/supervision, inconsistent discipline, and corporal punishment. Items are rated on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always).

They used the mother’s own report of her own disciplinary practices! If a mother were abusive or inconsistent, how likely do these authors think she would admit to it, even if she were very self-aware, which obviously many people are not. There is no way to be sure, of course, but the odds are very good that the amount of “negative” parenting is  higher than their study results would indicate, while the amount of “positive” parenting could be overestimated. 

And which particular types of those parental behaviors listed in the instrument were the most relevant to the question at hand? There is no way to know!

When it comes to assessing the effects of family interactions, details make a huge difference. And as I have maintained over and over again, in order to get these details, you would need a camera on both the parents and the children 24 hours a day over a significant time period. This type of study using absolutely no direct observation of what is purportedly being measured is a complete waste of time.

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