Children’s Self-Esteem Related to School- and Sport-Specific Perceptions of Self and Others
By Cassidy, Camille M; Conroy, David E
Researchers suggest that parental involvement and autonomy support may impact children’s perceived competence (PC) and their self-esteem (SE). Additionally, children’s PC has been positively associated with SE. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the influence of maternal involvement (i.e., mothers being interested in, knowledgeable about, and participating in the child’s pursuits) and autonomy support (i.e., the extent to which mothers encourage their children to initiate behavior and make their own choices) in the academic and athletic domains on children’s domain- specific (i.e., academic, athletic) PC and SE. It was hypothesized that maternal involvement and autonomy support would significantly contribute to children’s school- and sport- related PC, and that their domain-specific PC would significantly contribute to their SE. It was also hypothesized that maternal involvement and autonomy support might contribute to children’s SE indirectly through their relationship with children’s PC. Participants (N = 60) involved in youth basketball and soccer leagues completed a questionnaire assessing their perceptions of maternal behaviors (i.e., involvement, autonomy support), and their own domain-specific PC and SE. Data were analyzed using multiple regression and correlation analyses. Results indicated that children’s PC in both domains significantly positively contributed to SE and together accounted for 19% of the variance in SE. Maternal involvement in the academic domain was significantly associated with SE. Maternal autonomy support failed to significantly contribute to either SE or PC in either domain. The total combined effects for maternal behaviors and PC in the academic and athletic domains accounted for 37.5% of the variance in SE scores. Results indicated that (a) PC was more closely tied to SE than were perceptions of maternal behaviors, and (b) effect sizes in previous research on perceived parent behaviors and SE may be over-estimated in these specific domains.
Parents, through their caregiving behaviors, often serve as the most important social influences in their children’s development (Grusec, 2002); however, little is known about their unique contribution to children’s psychosocial development in sport. Parents’ interactions with children in infancy and early childhood shape how children evaluate themselves and their surrounding environments (Bowlby, 1969). Parent behaviors, such as involvement and autonomy support in achievement domains, can lead children to evaluate themselves as competent individuals worthy of love and care. Although the effects of maternal involvement and autonomy support on children’s perceived competence and self-esteem have been established in the academic domain (Gecas, 1971; Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986; Grolnick, Kurowski, Dunlap, & Hevey, 2000; Rosenberg, 1965), these relationships have yet to be established in a similar fashion hi the athletic context. Furthermore, little research has compared the academic and athletic domains as important contexts of child development. Bridging the gap between the academic and athletic domains may assist in determining if the effects of maternal behaviors (e.g., involvement, autonomy support) are similar across the two domains. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between children’s perceptions of maternal involvement and autonomy support in both the academic and athletic domains with children’s domain-specific perceived competence and general self- esteem.
Youth Development in the Academic and Athletic Domains
From an ecological perspective, different activity settings function as contexts for human development based on the “existence and nature of social interconnections between settings” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 6). Comparing the social characteristics of salient youth microsystems, such as academics and athletics, may enhance understanding of how these settings influence youth development. Tune use research indicates that children spend as much as 25% of their waking day in two distinct categories of activity: work and leisure (Larson & Verma, 1999). School and sport are prototypical work and leisure activities for children.
In both school and sport, children confront the struggles involved in the acquisition of new skills, practice, evaluation, social comparison, and persistence (Grusec, 2002). That is, competence is a major focus of children’s engagement in these domains. Additionally, parents generally assume an instructive role initially in each domain (Grusec) and these domains provide opportunities for children to develop and demonstrate their competence to important figures such as parents. These similarities make the academic and athletic domains amenable for comparison.
Despite these similarities, meaningful differences exist between subjective experiences in each domain. During schoolwork, many youth experience high levels of both concentration and challenge but low levels of intrinsic motivation because schoolwork is a context in which mental effort is “under the control of incentives and structuring provided by adults” (Larson, 2000, p. 172). In contrast, many youth experience simultaneously high levels of concentration and intrinsic motivation while engaged in sports, making this domain a “fertile context for adolescents to develop and teach themselves a wide range of positive competencies” (p. 175). It is not yet clear how the differences in youths’ subjective experiences in these two important domains may be associated with their psychosocial development.
