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

Abstract

Objectives

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. The conditioning assured representation (at least 10 % marginally) of single parent households, mothers with less than a high school education, and ethnic minority mothers.

  2. There were 12 separate assessments, but the information collected at each assessment was not consistent in most cases. This, in part, guided the research design of the current study and limited our focus to the relationship between maternal attachment and self-control and not a broader array of parenting measures.

  3. Given that recruitment and enrollment of study families spanned from January, 1991 to November, 1991 there were slight variations in age across study children at each assessment.

  4. An additional consideration worth noting is that attitudinal, self-reported indicators of self-control may be highly unreliable at young ages. Thus, information from a parent is a practical necessity.

  5. The individual wave alpha values for self-control and maternal attachment are reported in Appendix.

  6. We did estimate second-order latent factor models using measures of parental monitoring and hostility, in addition to attachment, that were available at waves 7 and 8. This analysis indicated significant overlap exists between the indicators of attachment and the other dimensions of parenting, demonstrating that attachment is a valid indicator of parenting. Moreover, when we restricted model estimation to these two waves alone as opposed to all eight waves we found results that were substantively identical to those presented here.

  7. Differences in the N sizes in Table 1 for the race and sex variables relative to the items used to measure household type, self-control, and attachment should be explained. The information on child race and sex was obtained at the outset of the SECCYD and therefore no data is missing on these two variables. However, from the outset of the SECCYD to the assessment at age 4 approximately 20 % of the original study families dropped out of the study. To consider whether sample attrition was selective, we examined the sample’s composition with respect to five demographic/social status variables—sex, race, mother’s education, family structure, and family income—for which data were collected during the first interview when the study children were 1 month old. We uncovered no evidence of selective sample attrition.

  8. The serial correlations shown in Fig. 1 are not presented due to space constraints. The correlations varied from a minimum of 0.07 to a maximum of 0.4. No discernable pattern was apparent in the estimates, although constraining them to be zero substantially reduces the fit of the model.

  9. The reader may notice that some of the factor loadings are less than the traditional 0.7 rule of thumb. We tested whether separating items with weaker loadings into different latent factors provided a better fit to the model; but, these tests did not provide any significant evidence to support this approach.

  10. In fact, a model where the variance in self-control is constrained to be equal across the waves provides a better fit to the data (x 2(7) change = 11).

  11. This model can be identified using an instrumental variable approach. However, we are unable to locate a variable in our data set for which there is a correlation with either self-control or maternal attachment, but not the other construct. As a result, we must impose restrictions on the model for identification.

  12. Although a discussion of relative standardized effect sizes is informative, we should note that there is a known bias with the standardized effects of self-control on maternal attachment—because the standardized coefficients come from weighting the unstandardized coefficients by the ratio of the variances, the standardized coefficients for self-control predicting maternal attachment will get smaller due to the fact that the variances for maternal attachment increase over time. As such, the effect size of self-control on attachment in later waves of data are biased toward zero.

  13. We also examined these relationships using a second-order, dual-process latent growth curve model. If there is variation between individuals with respect to the intercept and slope for maternal attachment and self-control, then these properties will not be correctly examined with the current approach since the structural equation model examines the covariance matrix. We do not find any evidence of a substantial variance for the intercept or slope for either of these factors.

  14. Note that we are not testing the constraint that the effect of self-control at t on maternal attachment at t + 1 is equal to the effect of maternal attachment at t on self-control at t + 1 (i.e. cross-factor equality). Since the metrics for the items are not identical we cannot compare the unstandardized coefficients. Furthermore, since the variance for maternal attachment increases over time, the standardized coefficient for maternal attachment on self-control will be biased downward.

  15. Estimates for the effects of gender, race, and household type on self-control and maternal attachment showed little consistent effects on self-control or maternal attachment and thus were excluded from Table 4. In addition, we estimated the contemporaneous correlation between self-control and parental attachment. The correlation between the two latent factors is 0.2, 0.4 and 0.3 for waves 2, 3, and 4 respectively. These correlations represent the contemporaneous correlation between self-control and parental attachment after accounting for the cross-lagged and stability effects. Consistent with the estimates for the lagged effects, the contemporaneous correlation between the two latent factors for waves 5 through 8 are all less than 0.1 and are not significantly different from zero.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Ryan C. Meldrum.

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The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health (United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development: Phases I–IV, 1991–2008 [United States] [Computer files]. ICPSR21940-v1; ICPSR21941-v1; ICPSR21942-v1; ICPSR22361-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor]).

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 5.

Table 5 Robust maximum likelihood estimates for measurement model of self-control and maternal attachment (n = 1,364)

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Meldrum, R.C., Young, J.T.N., Hay, C. et al. Does Self-Control Influence Maternal Attachment? A Reciprocal Effects Analysis from Early Childhood Through Middle Adolescence. J Quant Criminol 28, 673–699 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-012-9173-y

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Keywords

  • Self-control
  • Child effects
  • Reciprocal effects
  • Childhood
  • Adolescence
  • Attachment