Sometimes there is an element of luck in research collaborations. Case in point: a master's student in our degree program in criminal justice at FIU works at a juvenile assessment center (entry and exit point for juveniles being processed through the juvenile justice system). He expressed an interest in wanting to understand why so many parents who come to pick up their children convey the sentiment to him that they are fed up with their kids and don't want them back (putting aside the obvious fact that their children are engaging in sometimes very serious forms of delinquency). Given my primary research focus on the family environment and self-control, I immediately felt that there was a great opportunity to collect data from parents of high-risk adolescents about the family environment, parenting practices, and the self-control of the parents, something which only recently has started to be measured by researchers such as Stacy Nofziger, Brian Boutwell, and Kevin Beaver. Happily, the student was on board with the idea, as was his immediate supervisor.
We are now in the middle of collecting survey data from parents of juveniles being released from the assessment facility on a number of different aspects of the family environment, the supervision and disciplinary practices used by these parents, and indicators of their own levels of self-control. Though only preliminary because data collection is ongoing, some incredible relationships are emerging in the data. For example, parents who rate themselves as lower in self-control are more likely to report that: yelling and shouting frequently takes place at home; that they fail to monitor and supervise their children; that they use inconsistent disciplinary practices, and that they are less attached to their children. Furthermore, parents who are lower in self-control report they are less likely to: set bed times for their children; make important decisions together as a family; and assist their children with homework.
In addition to these emergent relationships, two other patterns have emerged in the data. First, parents who rate themselves as lower in self-control are also more likely to report they feel like they are failing to be effective parents (quite the admission!). Second, parents who are lower in self-control are more likely to express the sentiment that they have reached a point of exasperation (being fed up) with their children. Theoretically this makes sense because individuals who lack self-control should be less likely to persist with things that require constant vigilance and effort, such as effectively socializing difficult children.
We hope by the end of the data collection period to have information on more than 100 families, and will be reporting the full results at the 2014 American Society of Criminology annual meeting in November in San Francisco.