Self-Esteem Among Pre-Adolescent Children
Preadolescence marks an important period in development, as a child must deal with many social, physical, and psychological changes, including the preparation for adolescence. Often, these changes associated with preadolescence are accompanied by a decrease in self-esteem (Frank & Cohen, 1979; Keltikangas-Jarvinen, 1990). Self-esteem refers to the “evaluation which the individual makes and customarily maintains with regard to himself [that] expresses an attitude of approval or disapproval, and indicates the extent to which the individual believes himself to be capable, successful, significant, and worthy (Coopersmith, 1967, p. 4). Individuals are said to have high self-esteem when they respect themselves and consider themselves worthy (Rosenberg, 1965). In contrast, low self- esteem implies self-rejection, self-dissatisfaction, and self- contempt (Rosenberg).
Self-esteem is associated with several other important psychological outcomes. Specifically, high self-esteem individuals tend to respond in more functional ways to failure when compared to individuals with low self-esteem (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003; DiPaula & Campbell, 2002), thereby potentially gaining a slight advantage in performance. Additionally, high self-esteem individuals tend to report significantly greater feelings of happiness than their low-self-esteem counterparts (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998; Diener & Diener, 1995; Furnham & Cheng, 2000; Shackelford, 2001). Finally, researchers have found high selfesteem to act as a buffer against anxiety (Greenberg et al., 1992). In contrast to the potentially positive effects of high self-esteem, researchers have found that low self-esteem contributes to several negative outcomes, including delinquent behavior (Baumeister et al.), depression (Murrell, Meeks, & Walker, 1991; Whisman & Kwon, 1993), and bulimia (Bulik, Wade, &Kendler, 2000; Button, Sonuga-Barke, Davies, & Thompson, 1996; Mintz & Betz, 1988).
Parents are generally considered to be an important influence on the development of a child’s self-esteem because the self is a social creation and parents are key components of the child’s social world. The self materializes out of symbolic interaction (Mead, 1934) and the “prerequisite cognitive capacity for role-taking,” (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986, p. 37) which allows individuals to see themselves as others see them, using reflected appraisals (Gecas & Schwalbe). The reflected appraisals of parents are especially significant for a child’s self-concept (Helper, 1958; Jourard & Remy, 1955; Manis, 1958) in both the academic and athletic domains.
In the academic context, children’s perceptions of their own abilities have been found to be more strongly linked to their parents’ beliefs about the children’s abilities than to their actual level of ability (Eccles-Parsons, Adler, & Kaczala, 1982). Additionally, Phillips (1984, 1987) found that the self-perceptions of children with relatively high levels of academic ability were strongly related to the children’s beliefs about how their parents viewed them. Children with lower perceptions of ability believed that their parents viewed them as having low ability as well.
In the sport domain, the influence of parents on children’s self- perceptions may be even greater than in the academic domain because parents have many opportunities to participate directly in their children’s sport experiences and thereby provide them with “immediate, interpretive, and evaluative feedback” (Brustad, Babkes, & Smith, 2001, p. 621). Amorose (2002) recently examined the role of various reflected a\ppraisals (i.e., mothers, fathers, coaches, teammates) in predicting female middle- and high-school athletes’ perceptions of competence. Results from this study indicated that mothers, coaches, and teammates all significantly contributed to the athletes’ perceived competence, whereas the reflected appraisal of fathers did not.
Parental support and interest in the child and his or her activities have been strongly related to children’s self-esteem (Gecas, 1971, Leff& Hoyle, 1995; Rosenberg, 1965). Coopersmith (1967) found that three characteristics of parent-child relationships were associated with high self-esteem: (a) parental acceptance of the child, (b) clearly defined and enforced rules, and (c) respect for the child’s action within the rules. Thus, children’s perceptions of parent behaviors should be directly associated with their self-esteem. Given that researchers have found fathers to have less of an impact on their children’s psychosocial outcomes than mothers (Amorose, 2002 ; Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1991 ; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994), the present study examined whether children’s perceptions of maternal behaviors in two specific domains (i.e., academics and athletics) were associated with their self- esteem.
