Thursday, September 8, 2011

Parental supervision of children and adolescents

parental supervision and injuries in children with high intensity behaviour
Parental supervision protects boisterous children from injury:
More time unsupervised corresponds to more injury 
“To my parents we were just two girls in the bedroom”. What exactly was going on? Without adequate supervision the parents of this teenager never found out; the memories returned to haunt her in adulthood. Studies comparing children with and without parental supervision show that lax parental supervision is associated with injury in toddlers and preschoolers; conduct problems in school going children; and road accidents, addictions, gambling and sexual risk taking in teenagers.

Parental supervision has three dimensions (Gitanjali 2004)
  1. Attention - watching or listening 
  2. Proximity - within or beyond reach 
  3. Continuity - constant, intermittent, or not at all 

Two factors determine the degree to which a child would be left unsupervised (Morrongiello 2008)
  1. Parent’s conscientiousness - the more conscientious the parent more the supervision
  2. Child’s propensity for risky behaviour - the more impulsive and sensation seeking the child the more likely the child will be kept in direct view. 

Distinguishing adequate from neglectful supervision is not straight forward. The consequences of lower levels of supervision are not uniform for all children. The consequences depend to a great extent on child attributes. For children with high sensation seeking, even close supervision is not adequate to prevent injury. For children who are high in behavioural control, even not supervising does not elevate risk of injury.

Whether or not children comply with their parents’ requests to behave in safe ways is a complex interaction of parenting style, attachment style,  and child temperament. The level of supervision necessary to ensure a child’s safety should finally be based on the child’s characteristics. The only reliable maxim is that the time children could be safely left unsupervised generally increases with child age.

Parental supervision of an adolescent differs from supervising a younger child (DeVore 2005). Direct parental observation gradually gives way to indirect parental ‘‘monitoring’. This indirect supervision involves ongoing communication between parents and adolescents about the adolescents’
  • Whereabouts
  • Friends they are with
  • Schedule to return home
  • Contact information enabling parents to directly communicate with adolescents. 
Effective supervision entails active participation of the adolescent, and honest communication between adolescent and parents.

Parental monitoring buffers negative peer influence. Strong peer attachments and increasing independence from the family is a normal part of adolescent development. Unfortunately, youth whose peers engage in high-risk behaviour are at high risk for the development of similar behaviours. Not only are high levels of monitoring protective, low levels of parental monitoring have been associated with numerous risk behaviours.

More unsupervised time is associated with more sexual activity in youth (Cohen 2002). In one urban study more than half of sexually active youth had sex at home after school. For boys, sex and drug-related risks increase with amount of unsupervised time. Trust and communication did not predict decreases in problem behaviour as strongly as did monitoring. Parental monitoring may be particularly protective for high-risk young urban adolescents; those who spend a significant amount of non-school time unsupervised. 

  1. Cohen DA, Farley TA, Taylor SN, et al. When and where do youths have sex? The potential role of adult supervision. Pediatrics 2002; 110:e66 
  2. DeVore ER, Ginsburg KR. The protective effects of good parenting on adolescents. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2005 Aug;17(4):460-5. 
  3. Gitanjali S, Brenner R, Morrongiello BA, Haynie D, Rivera M, Cheng T. The role of supervision in child injury risk: Definition, conceptual, and measurement issues. Journal of Injury Control & Safety Promotion 2004;11(1):17-22. 
  4. Morrongiello BA, Klemencic N, Corbett M. Interactions between child behavior patterns and parent supervision: Implications for children’s risk of unintentional injury. Child Development 2008;79(3):627-638.