Authoritative parenting and adolescent adjustment across varied ecological niches - Interview with Dr. Laurence Steinberg

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Here at SRA, we are passionate about staying up to date on the newest research being done within the field of adolescence. In pursuit of this goal, we have recently started a new initiative across our social media platforms, #MustReadMonday.  

However, for our first-ever installment of #MustReadMonday, we’re doing something a bit different: we're throwing it all the way back to our very first issue: JRA Volume 1, Issue 1!

In Dr. Laurence Steinberg's article, Authoritative parenting and adolescent adjustment across varied ecological niches, the authors describe the powerful associations between authoritative parenting and adolescent wellbeing.

We reached out to Dr. Steinberg for his thoughts on what's changed (and what hasn't!) in the field of Adolescence Research since this article came out. Beyond being a world-renowned expert in his field, Dr. Steinberg is also an exceptionally nice person and therefore took the time to respond to all of our questions. Here’s what he had to say.

  1. What has been most surprising to you in the field of adolescent research?
    What’s been most surprising to me is the sheer increase in the number of papers and entire journals that are devoted to adolescence. When SRA had its first meeting, in 1986 (I was local arrangements chair, and my former advisor, John Hill, was President), the attendance was just 350 people, and no sessions were ever scheduled at the same time, so everyone could see everything.

  2. What do you find to be the most interesting and exciting pursuits in the field right now?
    I think it’s hard to think of an area that is more interesting at this moment than brain development. This was enabled by the increasing availability of fMRI in the mid-to-late 1990s. From 2000 on, it has been an incredibly popular topic, and the literature is growing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up.

    On the other hand, there are topics that seem to be central ones for a long time, long after it probably is useful. An example would be the impact of authoritative parenting on adolescent development. Our 1991 paper that you reference was on this topic. However, as I said in my 2000 presidential address to SRA, “We Know Some Things.”  The power of authoritative parenting is one of the things we “know.” So I’m a bit puzzled about why so many people continue to study this. I don’t think it’s productive to keep asking the same questions over and over again. The topic has been studied in most parts of the world. We don’t need to replicate this research in every single corner of the world.

  3. What questions are you most excited to get the answers to? 
    It’s hard to say what topics I’m especially excited to get answers to.  I suppose it would be the impact of social media on adolescent development and mental health. There is such a disconnect between what the public has been led to believe (that social media use is rotting kids’ brains and stunting their growth) and what the science says (it’s far more complicated, and, if anything, using social media helps more adolescents than it hurts). We need good longitudinal research that distinguishes among different social media and different ways of using them (rather than just measuring total time spent), and that looks at individual differences in their impact. For example, kids who have a lot of friends in school and use social media to communicate with them benefit from it, whereas those who are lonely or feel left out may be harmed by seeing how much social activity is going on that they’re excluded from.

  4. What has been the biggest game-changer for adolescent research and researchers?
    I think the biggest game-changer for researchers has been the recognition that many ethnic and socioeconomic groups have been studied so little, and that a lot of what we know is based on studies of white, middle-class kids. That said, a lot of the new research on ethnic minority populations focuses on a very small number of topics (ethnic identity, discrimination). So, I guess I would say that we need more diverse research on diverse populations.

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