From another perspective, self-esteem represents children’s perceptions of their competence across a variety of domains (Harter, 1978). Perceived competence refers to an individual’s beliefs in her or his “capacity to interact effectively” with her or his environment (Harter, 1978, p. 297; White, 1959). Harter ( 1978) conceptualized perceived competence in different domains (e.g., cognitive, physical, interpersonal) as building blocks for self- esteem. Thus, children’s self-esteem may be associated with parent behaviors because those parent behaviors are associated with perceptions of competence (which are components of self-esteem). Parental approval and reinforcement of children’s mastery attempts can enhance perceptions of competence in a particular domain such as sport. Two specific parent behaviors are posited to provide this sense of approval and reinforcement for mastery attempts in the academic and athletic domains: involvement and autonomy support.
In the child development literature, parent involvement has been described as the amount of time and effort a parent expends in child- oriented activities as opposed to other activities (Pulkinnen, 1982). In the academic achievement literature, parental involvement has been conceptualized as the “dedication of resources by a parent to the child within a given domain” (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994) as well as the degree to which a parent is interested in, knowledgeable about, and takes an active part in the child’s life (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989). In the athletic domain, parental involvement may be evidenced by (a) transportation to and from games and practices, (b) attending games and practices, (c) providing instructional assistance, and (d) purchasing the equipment necessary for the sport (Stein, Raedeke, & Glenn, 1999). For this study, parent involvement in the academic and athletic domains was operationally defined as parents being interested in, knowledgeable about, and actively participating in the child’s academic and athletic pursuits, respectively.
Parent Involvement and Children’s Perceived Competence. Researchers have consistently reported a weak positive relationship (average r = .21) between parental involvement and children’s perceived competence in the academic domain (Grolnick et al., 1991, 2000; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). Despite the weak overall effect for this relationship in the academic domain, mothers’ involvement consistently had a stronger relationship with children’s perceived competence than did fathers’ involvement. In the athletic domain, Babkes and Weiss (1999) found that competitive youth soccer players who perceived their fathers as being more involved hi their soccer participation but who also applied less pressure to perform well had higher levels of perceived soccer competence than other children.
Parent Involvement and Children’s Self-Esteem. Parental interest “conveys to the child information about his or her inherent worth” (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986). Parent involvement and interest in the child have been linked to children’s self-esteem hi several studies (Gecas, 1971 ; Gecas & Schwalbe; Loeb, Horst, & Horton, 1980; Rosenberg, 1965). This relationship (average r = .24) was found to be weak and positive in size (according to conventional interpretations; Cohen, 1988) for both boys and girls. In the athletic context, Leff and Hoyle (1995) found that children’s perceptions of their parents’ support, defined as parent behaviors intended to aid in children’s involvement in athletics, was positively related to children’s self-esteem for both male and female youth tennis players.
A second parenting construct, autonomy support, describes the extent to which parents encourage their children to initiate behavior and make their own choices (Grolnick et al., 1991 ) and “the degree to which parents value and use techniques which encourage independent problem solving, choice, and participation in decision making” (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; p. 144). Clark and Ladd (2000) further defined autonomy support as the degree to which parents were responsive, reflective, and validating of the child’s opinions, feelings, and perspectives. For this study, maternal autonomy support in the academic and athletic domains was operationally defined as the extent to which mothers influence their children to be independent in their decision-making and behavior in the academic and athletic domains, respectively.
Autonomy Support and Children’s Self-Esteem. The degree to which parents grant their children autonomy should also have a positive effect on the child’s self-esteem because reinforcing autonomous behavior communicates to the child that he or she is trusted and viewed as worthwhile by others (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986; Loeb et al., 1980). Gecas and Schwalbe found small to moderate positive associations between children’s perceptions of parental autonomy support and children’s self-esteem (i.e., range in r = .06 – .40).
