Antisocial behaviour and prosocial behaviour in adolescents may be influenced by the way a child is brought up. Antisocial behavior was defined as behavior through which a child causes physical or psychological harm to others. Similarly, prosocial behavior was defined as behavior through which a child benefits others (Eisenberg, 1982). Prosocial behaviour and antisocial behaviour is also defined by the cultural norms of the area.
For example, a behaviour that may manifest in adolescents, is kissing in public. This may be normal in a western country, however in a country such as China or India, this is frowned upon and would be considered as anti-social behaviour. This is an important topic that needs abundant research as it is necessary for the future of society because these adolescents will grow to possibly become an integral part of society. If this society exhibits more prosocial behaviour – behaviour that will benefit others, people’s mindsets will begin to become more positive and the younger generation will have better role models to look up to. This in effect, will result in more intimate relationships and decreased levels of mental difficulties.
One of the factors that plays a vital role in the development of behaviour is surroundings and close relationships. Behaviour may be predicted in adolescents based on different factors that they may see or experience as children, and as they grow up. Seeing positive behaviour by parents and others around them will result in these children imitating this sort of behaviour, however the same goes for antisocial behaviour. This essay will discuss the various factors that may influence prosocial and antisocial behaviour in terms of parenting, attachment and the theories involved in the partake of the development of prosocial and antisocial behaviour. Some of the topics that will be discussed here are parenting styles, attachment types, social learning theory and how these individually affect prosocial and anti-social behaviour. To conclude we will integrate these factors to try and understand how these aspects together can influence prosocial or anti-social behaviour.
Different parenting styles have different effects on a child’s mental health and life experiences. Behaviour difficulties in children could be largely impacted by harsh, inconsistent parenting (Scott, 2008). There are several other factors, within the family environment that play a part in the outcome of the child’s future, such as status, poverty, drug abuse, and depression (Bloomquist & Schnell, 2005).
There are 4 main parenting styles, which are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful. Baumrind (1971, 1989) put forward an idea that parenting consists of two dimensions: demandingness and responsiveness. Demandingness refers to the extent to which parents control the child’s behaviour and demand they show maturity. Responsiveness refers to the extent to which parents are supportive and accepting of a child’s behaviour and needs. The combination of both dimensions is what affects a child’s mental and emotional outcome.
Both of these play different roles in each of the parenting styles, nevertheless, it must be taken into consideration that it is not a black and white subject and that there are overlapping grey areas that differentiate based on individual parenting practices.Authoritative parents tend to be highly demanding and also high in responsiveness. They tend to have high expectations from their children and set out clear and consistent rules for them to follow. These rules, however are not restrictive as authoritative parents also value independence. They provide warmth and affection to their children too.
There is a great deal of communication between parents and children, which results in children adapting this behaviour as they grow older. This means that parents are willing to listen to their child’s worries/issues and in turn the children will also listen to the parents. Boundaries are well enforced and all rules are backed with reasoning. Externalizing behaviours were less common in adolescents with authoritative parents and were much less prone to drug use (Gonzalez, Holbein, & Quilter, 2002; Fletcher & Jefferies, 1999).Authoritarian parenting refers to high demandingness and low responsiveness. This means there are high expectations given to children but low levels of support and warmth. This is also means that there are harsh rules but no communication, so children are expected to blindly follow rules. In cases like these, children tend to have low self-esteem, more likely to be delinquent and have poorer social skills (Milevsky et al.
, 2007). Parents are usually cold and unresponsive to their children’s needs. Children have little or no understanding of their mistakes and how to improve them. In a meta-analysis by Pinquart (2017) of over 1400 studies, it was found that harsh control was one of the major predictors of antisocial behaviour. Another type of parenting is permissive parenting, where they are very responsive but not demanding enough so children don’t have any expectations to live by. There are few or no rules put into place, generally without consistency too. Parents are warm and supportive but lack control. So children grow up to be quite egocentric and impulsive.
This can sometimes turn into antisocial behaviour. In a study by Luyckx et al. (2011), permissive parents began to monitor their children much less during adolescence, at which point the the children began to display externalizing behaviours. Moreover, Querido, Warner, Eyberg (2002) conducted a study with African American adolescents from permissive families and found that increased levels of substance abuse, misbehaviour at school, and low competence at school compared to adolescents from families with authoritarian and authoritative parenting.The fourth type of parenting is neglectful parenting. This type of parenting refers to low responsiveness and low demandingness.
