PROVO, Utah — Parents feel a greater threat to their adolescent child’s values from the media than from peers, and are therefore more controlling in response to these influences than to peer influences, according to a new Brigham Young University study.

The study, “‘Peers I Can Monitor, It’s Media That Really Worries Me!’ Parental Cognitions as Predictors of Proactive Parental Strategy Choice,” published in the January issue of “The Journal of Adolescent Research,” looks at how parents react to the conflicting values of media and peer influences.

According to the research, during the transition to adolescents, youth often use media as a tool to form an identity that is separate from their parents’. Also, much of their exposure to media takes place without the supervision of adults. Media influence is thought to play an important role in the adolescents’ formation of their private self. Parents may experience significant anxiety regarding media influences because of the wide variety available to youth and the difficulty in monitoring exposure.

As a result, parents use more controlling strategies in response to media influences. Parents who are confident in their role are more likely to respond to their children in authoritative ways. Also, parents who anticipate difficulty for their children tend to use more active strategies to prepare their children for these interactions.

Lead author Laura Padilla Walker, assistant professor of marriage, family and human development at BYU, and fellow researchers conducted focus groups followed by in-depth, individual interviews with 40 parents of children between 11 and 16 years of age. The researchers’ findings suggest that parents primarily use the following four strategies to combat conflicting value messages from outside sources:

  • Cocooning — parents shelter their child from outside influences that may conflict with their values for as long as possible
  • Pre-arming — parents “arm” their children with the tools necessary to deal with conflicting messages through discussions or even making fun of the outside influence.
  • Deference — parents allow their child exposure to sources that may have conflicting values without providing ammunition or armor to shield the child. Deference is often intended as an expression of trust.
  • Compromise — parents place certain restrictions on children while also granting them a degree of autonomy. Examples include allowing children to spend time with only certain people when under supervision, or placing limitations on television viewing.

“How parents respond to conflicting values varies as a function of the source of influence,” said Walker. “For example, parents respond differently to conflicting values from peers than conflicting values from media. In addition, how parents respond to conflicting values varies as a function of the parents’ own perceptions of their child and of the world around them.”

Walker is currently working on additional research in this area that seeks to understand which of these proactive parenting strategies is most effective at helping parents foster positive values in their adolescent children in the face of potentially conflicting values from sources outside the home.