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Single-parent families Proposal

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2018

Introduction and Rationale

The growing number of single-parent families has become a matter of the growing professional concern. The most influential psychologists tried to explain its causes. The current state of empirical research has greatly improved the public and professional knowledge of single-parent families.

Nevertheless, many processes inherent in single parenthood remain poorly understood. The society is concerned about single parenthood for at least three reasons. First, the growing number of single-parent families has profound implications for the society’s economic wellbeing: single mothers and fathers often find it difficult to work full-day or spend long hours at work (Elwood & Jencks, 2006).

Many of them are also eligible for public assistance programs, because poverty is often inseparable from single parenthood. Zalewski et al. (2012) discovered that single parent status and poverty were co-occurring phenomena, and both these phenomena had the potential to compromise the quality of parenting processes and attitudes.

Another problem of single parenthood is that of psychology. The prevailing majority of Americans believe that single parenthood has disruptive impacts on children’s development and growth (Elwood & Jencks, 2006). Brown et al. (2008) explored the relationship between single parent status and the way children with chronic illnesses dealt with the problem.

The researchers found that single parents carried an excessive burden of care for their children, leaving fewer opportunities for extramarital and outside, community activities (Brown et al., 2008). Not surprisingly, the burden of care, coupled with the level of stress facing single parents, had extremely negative psychological impacts on children (Brown et al., 2008).

Finally, the growth of single-parent families raises numerous moral issues, because single parenthood is claimed to lead to disruptive social consequences (Elwood & Jencks, 2006).

Actually, single parenthood is one of the most controversial puzzles of the 21st century: while objective data indicate a minor change in public values and perceptions of single parenthood and nonmarital childbearing, changes in social behaviors confirm a substantial shift in single parent notions and attitudes (Thornton, 2009). Over the course of the 20th century, public views of nonmarital relationships and single parenthood became much more tolerant:

increasing acceptance of nonmarital sex and cohabitation because of the declining authority of religion and the increased emphasis on individual freedom and decreasing acceptance because of the drive to formalize union formation. (Thornton, 2009, p.233)

Nevertheless, not everyone accepts single parenthood as a feasible alternative to regular families.

All these problems and controversies justify further analysis of single parenthood and its implications for adolescents’ psychological development. This analysis should reconsider adolescents’ emotional reactions to single parenthood from within, since the objective criteria and consequences of being a single parent have been extensively explored.

Children and adolescents growing in single-parent families were reported to undergo serious mental and emotional changes, mainly due to the loneliness and family separation experiences early in life. MacCallum and Golombok (2004) showed that children, whose parents had been separated or divorced, displayed poorer patterns of psychological adjustment than the children, whose fathers were deceased.

The exposure to parental conflicts and its effects on children should not be disregarded: it is conflict that was found to be a serious predictor of children’s stress in single-parent families (MacCallum and Golombok, 2004). Yet, it is interesting to note that those difficulties and effects could not be generalized to the children, who were growing in a single-parent family since birth and who did not have any experiences of family separation or realignment (MacCallum & Golombok, 2004).

Those findings were earlier reported by Brody, Dorsey, Forehand and Armistead (2002), who wrote that not all children and adolescents from single-parent families displayed equally low levels of adjustment and self-regulation. Apparently, and according to Harold et al. (2013), interpersonal conflict and hostile parenting are primarily responsible for the externalizing behaviors and problems of children in single-parent families.

Despite the extensive body of literature, the way children and adolescents react to their social and family status remains unclear. Gupta and Kaur (2009) tried to understand how adolescents perceived their lives in single-parent families and the complexity of abusive parenting. Surprisingly, adolescents from single parent families perceived their parents as less abusive than their peers from intact families (Gupta & Kaur, 2009).

These differences could be explained by the objective differences in the amount of time spent by single parents with their children, compared to married parents: Kendig and Bianchi (2008) found that single mothers spent less time with their children than married parents. As a result, the scope of their abusive and punitive behaviors could be less significant than that of the married parents, who spent more time with their children.

At present, the study of adolescents’ emotional reactions to the single-parent status is very scarce. Gill, Sharma and Verma (2003) conducted a cross-sectional study of adolescents and their experiences of living in a single parent family. However, the study was conducted in the Indian context, and its results cannot be generalized to other cultural and social conditions. At the same time, earlier researchers confirmed the crucial impacts of family dynamics on adolescents’ beliefs, values, and principles.

Barber and Eccles (1992) explored the long-term influences of single parenting and divorce on adolescents’ family values. According to Barber and Eccles (1992), parental expectations of their children’s aspirations and achievements vary considerably, depending on their family status. On the one hand, children growing up with single mothers may reflect the fundamental negative characteristics of dissolved families that are presented in the media.