There is no control over the child and there is no warmth or affection given to the child. They have total independence and no rules or expectations. Parents are not at all involved in the child’s life – both academic and social. This type of parenting usually results in children not being able to regulate their emotions and also more likely to develop mental health issues, such as addictions. In one study, adolescents of grade 12 from neglectful households were found to have been drinking twice as much alcohol and smoked twice as much as those adolescents who were exposed authoritative parenting (Luyckx et al., 2011). Ginsberg & Bronstein (1993) also found a correlation between neglectful parenting and various antisocial behaviours – minor offenses, such as vandalism and theft to more serious offenses, such as rape. Most of this research conducted on the effect different parenting styles on behaviour have been cross sectional studies whereas the effects of parenting styles need to be observed over a longer period of time – at least from early childhood to adolescence.
A longitudinal design for this research would yield more reliable and valid findings. Additionally, direct cause and effect cannot be specified as there are several other factors that need to be taken into account, for example genetics or other extraneous variables that may not have been controlled for. It is also important to note that parenting styles is also differentiated by culture and individual differences, so findings cannot be applied universally. Therefore developing interventions would be difficult without further distinct research. One theory that explains the formation or learning of both prosocial and antisocial behaviour is the social learning theory. Social learning theory states that behaviour is observed and later imitated by children – this applies for both positive and negative behaviours.
An example of this is when a child sees a parent or a role model acting aggressively to another when they are angry, the child when put in a similar situation, acts aggressively too. This is shown in a study by Bandura (1961), where he conducted a study with 3-5 year old males and females. There were two conditions – one where the child observed an adult behaving aggressively with a bobo doll (hitting its head, throwing it in the air, kicking it, and beating it); the other where the child saw the adult behaving non-aggressively towards the bobo doll (playing softly or ignoring it). The child first spent approximately 10 minutes watching the adult behave either aggressively or non aggressively towards the bobo doll through a glass. Then they were put into a room with lots of toys and after a few minutes most of the toys were taken away from the children, giving them an excuse that they were for another child. This instruction was necessary to build up a little frustration in the child, in order to observe the behaviour thereafter.
The children that viewed the aggressive adult, behaved aggressively with the bobo doll, imitating all the behaviour previously observed. In addition to this, the child was also using harsh language towards the bobo doll and using a toy gun that they previously showed no interest in – both of which was not observed by the child. This suggests that not only do they imitate what they have seen, children also form behaviour of the same attitude themselves and use it when put into a similar emotional state. Findings from this study show that antisocial behaviour is very easily imitated by children and therefore should be given greater importance by ensuring that parents or role models are displaying prosocial behaviour more often. This research may explain some dynamic learning behaviours, however, it does not consider the development of other behaviours, namely thoughts and feelings.
Some further research is needed to explain why experiencing violence causes children to also do the same if we have control over our behaviour. It is also narrowing the nature-nurture debate by accounting for only the environment in the development of behaviour. Another theory that provides an explanation for antisocial behaviour is attachment theory. Attachment theory as defined by Bowlby (1969) suggests that during early childhood, if a secure attachment is formed between the mother and the child, the relationship acts as a protective factor against antisocial behaviour.
On the other hand, if the relationship between the mother and the child is of an insecure attachment, there is an increased probability of the child having mental health issues and being delinquent. Ainsworth & Bell (1970) proposed that there are 3 types of attachment: secure – when the child feels that their parent is dependable and will provide emotional support and care for their needs, insecure avoidant – when the child is independent of the parent and they do not go to the parent at the time of distress. In situations like these where the child has this type of attachment to the parents, the parent must be insensitive to their needs (Ainsworth, 1979), and insecure resistant – when the child constantly feels separation anxiety and is never sure of whether the parent will come back to the child. They are generally clingy and don’t develop independence easily. This sort of behaviour is usually the result of inconsistent levels of emotional/physical support.Ainsworth & Wittig (1969) conducted a study called the strange situations. The study involved 100 12-18 month old children, the mother of each of the children and the experimenter (‘strange’ adult). Each of the children were observed through a one way glass and there were a series of 8 episodes.
