Parent-Child Connectedness [PCC] has been defined as a positive, high quality emotional bond between a parent and child. It is mutually felt by both parent and child and is long-lasting. Since it is sustained over time, research has shown that it is a “super-protector”, as it outweighs and mitigates most risk factors for children and adolescents. Linked to positive outcomes for adolescents, PCC is protective against delinquency/truancy, violent and aggressive behaviors, poor academic performance and a host of others.
PCC may buffer youngsters from the many challenges and risks that children face today. It has also been associated with 33 adolescent outcomes such as tobacco use, depression, pregnancy, eating disorders, HIV infection and more. How can PCC be linked with both positive and negative outcomes for children? Youth outcomes are greatly dependent upon level or the degree to which parent-child connectedness exists in a family unit.
PCC is not only important in traditional 2-parent homes, nuclear families, but equally influential in single headed households, as well. The key lies within the relationship between child and primary caregiver[s]. What does it look like?
To start, let’s get some general information about PCC:
- PCC develops differently during different developmental stages of a child’s life.
- For PCC to exist, it must be mutual. BOTH parent and child must feel it.
- Parents with a strong connection to their children are more likely to see positive results when they model/teach positive behaviors, values and messages. Unfortunately, the effects of connectedness also hold when parents model negative behaviors.
- Parent-child connection comes about as a result of the act of parenting, that is care-giving, and as such, is not necessarily dependent on the presence of biological parents or a particular family structure, such as the nuclear family.
- Communication (e.g., a topical discussion about sex) and involvement (e.g., attending open-school night) are two important behaviors needed for developing and maintaining parent-child connectedness, but neither behavior alone results in a state of high parent-child connectedness.
- Ecological contexts, such as economics, public policy and neighborhood, have significant effects on families and their ability to promote connectedness. For example, parents coping with poverty are apt to experience more stress and illness. These effects may mean that parents have less time and energy to devote to connecting with their children.
Seven key behaviors that PARENTS must consistently exhibit in order to establish and maintain connectedness with their child have been identified. These behaviors include:
1) Providing for basic physiological needs (e.g., housing, nutrition, health care, etc.)
2) Building and maintaining trust
3) Demonstrating love, care and affection
4) Sharing in activities with their teens
5) Communicating effectively including the effective giving of, receiving and understanding messages
6) Preventing, negotiating and resolving conflicts
7) Establishing and maintaining structure including: a) establishing expectations, b) monitoring effectively, c) disciplining effectively, and d)providing positive reinforcement.
According to Lezin, et.al. in 2004, Parent-Child Connectedness is basically a “lasting bond between parent and child based on mutual respect, trust, love, and affection – all demonstrated in day-to-day interactions and expressed freely as both parent and child move through their relationship together” . They concluded that four constructs are essential for the cultivation of parent-child connectedness: a climate of trust, communication, structure, and time together.
To simplify this discussion, this concept closely aligns with parenting adolescents and the ongoing relationship parameters set by parent and felt by child. It is the structure of the boundaries established by parent that guide and inform outcomes. Communication and parenting style can vary from family to family. But, there are clear variables which, when in place, are key determinants of youth outcome.
PCC can be instrumental in risk prevention and a vehicle for cultivating assets. It is important to view youth as resources, people possessing strengths rather than problems to be solved. If this characterizes a parent or helping professional’s perception of adolescent youth, there must be a shift in thinking. Try using an alternative lens and discard the deficit perspective. Focus on strengths of both parent and child, and build upon them.
If your work involves engaging families and parents, it is important that some of these key factors pertaining to PCC be addressed. Supportive programming should include work centered around positive youth development for parents. Positive youth development occurs when the strengths of youth are supported with external resources such as schools and youth-serving organizations. The outcome of this alignment is operationalized by the Five Cs: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.
Competence refers to the youth’s positive view of his or her actions in domain specific areas including social, cognitive, academic, and vocational. Confidence refers to the youth’s internal sense of self-worth and self-efficacy; one’s global self-regard rather than domain specific beliefs. Connection refers to the youth’s positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in bi-directional exchanges between the individual and peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship. Character refers to the youth’s respect for societal and cultural rules, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong, and integrity. Caring refers to the youth’s sense of sympathy and empathy for others. When these are in place, a child is seen as “thriving” and life trajectories flourish rather than resemble risk and problematic behaviors.
Family cohesion, communication, involvement and supervision all are factors which define family strength, and hence the strength of presence of the Five C’s in children. Work with families must incorporate strategies and interventions which enhance and increase total child and family wellness, and PCC components which will strengthen families, as the primary objective. As we highlight all of these components, parents will tend to engage with schools more readily, and thus partner with educators to ensure comprehensive positive socio-emotional and academic development of their children.
Parents can maximize their capacity to enhance the bonds between themselves and their child, and family workers can assist in that regard. At school or in the community, the tools and skills which guide the relationship between parent and child should support positive parenting and positive youth development, and can be acquired and reinforced within meaningful and culturally responsive alliances. Mindful parents, mindful educator and other professionals will certainly lay the groundwork for raising mindful youth. Remember this: It will always take a village!