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What Predicts Pre-adolescent Compliance with Family Rules? A Longitudinal Analysis of Parental Discipline, Procedural Justice, and Legitimacy Evaluations


During adolescence, individuals make judgements on the legitimacy of authorities to make and enforce rules and they differentiate between various types of rules. This study tracked a socially and racially diverse sample (47% White) of 800 Brazilians for three years, ages 11–13 (50% female), allowing for variation between issues and individuals. The strongest predictors of compliance were adolescents’ beliefs that parents were legitimate authorities. Other significant predictors were authorities’ procedural justice and disciplinary practices. Legitimacy attributions partially mediated the relationship between procedural justice and compliance. Compliance and legitimacy varied across issues. Across time, parenting variables diminished in predictive strength while legitimacy attributions increased. Procedural justice practices may partially establish parental legitimacy, while disciplinary practices are less effective and perhaps counter-productive.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and Center for the Study of Violence of the University of São Paulo (NEV-USP), but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. However, data are available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of NEV-USP.


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Funding Data of São Paulo Legal Socialization Study (SPLSS) was funded by São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), from the 2013–2021 Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) grant (no. 2013/07923-7).

Authors’ Contributions

K.J.T. conceived of the research question, conducted the literature review, aided in the statistical analysis, compiled all efforts together, and wrote most of the manuscript; H.R. and R.O. conceived of the study design, coordination, and data collection; H.R. aided in the literature review and helped edit the manuscript; R.O. wrote the majority of the methods section; A.A.M. conducted the statistical analysis and drafted the results section. All authors provided feedback on the manuscript, read and approved the final manuscript.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kendra J. Thomas.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Brazilian National Health Council (CNS) 466/2012 resolution, following the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The board of the local research institute, the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (CEP-EACH) from the University of São Paulo (USP), approved this study in September 24th 2015.

Informed Consent

Active written informed consent was obtained from all participants’ parents included in the study prior to data collection. Child assent was obtained from all participants after parental consent.

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Thomas, K.J., Rodrigues, H., de Oliveira, R.T. et al. What Predicts Pre-adolescent Compliance with Family Rules? A Longitudinal Analysis of Parental Discipline, Procedural Justice, and Legitimacy Evaluations. J Youth Adolescence 49, 936–950 (2020).

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  • Compliance
  • Legitimacy
  • Procedural justice
  • Discipline
  • Pre-adolescence