Autonomy Support and Children’s Perceived Competence. Similarly, autonomy support should increase children’s perceptions of competence in a domain because it connotes approval of their mastery attempts. Research examining the effects of mothers’ and fathers’ autonomy support on children’s perceived competence revealed small positive relationships (average r = .24) between these variables (Grolnick et al., 1991; Grolnick et al., 2002; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989).
To summarize, children may perceive their parents as reinforcing and approving of their mastery attempts when the parents invest time with the child in a domain (involvement) and reward the child’s freely chosen behavior in that domain (autonomy support). Parental involvement in their child’s attempts at mastery is likely to convey to the child a sense of approval because the parents are taking time away from themselves to show that they care about the child’s experience and accomplishments. Thus, parental involvement and autonomy support should be linked directly to children’s perceptions of competence within a domain. In turn, these perceptions of competence may contribute to children’s global self-evaluation (i.e., self-esteem). Based on previous research demonstrating a relationship between parent behaviors in the academic and athletic domains and self-esteem (Alves-Martins, Peixoto, Gouveia-Pereira, Amaral, & Pedro, 2002; Chan, 2002; Harter, 1985; Leff & Hoyle, 1995), it is proposed that this direct relationship may be at least partially mediated by youth perceptions of competence.
Given the scarcity of research on the association between parental involvement and autonomy support in the athletic domain and children’s self-esteem, it is also possible that parent behaviors in this domain do not have a direct association with youth self- esteem. In that case, it is proposed that perceptions of parent behaviors in the sport domain may have indirect relations with children’s self-esteem by virtue of their impact on children’s perceptions of competence. Thus, the present research aims to determine whether direct, indirect, or mediated effect models best describe relations between children’s perceptions of parental behavior (i.e., involvement and autonomy support) and their self- esteem. In doing so, this study will address the following research questions: (a) Do perceptions of competence predict self-esteem?, (b) Do perceptions of maternal behaviors predict perceived competence or self-esteem?, and (c) What is the total direct effect of perceived maternal behavior and children’s perceptions of competence on children’s self-esteem?
Approximately 615 children and their parents were approached for the present study. Sixty children (approximately 9.75% of the larger population) involved in recreational basketball (n = 24) and soccer (n = 36) programs with a mean of 4.62 years of playing experience (SD = 1.78) received parental permission and provided their own assent to participate in this study. This response rate may be attributed to the sensitive nature of the questionnaires (i.e., many parents are not comfortable having their children report on the parents’ behavior to an unknown third party). The mean age of female participants (H = 19)was 11.26 years (SD = 1.66), and the mean age of male participants (n = 38) was 11.34 years (SD = 1.46); 3 participants did not report their sex. The participants ranged in school grade from third through eighth, and were divided similarly among those grades. Consistent with the demographic composition of the town (U. S. Census Bureau, n.d.), the sample was predominantly European-American (91%), with a small percentage of Asian-American (4%),Native-American (2%), and Latin-American (2%) participants. Nearly all participants were raised by their biological mother (97%) and lived with their mother as well (95%). The majority of participants in the sample felt that their mothers were involved either more than or as much as their fathers in both the academic (93%) and athletic (68%) contexts.
Participants completed five questionnaires: a demographic questionnaire, a children’s self-esteem questionnaire, measures of perceived competence in both the academic and athletic domains, and measures of maternal autonomy support and personal involvement in both the academic and athletic domains.
The demographic questionnaire was developed for the present study and assessed the participants’ age, sex, race, grade in school, sport involvement, and family structure. Participants reported whether their mothers were biological or adoptive, and also reported the perceived influence of their mothers compared with their fathers. Specifically, participants reported whether their mothers were (a) more involved than their fathers in both the academic and athletic domains, (b) involved as much as their fathers in both the academic and athletic domains, or (c) involved less than their fathers in both the academic and athletic domains.
