Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 673–699 | Cite as

Does Self-Control Influence Maternal Attachment? A Reciprocal Effects Analysis from Early Childhood Through Middle Adolescence

  • Ryan C. MeldrumEmail author
  • Jacob T. N. Young
  • Carter Hay
  • Jamie L. Flexon
Original Paper



The purpose of this study is twofold. First, this study assesses the extent to which self-control and maternal attachment mutually influence one another. Second, it investigates whether this process continues to occur during adolescence. To date, studies of the etiology of self-control have yet to adequately address these issues, despite the fact that a number of theoretical perspectives emphasize the reciprocal nature of the parent-child relationship.


The current study seeks to shed light on these issues by examining the relationship between self-control and maternal attachment using structural equation modeling for eight waves of data spanning a period of time that encompasses early childhood through middle adolescence.


The results yield two findings bearing on the adequacy of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s model of self-control development. First, measures of self-control and maternal attachment were found to mutually influence one another during childhood. Second, these effects were reduced to nonsignificance during adolescence.


This study finds that self-control emerges during childhood in a complex manner in which it both shapes and is shaped by parental attachment.


Self-control Child effects Reciprocal effects Childhood Adolescence Attachment 



The Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD) was conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network, supported by NICHD through a cooperative agreement that calls for scientific collaboration between the grantees and the NICHD staff.


