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Teaching Adolesence

Are Parental Monitoring and Peer Management Always Effective?

Traditionally, parental monitoring has been found to be one of the most important protective factors against teenage delinquency. However, too much monitoring might sometimes be counter-productive.

By Tara Kuther

Adolescent peer relationships are characterized by homophily, the tendency for friends to share similarities and engage in similar levels of behavior.  As a result, it’s not surprising that one of the most robust predictors of delinquency during adolescence is having friends who engage in delinquent behavior.  Parents are often instructed to monitor their teens’ whereabouts and friendships to protect them from the influence of delinquent peers. But is monitoring effective in reducing contact with delinquent peers? Tilton-Weaver, Burk, Kerr, and Stattin (2013) studied this question by using social network analysis to examine peer networks and the influence of parents’ peer management on adolescents’ selection and influence of delinquent peers over time.

A community sample (N=1,730) of 4th (early adolescence), 7th (middle adolescence), and 10th (late adolescence) grade public school students from a small city in Sweden were surveyed annually for 3 years.  Peer networks were identified by sociometric nominations.  Adolescents also completed self-report measures of delinquent behavior, feelings of being overcontrolled by parents, and parents’ peer management: solicitation of information, monitoring, and communicating disapproval of peers.

Results suggest that across all age groups, adolescents selected friends who had similar levels of delinquent behavior. Adolescents’ reports of delinquent behavior also increased in the presence of delinquent friends.

Does parental monitoring work? Among 10th graders, higher levels of parental monitoring, such as being required to inform parents of their whereabouts, activities, and company, were associated with selecting fewer delinquent peers. This was also observed among early adolescents, but only for those who did not feel overcontrolled by parents. In contrast, when feeling overcontrolled by their parents, early adolescents responded to high parental monitoring by selecting more delinquent friends.

Does communicating disapproval of peers work? During middle adolescence, when parents communicated disapproval of peers the likelihood an adolescent would select a delinquent friend increased. In late adolescence this effect varied. For those teens reporting the highest rates of delinquency, communicating disapproval reduced the influence of delinquent peers; however, for teens who reported low levels of delinquency, communicating disapproval increased the influence of delinquent peers.

A major theme in the parenting literature and popular press is that parents should keep a close eye on their adolescent’s activities and friendships in order to prevent associations with delinquent peers. However, these findings suggest that the effectiveness of monitoring and peer management is not uniform and varies by timing and development. For example, some early adolescents may be more reactive to feeling overcontrolled by parents and view monitoring as intrusive.  Middle adolescents may view friendships as a personal choice and parental communications of disapproval may fail to meet their needs for autonomy and personal choice in establishing peer relationships. These findings suggest that a more nuanced approach to understanding parental influence on peer relationships is needed.
Read more about this important study in

Tilton-Weaver, L. C., Burk, W. J., Kerr, M., & Stattin, H. (2013). Can parental monitoring and peer management reduce the selection or influence of delinquent peers? Testing the question using a dynamic social network approach. Developmental Psychology, 49(11), 2057-2070. doi: 10.1037/a0031854

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