Self-Esteem. Participants’ self-esteem was measured using the eight-item global self-esteem subscale of the Self-Esteem Questionnaire (SEQ; DuBois, Felner, Brand, Phillips, & Lease, 1996). Each item was rated on a four-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Sample items included “I am happy with myself as a person” (5 items were forward-scored) and “I sometimes think I am a failure” (3 items were reverse-scored). The SEQ global self-esteem subscale has demonstrated acceptable internal consistency (a = .86) as well as convergent and divergent validity using multitrait-multimethod analyses (DuBois et al.).
Perceived Competence. Perceived scholastic competence and perceived athletic competence were measured using subscales from Barter’s (1985) Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC). This questionnaire was designed for use with children aged 8 through 13 years. For the current study, only the six items used to tap scholastic competence and the six items used to tap athletic competence were used. For each item participants read two statements describing two types of children and decided which statement most closely resembled them. Participants then rated how true that statement was of them on a scale from really true for me (1,4) to sort of true for me (2, 3). Internal consistency based on Cronbach’s alpha was .82 for the scholastic competence scale and .83 for the athletic competence scale. The two subscales have a small correlation of r = .27 with each other (Harter). Scores from the SPPC have been demonstrated to be reliable and valid in numerous recent studies (e.g., Mris, Meesters, & Fijen,2003)
Maternal Autonomy Support and Personal Involvement. Maternal autonomy support and personal involvement were measured using subscales from the Children’s Perceptions of Parents Scale (CPOPS; Grolnick et al., 1991 ). This scale assessed children’s perceptions of the degree to which their mothers were autonomy supportive and personally involved. Six items formed an autonomy support subscale and five items formed a personal involvement subscale. Subscale alphas were .53 for maternal autonomy support and .56 for mother’s personal involvement (Grolnick et al.). Each item included four statements that described four types of parents. Participants read each of the four statements and chose which statement was most like their mother (5 items were forward-scored, 6 items were reverse- scored). For the present study, only the 11 items measuring mother’s autonomy support and personal involvement were included. Also for the present study, each item assessing mother’s autonomy support and personal involvement was administered twice: once for the academic domain and once for the athletic domain. Items were modified as needed to refer to each domain specifically (e.g., “in school” or “about sport” were included in each statement.
Participants were recruited from local recreational youth basketball and soccer leagues during the spring semester of the academic year. Permission to collect data in the leagues was received from the league directors and coaches. Prior to attending games and practices, most parents were notified by email that the researchers would be approaching them. Additionally, all coaches were called and asked to keep the children together after practices or games so the researchers could speak with the children as a group. Researchers attended practices and games to describe the study to parents and children. During timeouts and breaks, parents were approached and were given an informational letter about the study and two parent consent forms. Researchers approached the children at the end of practices and games to explain the study to them and ask for their assent. The research team attended multiple games and practices for each team to ensure that all children were given the opportunity to participate in the study.
Although parents and participants were asked to remain after practices or games to complete the questionnaires, the majority of parents were unable to do so given their other parental responsibilities. Thus, many participants were unable to complete the questionnaire when the parent consent and assent were initially obtained. Participants who received parental consent and provided informed assent were given the questionnaire along with a stamped envelope addressed to the researcher. These participants were asked to complete the questionnaire at their earliest convenience and return it hi the envelope provided. Participants were reminded to return the completed questionnaires when the researchers attended subsequent games and practices. The researcher gave out approximately 80 questionnaires and 53 were returned. Thus, although there was a low overall response rate during recruitment, there was a substantially high percentage (66.25%) of participants who agreed to participate who actually did complete and return the questionnaire. Because these administration procedures were not standard, the participants and their parents were instructed to call the principal investigator if any questions arose. Additionally, parents and participants were asked at subsequent games and practices if there were any problems with the questionnaire to ensure that all participants understood what it was they were being asked to do. The participants were thanked for their willingness to participate and were given snacks as a token of appreciation.