  1. Akers RL (1991) Self-control as a general theory of crime. J Quant Criminol 7:201–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akers RL (2008) Self-control and social learning theory. In: Goode E (ed) Out of control: assessing the general theory of crime. Stanford University Press, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaver KM, Wright JP (2007) A child effects explanation for the association between family risk and involvement in an antisocial lifestyle. J Adolesc Res 22:640–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell RQ (1979) Parent, child, and reciprocal influences. Am Psychol 34:821–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell RQ (1980) Socialization findings examined. In: Bell RQ, Harper LB (eds) Child effects on adults. University of Nebraska Press, NebraskaGoogle Scholar
  6. Bentler PM (1985) Theory and implementation of EQS: a structural equations program. BMDP Statistical Software, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  7. Bentler PM (1990) Comparative fit indices in structural models. Psychol Bull 107:238–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bentler PM, Bonett DG (1980) Significance tests and goodness of fit in the analysis of covariance structures. Psychol Bull 88:588–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bentler PM, Yuan KH (1999) Structural equation modeling with small samples: test statistics. Multivar Behav Res 34:181–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burt CH, Simons RL, Simons LG (2006) A longitudinal test of the effects of parenting and the stability of self-control: negative evidence for the general theory of crime. Criminology 44:353–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cernkovich SA, Giordano PC (1987) Family relationships and delinquency. Criminology 25:295–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chapple CL (2005) Self-control, peer relations, and delinquency. Justice Q 22:89–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chou CP, Bentler PM, Satorra A (1991) Scaled test statistics and robust standard errors for nonnormal data in covariance structure analysis: a Monte Carlo study. Br J Math Stat Psychol 44:347–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Curran PJ, West SG, Finch JF (1996) The robustness of test statistics to nonnormality and specification error in confirmatory factor analysis. Psychol Methods 1:16–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dearing E, McCartney K, Taylor BA (2006) Within-child associations between family income and externalizing and internalizing problems. Dev Psychol 42:237–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dempster AP, Laird NM, Rubin DB (1977) Maximum likelihood from incomplete data via the EM algorithm. J R Stat Soc 39:1–38Google Scholar
  17. Feldman S, Weinberger DA (1994) Self-restraint as mediator of family influences on boys’ delinquent behavior: a longitudinal study. Child Dev 65:195–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gault-Sherman M (2012) It’s a two-way street: the bidirectional relationship between parenting and delinquency. J Youth Adolesc 41:121–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gibbs JJ, Geiver D, Martin JS (1998) Parental management and self-control: an empirical test of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory. J Res Crime Delinq 35:40–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goode E (2008) Out of control: assessing the general theory of crime. Stanford University Press, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  21. Gottfredson MR, Hirschi T (1990) A general theory of crime. Stanford University Press, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  22. Graham JW (2009) Missing data analysis: making it work in the real world. Annu Rev Psychol 60:549–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hay C (2001) Parenting, low self-control, and delinquency: a test of self-control theory. Criminology 39:707–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hay C, Forrest W (2006) The development of self-control: examining self-control theory’s stability thesis. Criminology 44:739–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hay C, Forrest W (2008) Self-control and the concept of opportunity: the case for a more systematic union. Criminology 46:1039–1072CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hirschi T (1969) Causes of delinquency. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  27. Hirschi T, Gottfredson MR (2003) Punishment of children from the perspective of control theory. In: Britt CL, Gottfredson MR (eds) Advances in criminological theory, vol 12. Transaction Publishers, New BrunswickGoogle Scholar
  28. Hoff P (2009) A first course in Bayesian statistical methods. Springer Science, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holden GW (1997) Parents and the dynamics of child rearing. Westview Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  30. Hope TL, Grasmick HG, Pointon LJ (2003) The family in Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime: structure, parenting, and self-control. Sociol Focus 36:291–311Google Scholar
  31. Hu L, Bentler PM, Kano Y (1992) Can test statistics in covariance structure analysis be trusted? Psychol Bull 112:351–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jamshidian M, Bentler PM (1999) ML estimation of mean and covariance structures with missing data using complete data routines. J Educ Behav Stat 24:21–24Google Scholar
  33. Kandel DB, Wu P (1995) Disentangling mother-child effects in the development of antisocial behavior. In: McCord J (ed) Coercion and punishment in long-term perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 106–123Google Scholar
  34. Kent D, Pepler D (2003) The aggressive child as agent in coercive family processes. In: Kuczynski L (ed) Handbook of dynamics in parent-child relations. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 131–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kerr M, Stattin H (2000) What parents know, how they know it, and several forms of adolescent adjustment: further support for a reinterpretation of monitoring. Dev Psychol 36:366–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Laird RD, Pettit GS, Bates JE, Dodge KA (2003) Parents’ monitoring-relevant knowledge and adolescents’ delinquent behavior: evidence of correlated developmental changes and reciprocal influences. Child Dev 74:752–768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Loeber R, Loeber MS (1986) Family factors as correlates and predictors of juvenile conduct problems and delinquency. Crime Justice 7:29–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Matsueda R, Anderson K (1998) The dynamics of delinquent peers and delinquent behavior. Criminology 36:269–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mcleod JD, Kruttschitt C, Dornfeld M (1994) Does parenting explain the effects of conditions on children’s antisocial behavior? A comparison of blacks and whites. Soc Forces 73:575–604Google Scholar