On the other hand, single mothers are likely to place special emphasis on occupational attainment and financial independence, which will predetermine the way their children work and live (Barber & Eccles, 1992). Living in a single-parent household has its benefits and limitations. Therefore, further research is needed to detect and explain adolescents’ perceptions of what it takes to live and grow up in a single-parent family.

The purpose of this study is to examine the way exposure to information about single-parent families impacts adolescents’ emotional attitudes towards their peers living in a single-parent household. In other words, the basic intent of the study is to see whether being informed about single-parent families or witnessing the life in a single-parent household changes adolescents’ emotional reactions to single-parent families. The study is experimental and quantitative. The following hypotheses are to be tested:

H1: Exposure to information about single-parent families improves adolescents’ attitudes toward their peers growing up in a single-parent household.

H2. Adolescents who are exposed to more information about single-parent families display better understanding of the problems facing their peers in single-parent households.

The project will involve only adolescents from regular families. The basic prediction is that adolescents from regular families will change their attitudes to the peers living in single-parent households and become more caring and tolerant towards such peers.

Method

Participants

The sample will include twenty adolescents 14-16 years old from two public schools in New York. Both public schools will be located in the same district to avoid possible differences in the social and community context and their potential impacts on adolescents’ emotional responses. All twenty adolescents participating in the study will be from regular families. Both public schools will be located in a predominantly lower-status neighborhood. Special precautions to protect the study participants will have to be taken, given that adolescents from low-income families and are considered as vulnerable populations. Adolescents and their parents will have to provide an informed consent to participate in the study. Material incentives will be provided to motivate parents and their adolescent children to participate in the study.

Design

Independent variable

Exposure to information about single-parent families is the independent variable.

Dependent variables

The main dependent variable is the way adolescents perceive their peers growing up in a single-parent household.

Inclusion criteria

The main inclusion criteria are age (14-16 years) and family status (growing up in a regular family). Also, all participants will have to come from low-income families and display the level of academic achievement above average. Only adolescents with no history of divorce or living with a single parent will be enrolled in the study. This is the best way to reduce the threats to internal validity in the proposed study.

The study will incorporate the features of pretest-posttest-control-group design. The latter is the most appropriate choice for the proposed true experiment. According to Cottrell and McKenzie (2010), the proposed design is one of the strongest choices, whenever it comes to designing true experiments.

In the pretest-posttest-control-group design, participants are randomly assigned to both groups (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2010). Both are exposed to pretest and posttest experimental procedures. One of the key benefits of this experimental design is in that it allows testing for all possible between-group differences before the participants are subjected to experimental procedures (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2010).

At the same time, the inclusion of pretest interventions has the potential to limit the external validity of the method and its results (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2010). Still, between-subject designs, as Creswell (2002) calls them, are the most valid choice for the proposed study. Between-group experimental designs are used to compare two or more groups (Creswell, 2002). Randomization will ensure that the proposed study is a true experiment.

Materials

The chief materials that are to be used in the proposed experiment are the measurement scale to evaluate changes in adolescents’ attitudes towards single-parent families and the source of information about single-parent households.

The measurement scale to be used for the pretest and posttest procedures is based on the Attitudes toward Women Scale for Adolescents (AWSA), which was proposed and tested by Galambos, Petersen, Richards and Gitelson (1985). According to Galambos et al. (1985), adolescence is one of the most essential and, at the same time, confusing stages of the lifespan. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to the impacts of public attitudes and stereotypes (Galambos et al., 1985).

Moreover, stereotypes and sexist attitudes are more common for adolescents than other age groups (Galambos et al., 1985). This is why adolescents are the most appropriate target population for the proposed study. At the same time, the choice of the discussed measurement scale is justified by the growing body of evidence supporting its validity and reliability, when applied in adolescent populations (Galambos et al., 1985).

Another material to be used in this experiment is the movie the adolescent participants will watch. It is Baby Boom with Diane Keaton starring. It is the story of a successful business woman, whose life changes dramatically, when she has to adopt a baby girl from one of her distant relatives.

The choice of the movie as a research material is justified by the fact that it sends a positive message about single parenting and shows that single mothers deserve their chance for happiness. Earlier researchers used to depict single parenting as inherently pathological and myopic (Dickerson, 1995).

Some of them even associated single parenting with deviance and uncontrolled sexuality (Dickerson, 1995). The proposed research does not seek to expose adolescents to negative and stereotypical messages about being a single mother or a single father. The proposed fiction movie will present positive information about the pros and cons of single parenting in a fascinating and entertaining way.