All episodes lasted approximately 3 minutes each, besides the first one which lasted less than a minute. The experiment was conducted in a small room with some toys and two chairs. The first episode had the mother, the baby and the experimenter in one room for less than a minute. The experimenter then left the room and episode two began, where mother and the baby are left alone and interact in play together. After 3 minutes of play, the stranger enters and also `interacts with child in playing.
Another 3 minutes later, the mother leaves the room, leaving the child with the stranger. Then during episode 5 the mother returns and the stranger leaves. In episode 6, the mother also leaves the room, leaving the child alone in the room. The stranger returns in episode 7, so again only the baby and the stranger are alone in the room. The final episode involved the mother returning into the room and the stranger leaving. Observations were recorded every 15 seconds.
Scores were noted based on behavioural observations (proximity and contact seeking/contact maintaining/avoidance of contact and proximity/resistance to contact and comforting/searching/exploratory behaviour/emotional behaviour – crying/smiling) and levelled in terms of intensity on a scale of 1 to 7. The findings show that 70% of the children were securely attached to the mother. These children showed signs of distress when the mother left the room (separation anxiety), they were able to interact with the stranger when the mother was present, however steered away from the stranger when the mother was not present (stranger anxiety), and was content when the mother returned to the room (reunion).
15% of the children were classified into the insecure resistant category. These children showed signs of great distress when the mother leaves the room (separation anxiety), fears the stranger when left alone with them (stranger anxiety), and instead of having positive contact when the mother returns into the room, the child will push the mother away (reunion). The last 15% of the participants displayed insecure avoidant attachment behaviour. These children were not at all distressed when the mother left the room (separation anxiety), were able to interact in play with the stranger without any issue (stranger anxiety), and the child doesn’t respond when the mother returns to the room (reunion). This study was highly reliable and found consistent results, however a limitation is that the scene is highly artificial and lacks ecological validity (Lamb, 1985). The child is placed in an environment that is totally unfamiliar and the procedure involving the mother and the stranger following a script is unnatural. In the study, those children who display secure attachments use their mother as a secure base and then explore their surroundings (Bowlby, 1975), knowing that they can always return to their mother if necessary. For this reason, securely attached children comply with the mother and have a well functioning relationship because they are more likely to want to please their mothers (Stayton, Hogan, & Ainsworth, 1971).
Bowlby (1969) proposed the internal working model which consists of the understanding behind the mental representations of the self, the society – including family, and the rest of the world. The model comprises of three primary ideas: being able to trust others, seeing the self as worthy of respect, and the ability to be effective communicators. Using the internal working model, one is able to interact and communicate with others and develop lasting relationships. In order the development of the internal working model to be positive, the right care and sensitivity is needed by the mother from a young age. By observing the mother consistently provide love during times of emotional distress, the child learns to self regulate emotions and behaviour. Fonagy & Target (1997) found that there are two important factors involved in the development of a secure attachment: self regulation and empathy. Both of which are positively correlated with prosocial behaviour (Eisenberg, 2000).
It has also been found that attachment predicts behaviour (antisocial/prosocial) during adolescence, through empathy, where high levels of empathy are associated with prosocial behaviour and low levels associated with antisocial behaviour (Thompson & Gullone, 2003). When a child is empathetic towards others, they tend to also behave altruistically (Eisenberg et al., 1991), which is a key factor for prosocial behaviour. The ability to self regulate emotions is equally vital to the development of a positive internal working model. If the child does not learn how to regulate emotions by experiencing it through the mother, they develop an insecure avoidant attachment. Since they are unsure of how to self regulate their emotions, as they get older, they attempt to regulate the mothers behaviour in order to cope. This results in distress and suppression of emotions (DeZulueta, 2006).