  40. Meldrum RC (2008) Beyond parenting: an examination of the etiology of self-control. J Crim Justice 36:244–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Meldrum RC, Young JTN, Weerman FM (2009) Reconsidering the effect of self-control and delinquent peers: implications of measurement for theoretical significance. J Res Crime Delinq 46:353–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Miner JL, Clarke-Stewart KA (2008) Trajectories of externalizing behavior from age 2 to age 9: relations with gender, temperament, ethnicity, parenting, and rater. Dev Psychol 44:771–786CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Moffitt TE (1993) Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychol Rev 100:674–701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (2001) Nonmaternal care and family factors in early development: an overview of the NICHD study of early child care. Appl Dev Psychol 22:457–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nofziger S (2008) The “cause” of low self-control: the influence of maternal self-control. J Res Crime Delinq 45:191–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pardini DA, Fite PJ, Burke JD (2008) Bidirctional associations between parenting practices and conduct problems in boys from childhood to adolescence: the moderating role of age and African-American ethnicity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 36:647–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Patterson GR (1982) Coercive family process. Castilia, EugeneGoogle Scholar
  48. Perrone D, Sullivan CJ, Pratt TC, Margaryan S (2004) Parental efficacy, self-control, and delinquency: a test of a general theory of crime on a nationally representative sample of youth. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 48:298–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Peugh JL, Enders CK (2004) Missing data in educational research: a review of reporting practices and suggestions for improvement. Rev Educ Res 74:525–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Phythian K, Keane C, Krull C (2008) Family structure and parental behavior: identifying the sources of adolescent self-control. West Criminol Rev 9:73–87Google Scholar
  51. Piquero AR (2008) Measuring self-control. In: Goode E (ed) Out of control: assessing the general theory of crime. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  52. Piquero AR, MacIntosh R, Hickman M (2000) Does self-control affect survey response? Applying exploratory, confirmatory, and item response theory analysis to Grasmick et al.’s self-control scale. Criminology 38:897–930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pratt TC, Cullen FT (2000) The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime: a meta-analysis. Criminology 38:931–964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pratt TC, Turner MG, Piquero AR (2004) Parental socialization and community context: a longitudinal analysis of the structural sources of low self-control. J Res Crime Delinq 41:219–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sampson RJ, Laub JH (1993) Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  56. Satorra A, Bentler PM (1994) Corrections to test statistics and standard errors in covariance structure analysis. In: Eye AV, Clogg CC (eds) Latent variables analysis: applications for developmental research. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 399–419Google Scholar
  57. Snyder J, Cramer A, Afrank J, Patterson GR (2005) The contributions of ineffective discipline and parental hostile attributions of child misbehavior to the development of conduct problems at home and school. Dev Psychol 41:30–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Steiger JH (1990) Structural model evaluation and modification: an internal estimation approach. Multivar Behav Res 25:173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Thaxton S, Agnew R (2004) The nonlinear effects of parent and teacher attachment on delinquency: disentangling strain from social control explanations. Justice Q 21:763–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Thornberry TP (1987) Toward an interactional theory of delinquency. Criminology 25:863–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Thornberry TP, Lizotte AJ, Krohn MD, Farnsworth M, Jang SJ (1991) Testing interactional theory: an examination of reciprocal causal relationships among family, school, and delinquency. J Crim Law Criminol 82:3–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tittle CR, Ward DA, Grasmick HG (2003) Self-control and crime/deviance: cognitive vs. behavioral measures. J Quant Criminol 19:333–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tremblay RE (1995) Kindergarten behavioral patterns, parental practices, and early adolescent antisocial behavior. In: McCord J (ed) Coercion and punishment in long-term perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 139–153Google Scholar
  64. Turner MG, Piquero AR (2002) The stability of self-control. J Crim Justice 30:457–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Unnever JD, Cullen FT, Pratt TC (2003) Parental management, ADHD, and delinquent involvement: reassessing Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory. Justice Q 20:471–500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Van Voorhis P, Cullen FT, Mathers RA, Garner CC (1988) The impact of family structure and quality on delinquency: a comparative assessment of structural and functional factors. Criminology 26:235–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vazsonyi AT, Belliston LM (2007) The family → low self-control → deviance. Crim Justice Behav 34:505–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Vazsonyi AT, Pickering LE, Junger M, Hessing D (2001) An empirical test of a general theory of crime: a four-nation comparative study of self-control and the prediction of deviance. J Res Crime Delinq 38:91–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Warr M (2007) The tangled web: delinquency, deception, and parental attachment. J Youth Adolesc 36:607–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wright JP, Beaver KM (2005) Do parents matter in creating self-control in their children? A genetically informed test of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory of low self-control. Criminology 43:1169–1202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wright JP, Cullen FT (2001) Parental efficacy and delinquent behavior: do control and support matter? Criminology 39:677–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Yuan KH, Bentler PM (1998) Normal theory based test statistics in structural equation modeling. Br J Math Stat Psychol 51:289–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan C. Meldrum
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jacob T. N. Young
    • 2
  • Carter Hay
    • 3
  • Jamie L. Flexon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  3. 3.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Personalised recommendations