Title

Distinctive Personality and Discipline Characteristics of Child-Neglecting Mothers

Date of Award

8-1-1976

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Abstract

The present study was designed to investigate distinctive personality and discipline characteristics of mothers who physically neglect but do not physically abuse their children. An attempt was made to acceptably define the concept, to meet the need for information regarding a representative sample of child-neglecting mothers, and to test hypotheses of a psychological nature suggested by the literature.

There were ten mothers in the neglect group and ten in the reference group. Each of the neglectful mothers had been accused of failing to provide basic physical care for their children, and the group consisted of the ten most recent referrals to an agency responsible for receiving and investigating abuse and neglect complaints within one county. In each case, the mother*s neglectful behavior had been substantiated and dealt with according to law. The reference group was constructed from a pool of fifty-three mothers who were receiving services from this same welfare agency, who had also been recommended by the social work staff as doing an adequate or better job of rearing their children, and against whom there had never been a. neglect complaint. Statistical procedures were employed such that the two groups- distributions were matched on the following variables* sex, race, age, age when first married, years of education, weekly income, number of moves in the previous two years, number of marriages, number of divorces, weekly number of informal social contacts, number of boys, number of girls, and social position based on educational and occupational factors. The groups did differ in weekly number of formal social contacts in that mothers in the reference group more often held outside employment. Participation for both groups was voluntary and confidential.

Six measures were employed* a personal data questionnaire, the Tennessee Self Concept Scale (TSCS), the Perceived Aggression Training (PAT) instrument, a questionnaire regarding perceived physical discipline for common misbehaviors, a standardized interview regarding current discipline procedures, and a rating scale regarding mothers* perceptions of the current discipline situation.

The following are summary statements of the conclusions reached in this study* (1) the two groups did not differ in level of overall self esteem* (2) the neglect group possessed a significantly lower sense of identity and lower family self than the reference group, and no difference was found in self esteem measures regarding self satisfaction, behavior, physical self, moral-ethical self, personal self, and social self* (3) the two groups did not differ in the consistency of their self perceptions? (k) the two groups did not differ in the definitiveness of their self perceptions? (5) the neglect group possessed a significantly higher number of deviant signs, a higher level of psychosis, and less personality integration than the reference group, and no difference was found on measures of self criticism, defensive position, general maladjustment, personality disorder, nor neurosis; (6) the neglect group reported experiencing as children a significantly higher level of aggression training (physical punishment for aggressive behavior) than did the reference group; (7) the neglect group reported experiencing as children a higher level of physical punishment for common, non- aggressive misbehaviors than did the reference group; (8) the neglect group reported using physical punishment to a significantly greater degree than did the reference grotip for both aggressive and common misbehaviors; (9) the two groups did not differ in the variability (number of discipline options) of their discipline procedures regarding both aggressive and common misbehaviors; (10) the two groups did not differ in their perception of their discipline procedures as different from their parents' discipline procedures, the effectiveness of their own discipline procedures, the ease with which their children are disciplined, and the activity or energy level of their children.

Based on the significant intercorrelations of the differentiating variables and on a factor analysis of the results, the following additional conclusions were drawn* (11) the mothers and fathers of the subjects in both groups used similar methods as a couple to deal with both aggressive and other common misbehaviors as reported by their daughters; (12) the current mode of discipline used by the subjects in both groups was highly related to that used by their parents; (13) the current mode of discipline used by the subjects in both groups was more highly related to their own mother's discipline for both types of misbehaviors than to their father's discipline, even though both parents used similar methods; (1^) in these groups, a sense of identity and of self esteem as a family member were negatively related* and psychosis positively related, to the perceived degree of aggression training provided by the subjects* mothers; (15) in these groups, a sense of identity and of self esteem as a family member were negatively related, and psychosis positively related, to the perceived degree of physical punishment experienced by the subjects from their mothers for common misbehaviors; (16) in these groups, as a sense of identity and of self esteem as a family member decreased, and as psychosis and psychological disturbance increased, the discipline mode reportedly used by the subjects with their own children became increasingly physical in nature; (17) in these groups, of all the intercorrelated measures, the one which was most consistently and most highly linked to all the others was the perceived level of aggression training provided the subjects by their mothers.

These findings were discussed in relation to existing abuse-neglect data art within the context of an etiological framework for physical neglect of children. It should be noted that the summary statements above must be applied to similar samples with some caution. Plainly limiting the gen- eralizability of these findings are the small size of the samples and the correlational nature of the data, from which causation cannot necessarily be implied.

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