Those children who experience the insecure ambivalent attachment find it difficult to use their theory of mind (Farrington, 2000), and therefore also find it difficult to feel empathetic towards others and are less able to self regulate their own emotions. This occurs due to their own experiences with their mothers, who provided inconsistent emotional support and so children are desperate for attention, so they will behave in whatever way necessary to gain that attention from their mother.Bowlby (1951) suggested that there is a critical period where if the right attachment isn’t formed, there may be long term consequences for the child, which may be in the form of social, cognitive or developmental difficulties. These mental/emotional difficulties may result in externalizing behaviours, such as, increased aggression, delinquent behaviour or other problems such as, reduced intelligence, or depression. Gardner (1992) suggested that as a child grows having had a secure attachment with a parent, the child is more likely to follow the rules and regulations set out by parents due to the fact that there is trust and understanding between both the parent and the child, and the child will not want to break that. However if a child grows having been exposed to an insecure attachment with a parent, their understanding, trust and reliance on the parent is not strong.
Therefore, these children have very little to lose, in that they were already getting inconsistent parenting and their needs weren’t fully supported, so misbehaving is not going to change that. Children then test their limits on the boundaries that the parents are attempting to create. Resulting from this is the parents changing parenting strategies in an attempt to continue to discipline their children, after which the child realises that he/she is able to change their parents behaviour by behaving in a certain way (Patterson et al., 1998). This then spirals into a disrespect for parents, which then becomes disrespect for society – creating increased antisocial behaviour.Attachment theory provides a great deal of understanding about shaping of personalities through childhood, but there are some limitations that need to be taken into account.
The first limitation is that during the experiment, the observations were recorded after short time spans of separation and reunion, however in order to get a broader picture, observations of interactions between the mother and the child are more important and how they react to each other during natural non-stressful scenarios (Field, 1996). Attachment is a large concept and to study just separation and reunion is reductionistic. Another limitation is that there could be several attachment figures – why is this study conducted only with the mother? Sometimes, children have attachment relationships with fathers or siblings, and they may have similar effects or new findings may emerge – so this may be another area that needs further research into. The last limitation that will be discussed is that the behavioural observations that have been seen are only that in relation to the mother, for example, the child may cry when the mother leaves the room. However if there is another attachment figure, such as a grandparent, the child may feel restless or show other signs of distress unlike those shown with the mother attachment figure. Antisocial behaviour has a higher prevalence in males than females (Frick, 2006). This may be because females tend to develop faster than males in most aspects – socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically (Keenan & Shaw, 1997). This means that they are able to maturely make decisions and take control of situations, in which perhaps males would impulsively act.
In conclusion, the effect of parenting and attachment on antisocial and prosocial behaviour is quite complicated, in that there is no one real answer. There are several factors that come into play for each. As well as this, parenting and attachment alone aren’t the only predictors of behaviour as, again, there are are several other areas in a child’s life that need to be considered when identifying predictors to certain behaviours. Attachment may have a significant effect during childhood, however as the child gets closer to adolescence, the power of attachment to predict behavioural adjustment may diminish. This is due to other factors being increasingly influential, such as peer groups, academics and societal components. It has also been suggested that during early childhood, it may be possible to predict behaviour based on child-parent relationship, however as one becomes an adolescent, individual differences becomes an increasingly dominant component (Thompson, 2008). As previously described how different parenting styles influence behaviour patterns in various ways, it can again be seen that behaviour is isn’t limited to a single factor. Antisocial behaviour, such as aggressiveness has been described to partly be the result of lack of empathy and inability to self regulate emotions.
Empathetic people tend to be more prosocial than those who lack empathy (Zahn-Waxler & Robinson, 1995) and people who lack empathy are more aggressive (Blair, 2010). Therefore, as found by Scott (1998), those children who struggle to read other people’s feelings react aggressively to potential threats. They do this because they think this is the only way to control the situation. This may be the result of insecure attachments during childhood, where parents don’t show any interest when the child is in need or in emotionally distressing situations (Stevenson-Hinde, & Verschueren, 2002).
As they are frequently not being given the proper attention, they learn that despite their needs for emotional attention, the parent is not interested or concerned. Therefore, they slowly stop or reduce the communication with the parent too. Prosocial behaviour, on the other hand is linked with secure attachments and for this reason building a secure attachment alongside authoritative parenting could ensure a positive future for the child. Hesse (1999) argues that the attachment can be determined in terms of with stability, predictors of future behaviour and familial and societal function, by adolescence.