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, 59 (2), 321-35

Adolescents' and Parents' Conceptions of Parental Authority

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Adolescents' and Parents' Conceptions of Parental Authority

J G Smetana. Child Dev.

Abstract

This study assessed adolescents' and parents' conceptions of parental authority. Subjects were 102 children ranging from fifth to twelfth grade (age range = 10.2-18.3 years) from 2-parent families and their parents. They were divided into 4 groups according to children's grade level. Subjects were presented with 15 items pertaining to family transgressions (4 moral, 4 conventional, 3 personal, and 4 multifaceted, containing conventional and personal components). For each act, subjects were asked to judge the legitimacy of parental jurisdiction, justify its wrongness or permissibility, and assess its contingency on parental authority. As expected, all family members treated both moral and conventional issues as more legitimately subject to parental jurisdiction than multifaceted and personal issues. With increasing age of the adolescent, both parents and children became less likely to reason about the multifaceted and personal issues as conventional and sort them as contingent on parental authority; they became more likely to reason about and sort them as under the adolescents' personal jurisdiction. Adolescents at all ages, however, were more likely to reason about the multifaceted and personal issues as personal and sort them as under personal jurisdiction than were parents. Parents were more likely to reason conventionally and sort them as contingent on parental authority than were adolescents. These findings are discussed in terms of research on adolescent development, individuation, and social-cognitive development.

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