Growing up in different family structures

A variety of family structures exist beyond the traditional two-parent, biological, heterosexual households with children. For example, single parent, step families, same-sex couple households and living apart/together families have increased over the past years. Families are becoming increasingly diverse. In this post I will explain how family structures are related to children’s and adolescent’s development.

 Family structures

Children live, grow and develop in different family households. Family structures are complex, for example involving biological relatedness of adults in the home to each other and to the child, marital status of the parents and parent’s gender identity.

 Effective parenting

According to several theories, parents are important influences on children and adolescents regardless of family structure. As such, effective parenting practices are important across the variety of family structures. To promote child and adolescent adjustment and well-being, effective parenting practices include:

  • Warmth: Maintaining a warm, close relationship with children and being responsive to the child’s needs.
  • Monitoring: Monitoring children and using effective discipline practices.
  • Parental involvement: Supporting children and being interested.

 Aspects of family functioning

This article summarized previous scientific studies to explore if and how family structures influence adolescent’s development. The authors argue that the effects of family structures on the development of youth are complex. More specifically, how family structures influence youth outcomes depends on other aspects of family functioning, including:

  • Parenting practices
  • Family relationship quality
  • Family transitions: transitions to new family structures may affect family processes, because the structure of the family may change and family rules and roles may shift. Transitions that reduce effective parenting practices and economic well-being may negatively affect youth.

These aspects all collectively impact children’s and adolescent’s development.

 Family structure is not what matters per se

The authors conclude that family structure is not what matters per se. Changes in other aspects of family functioning may influence the development of youth to a greater extent. For example:

  • Parenting practices that promote positive development in children and adolescents work similar regardless of family structure.
  • Family relationships and interactions may be more important for adolescent’s optimal development than the particular family structure.
  • Growing up in a stable family with few transitions may be important, regardless of family structure.

Scientific Parenting Tips Tips

  • Remember that family structure is not what matters per se.
  • Try to use effective parenting practices, including warmth, monitoring and parental involvement.
  • To promote child and adolescent well-being, parent-child relationships are important. Maintain a positive relationship with your child or adolescent.

More Information Scientific Parenting Tips More information

Murry, V. M., & Lippold, M. A. (2018). Parenting practices in diverse family structures: Examination of adolescents’ development and adjustment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 28(3), 650-664.

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