The choice of the movie echoes the emerging disagreement with the predominantly negative image of single-parent families in the media. Particularly in the divorce literature, the image of single parenting is negative (Baber & Eccles, 1992). Single-parent families, especially those with a history of divorce, are believed to have severely negative impacts on adolescents’ psychosocial functioning (Barber & Eccles, 1992). The proposed study rests on the assumption that being in a single-parent family is not as bad as it seems.

This idea also reflects the professional concerns expressed by Barber and Eccles (1992): the psychological and sociological research tradition must move beyond the negative image of single parenting. Certainly, how adolescents react to the experimental conditions in the proposed study cannot be predicted. However, the message that is to be sent to the members of the experimental group is that single parenting is not as negative and disrupting for children as it may seem.

Procedure

Random assignment. The random assignment process will be one of the most responsible elements of the proposed study. The process will resemble a lottery, and all research participants will have equal chances to be assigned either to the experimental or the control group.

For the twenty participants, twenty slips of paper will be used, ten of them labeled as “E” (experimental) and the other ten labeled as “C” (control). These slips of paper will be thrown into a bin and shuffled. All participants will be asked to take one slip of paper from the bin. The numbers and slips of paper will be arranged by the researcher before the adolescent participants enter the room.

Recruitment process. Twenty adolescents will be recruited to participate in the study. A general meeting will be held with the adolescent participants and their parents to explain the purpose of the project and its possible outcomes. At the end of the meeting, the adolescents and their parents will be asked to sign the informed consent form.

At the same time, meetings with the experimental and control groups will be arranged. The research process will take place in an educational center, in a small room. The procedure will involve only the researcher and the adolescent participants. They will not have to provide any personally identifiable information.

Research procedure. The research procedure will start with a general meeting of the experimental and control group in an educational center, where the participants will complete the discussed attitudes scale. The goal of this procedure is to identify what adolescents feel about their peers from single-parent families, before they are exposed to the experimental condition.

Then, the experimental group will stay in the room to watch the movie, while the control group will spend its time playing and doing physical exercises. The adolescents in the experimental group will be free to discuss their emotions and attitudes with one another, while watching the movie.

Once the experimental group finishes watching the movie, its members will have to complete the same attitude scale. Afterwards, the control group will be brought to the room to complete the same scale. The need to separate the two groups in the posttest condition is justified by the risks of between-group interactions and their potential impacts on external validity (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2010).

Results

The results of the study will be obtained through a detailed statistical analysis of the research participants’ responses. Both descriptive and inferential statistics will be used to describe and interpret the results. Descriptive statistics are used to describe the essence of the data that was collected from the sample (Weinberg & Abramowitz, 2002).

Inferential statistics are used to make inferences from the data that were recovered from the sample participants (Weinberg & Abramowitz, 2002). Descriptive statistics will be used to create a general picture of adolescents’ attitudes towards their peers from single-parent families, while inferential statistics will help explain the way exposure to information about single parenting changes (or does not change) these attitudes.

SPSS has proved to be a reliable instrument of data analysis in psychology research. Brace, Kemp and Shelgar (2006) write that SPSS has already become an “industry standard” for statistical psychology research (p.2). SPSS will significantly reduce the time and costs of the statistical data analysis in the proposed study.

Discussion

The proposed study is quantitative, aimed to test the following hypotheses:

H1: Exposure to information about single-parent families improves adolescents’ attitudes toward their peers growing up in a single-parent household.

H2. Adolescents who are exposed to more information about single-parent families display better understanding of the problems facing their peers in single-parent households.

The procedure of data evaluation and interpretation will be based on the results of statistical analysis (both descriptive and inferential) with the help of SPSS. The responses and themes emerged from the adolescents in the experimental group will be compared to those in the control group. In light of the purpose and intent of the proposed study, the following outcomes are possible.

First, it is possible that being exposed to information about single parenting will impact adolescents’ emotional reactions to peers growing up in single-parent households.

As a result, adolescents who are growing up in regular families and do not have any history of divorce or living with a single parent may develop either more negative or more positive emotional reactions to the movie. Positive emotions may result from the earlier findings that children perceive single-parent families as less abusive than adolescents in regular families (Gupta & Kaur, 2009).

It is also possible that the movie itself will send a more positive message of single parenting, thus making adolescents more tolerant towards their peers from single-parent families. Negative emotions may be related to the problems, which adolescents in single-parent families face in terms of psychological adjustment and relationships with the single parent (MacCallum & Golombok, 2004; Harold et al., 2013).

Such negative emotions may also be associated with the fact that single parents spend less time with their children than parents in regular families (Kendig & Bianchi, 2008). The movie tells a story of a working woman with a small child, and adolescents may see that single mothers do not always have enough time to spend with their children. Hopefully, the movie will expose more positive sides of single parenting and create a balanced picture of what it takes to live with a single mother.

