Adolescent Girls Give Parents More Help And Affection Than Boys

March 01, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Adolescent girls are more helpful and affectionate toward their parents than adolescent boys, new research suggests. In addition, mothers receive more help and affection from their children than do fathers.

The study involved questioning 129 children in the 6th, 8th and 10th grades and their parents to see how often the teens helped their parents -- such as running an errand -- and how often they showed affection, such as giving hugs.

"We found important gender differences in who gets and receives help and affection in families with adolescents," said Mary Eberly, who co-authored the study as a doctoral student at Ohio State University.

The study also found that adolescents generally showed less affection as they got older. However, regardless of age, they showed more affection and consideration to parents when they viewed their parents as warm and supportive.

The results suggest that families may be teaching their children that there are male and female gender roles in affection and helpfulness, said Raymond Montemayor, professor of psychology at Ohio State.

"In our society it is considered more appropriate for women to give and receive affection within the family context than it is for men," he said. "That may be why daughters and mothers give and receive more affection. Moreover, girls in this study may have been more helpful than boys because most of the help-related activities examined in the study -- such as doing dishes and helping with grocery shopping -- may have been considered in the realm of women."

Eberly conducted the study as part of her dissertation at Ohio State, which Montemayor directed. Eberly is now an assistant professor of psychology at Oakland University in Michigan. The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research.

The researchers visited the 129 families who participated in the study two times, one week apart. At various times during or between the visits, the children and their parents completed questionnaires that measured the frequency of helpful and affectionate actions by the adolescents. The children also completed questionnaires that measured how positive their relations were with their parents, and the degree to which their parents influenced their lives.

Both parents and children reported mothers received more affection and help than fathers. And both parents and children agreed that the girls were more helpful and affectionate than boys.

As expected, parents reported that 6th graders were more affectionate than 8th or 10th graders. "There's less physical affection between parents and children as the children move through early adolescence," Eberly said. "It suggests that adolescents show affection in different ways as they get older."

The researchers also found that 8th graders were more helpful than 6th or 10th graders. This was unexpected, Montemayor said, as they thought helpfulness would decline steadily through early adolescence. "We can't really explain this finding with the data we have," he said.

Not surprisingly, the findings showed that the quality of the relationship between the adolescents and their parents affected affection and helpfulness.

"Adolescents were more frequently affectionate and considerate when they viewed parents as warm, supportive and emotionally available," Eberly said.

These results suggest the best way for parents to encourage their children to be more helpful is to develop a close relationship with them. "Adolescents will respond more positively when they feel supported and connected to their parents," Montemayor said.

Eberly said many of the parents who participated in the study were pleasantly surprised by how often their children were helpful and affectionate. "A lot of attention is focused on negative behaviors of adolescents," she said. "One of the good things about this study is that it allowed parents to focus on the positive things their children do."
Contact: Mary Eberly, 248-370-2314
Raymond Montemayor, 614-292-3059
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457

Ohio State University

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