Multiple regression (MR) and correlation analyses were used to test hypotheses. Correlation analyses were employed to determine the bivariate relationships between domain-specific perceived competence and self-esteem. Additionally, maternal behaviors (i.e., involvement, autonomy support) were entered as predictors into MR equations to predict children’s domain-specific perceived competence and self-esteem. Separate models were tested for the academic and athletic domains. All missing data were handled using listwise deletion to ensure equal sample sizes across analyses and facilitate comparison of inferential significance testing results.
Descriptive statistics for each scale are presented in Table 1. Scale alphas were similar to expected values from previous research (DuBois et al., 1996;Harter, 1985;Grolnicketal., 1991). Means for the self-esteem scale and the perceived competence subscales were slightly elevated compared to norms (DuBois et al., 1996; Harter, 1985); however, these differences were not statistically significant. The majority of scales were significantly negatively skewed (i.e., z > 1.96). Variables that were significantly skewed were normalized by reflecting the variable and taking the logarithm of the new variable, as suggested by Tabachnick and Fidell (2001). However, results did not change based on this transformation and untransformed variables were employed to allow for easier interpretation of the data.
Table 2 presents a correlation matrix for all scale scores. The maternal involvement and autonomy support constructs exhibited large positive correlations across domains; however, correlations did not exceed .80 so the constructs were viewed as related across domains but not identical (Maruyama, 1998, p. 64). The correlation for the perceived competence measures revealed that these scales clearly tapped largely distinct constructs.
Research Question I: Do Perceptions of Competence Predict Self- Esteem?
Participants’ self-esteem was significantly related to perceived academic competence and perceived athletic competence. Multiple regression was employed to determine the total effect of perceived competence on self-esteem. Together, perceived scholastic competence (B = 0.35, p
Research Question 2: Do Perceptions of Maternal Behavior Predict Perceived Competence or Self-Esteem?
Maternal autonomy support did not predict either perceived competence (β = 0.13, β = 0.08) or self-esteem (β= 0.09, β= 0.11) in either the academic or athletic domain (all ρ > .05). As seen in Table 2, maternal involvement in the academic and athletic domains was not significantly linearly related to perceived scholastic competence (β = 0.20) or perceived athletic competence (β = 0.24), respectively (p > .05). Maternal involvement in the academic domain did have a significant linear effect on self-esteem (F [1,56] = 5.65, p .05).
Research Question 3: What is the Total Direct Effect of Perceived Maternal Behaviors and Children’s Perceived Competence on Children’s Self-Esteem?
Given that domain-specific maternal behaviors did not significantly contribute to domain-specific perceived competence, it was not possible to estimate an indirect effects or mediation model1. Instead, the total effect size from the direct effects model of self-esteem was estimated for each domain. In the direct-effects model, maternal behaviors and children’s perceived competence all directly related to self-esteem. Predictors of non-significant bivariate relationships were included in the direct effects models based on theoretical grounds. Due to the difficult nature of collecting these data because of the sensitive subject matter, and to the preliminary nature of the study, effect sizes were emphasized over probability levels in these analyses (Carver, 1978; Cohen, 1994). Perceived scholastic competence and maternal behaviors in the academic domain significantly contributed to self-esteem and accounted for 34% of the variance in self-esteem, F (3,44) = 7.50, p
Descriptive Statistics for Scales
Correlation Matrix for Scale Scores
The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between children’s perceptions of maternal involvement and autonomy support in both the academic and athletic domains with children’s domain-specific perceived competence and general self-esteem. Furthermore, this study aimed to determine whether a direct effects, indirect effects, or mediation model best accounted for the relationships between perceived maternal behaviors, perceived competence, and self-esteem. To summarize the results, children’s perceived scholastic and athletic competence were significantly related to their self-esteem. Maternal involvement in the academic domain was significantly related to children’s self-esteem, but it was not significantly related to children’s perceived scholastic competence. In contrast, maternal involvement in the athletic domain was not significantly related with either children’s perceived athletic competence or self-esteem. Maternal autonomy support in both the academic and athletic domains also was not significantly related to children’s perceived competence in either domain or self- esteem. The total combined direct effects for maternal behaviors and perceived competence in the academic and athletic domains predicting self-esteem accounted for 37.5% of the variance.