Second, it is possible that adolescents in the experimental group and the members of the control group will display similar emotional reactions to single parenthood (negative or positive). It is possible that exposure to information about single parenthood will not affect the attitudes of the adolescents enrolled in the experimental group.

As mentioned previously, today’s society has become much more tolerant to single parenthood and nonmarital childbearing (Brown et al., 2008). Adolescents may not be secured from these influences. Their beliefs and values may reflect those of the society, in general. In any case, the results will be evaluated against the existing research, and their implications for the future study of single-parent families will be provided.

Conclusion

The growing body of research provides interesting and useful knowledge of the way single parenthood impacts children’s psychological development. Unfortunately, what exactly adolescents in regular families feel about their peers growing up in single-parent households remains unclear.

The goal of the proposed study is to test the way adolescents perceive their peers, who live with a single mother or single father. Moreover, the proposed study will seek to identify any differences in adolescents’ feelings towards single parenthood, depending on whether or not they are exposed to any additional information about single parenthood.

The study will be quantitative, and attitude measurement scales will be used to analyze adolescents’ pretest and posttest responses. Exposure to information about single parents will serve as an independent variable, with adolescents’ attitudes towards their peers from single families being a dependent variable. Randomization will ensure that the proposed study is a true experiment.

The results will be generated through the statistical analysis of adolescents’ responses through SPSS. Descriptive and inferential statistics will be used to explain and interpret the quantitative results. It is possible that, under the influence of additional information about single parenting, adolescents growing up in regular families will improve their attitudes toward those peers, who are growing up with a single parent.

The opposite result is also quite possible. At the same time, it is possible to expect that exposure to information will not impact adolescents’ perceptions of peers from single-parent households. In any case, all participants will be free to obtain the fullest information about the study and refuse from participation at any stage of the project. The results of the study will inform future counseling practices targeting adolescents from single-parent families.

References

Barber, B.L. & Eccles, J.S. (1992). Long-term influence of divorce and single parenting on adolescent family- and work-related values, behaviors, and aspirations. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 108-126.

Brace, N., Kemp, R. & Snelgar, R. (2006). SPSS for psychologists: A guide to data analysis using SPSS for Windows. London: Routledge.

Brody, G.H., Dorsey, S., Forehand, R. & Armistead, L. (2002). Unique and protective contributions of parenting and classroom processes to the adjustment of African American children living in single-parent families. Child Development, 73(1), 274-286.

Brown, R.T., Wiener, L., Kupst, M.J., Brennan, T., Behrman, R., Compas, B.E. […]

Zeltzer, L. (2008). Single parents of children with chronic illness: An understudied phenomenon.

Cottrell, R. & McKenzie, J. (2010). Health promotion and education research methods. Sudbury: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Creswell, J.W. (2002). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Dickerson, B. (1995). African American single mothers: Understanding their lives and families. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Elwood, D.T. & Jencks, C. (2006). The spread of single-parent families in the United States since 1960. In D.P. Moynihan and T.M. Smeeding(eds.), The future of the family, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 25-65.

Galambos, N.L.,Petersen, A.C., Richards, M. & Gitelson, I.B. (1985). The Attitudes toward Women Scale for Adolescents (AWSA): A study of reliability and validity. Sex Roles, 13(5/6), 343-356.

Gill, I.K., Sharma, D. & Verma, S. (2003). Adolescents in single parent families. The Journal of Family Welfare, 49(1), 10-19.

Gupta, M. & Kaur, S. (2009). Adolescent perceptions and extent of abusive parenting in single parent and intact families. Journal of Social Sciences, 21(2), 123-127.

Harold, G.T., Leve, L.D., Elam, K.K., Thapar, A., Neiderhiser, J.M., Natsuaki, M.N. […] Reiss, D. (2013). The nature of nurture: Disentangling passive genotype – environment correlation from family influences on children’s externalizing problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(1), 12-21.

Kendig, S.M. & Bianchi, S.M. (2008). Single, cohabitating, and married mothers’ time with children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70(5), 1228-1240.

MacCallum, F. & Golombok, S. (2004). Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: A follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(8), 1407-1419.

Thornton, A. (2009). Framework for interpreting long-term trends in values and beliefs concerning single-parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 230-234.

Weinberg, S.L. & Abramowitz, S.K. (2002). Data analysis for the behavioral sciences using SPSS. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zalewski, M., Lengua, L.J., Fisher, P.A., Trancik, A., Bush, N.B. & Meltzoff, A.N. (2012). Poverty and single parenting: Relations with preschoolers’ cortisol and effortful control. Infant and Child Development, 21(5), 537-554.

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