The effects observed in the present study were smaller than anticipated based on the literature reviewed for the a priori power analysis. Consequently, the analyses reported in the results section were likely underpowered for detecting small effect sizes for perceived parent behaviors that may have existed in the population (Cohen, 1988). The most likely explanation for the low participation rate involved the sensitive nature of the research topic. Many parents from this community were unwilling to consent to their children reporting to a stranger on the mothers’ behavior even after being advised that the data would be collected anonymously. Although this reaction was not completely surprising, the extent to which it affected recruitment was not expected. In fact, recruitment efforts were broadened considerably as the study progressed until the local population of youth sport participants was exhausted. Future sport parenting researchers should expect similar recruiting challenges and would be advised (a) to target large populations for recruitment, and (b) to plan a research budget with adequate funds for personnel to recruit an adequate sample from the population. Given the importance of sport parenting for the large numbers of youth who participate in organized sports each year (de Knop, Engstrom, Skirstad, & Weiss, 1996; Ewing, seefeldt, & Brown, 2002), the present results provide valuable effect size estimates that can be used to plan future research on this topic. Additionally, the novelty of the present data and the unavoidable power limitations of the analyses led to effects sizes being given priority over probability levels when interpreting the results. This approach provides a better sense of the links between children’s perceptions of maternal behaviors on perceived competence and self-esteem than would a strict reliance on probability levels (Carver, 1978; Cohen, 1994); however, interpretations should be made cautiously pending further evaluation of these hypotheses with larger samples.
There are several possible explanations for these findings. Maternal involvement may not have been associated with perceived competence due to the measure used to assess involvement. The CPOPS (Grolnick et al., 1991) may not tap a spectrum of involvement behaviors broad enough to assess all forms or levels of perceived involvement; examination of items measuring maternal involvement indicated that the scale may only sample behaviors that range from slightly less than moderate to slightly more than moderate involvement. The same hypothesis may be true for items on the CPOPS assessing maternal autonomy support as well. One recommendation to resolve this issue is to conduct an item-response theory analysis with a large sample of responses to establish whether these items tap the full range of each construct.
Participants in the present study were instructed to respond to items assessing their mother’s involvement and autonomy support within two distinct domains (i.e., academics, athletics). Thus, participants answered domain-specific items based on the specific representational model of their mother’s behaviors within each domain. Given that participants’ global model of others was likely to affect their specific representational models of their mothers (Pierce & Lydon, 2001), it is unlikely that they responded to items independently across domains. Indeed, the correlations between the two scales (i.e., academics, athletics) for each construct (i.e., maternal involvement, maternal autonomy support) indicated that participants’ perceptions of their mothers overlapped substantially. The extent to which this overlap is due to the similarities in maternal behaviors across domains as opposed to a general representational model of maternal behavior is not clear and should be investigated in future research. One recommendation for future research is to measure participants’ global representational model of their mothers in addition to domain-specific representational models so that regression analyses controlling for the influence of the global model can be conducted.
Consistent with previous findings (Alves-Martins et al., 2002; Campbell, Pungello, & Miller-Johnson, 2002; Chan, 2002; Barter, 1981, 1985), children’s perceived competence significantly contributed to their self-esteem. This finding supported the hypothesis that self-esteem comprises children’s perceived competence across a multitude of domains. Furthermore, scores for perceived competence were almost entirely unrelated, indicating that: (a) children can reliably distinguish between domains when responding to items measuring similar constructs, and (b) children can experience differential feelings of competence in several different contexts. These results also imply that the use of the same measure (slightly modified to be domain-specific) twice to assess maternal behaviors in differing domains was acceptable, and that a child who excels in one domain but not another may develop a level of self-esteem comparable to another child who performs well in a separate domain.
Given the consistent findings that autonomy support has previously been positively associated with perceived competence (Grolnick et al., 1991; Grolnick et al., 2002; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989) and self-esteem (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986; Loeb et al., 1980), it was surprising that results from the present study did not reveal similar relationships. It also was surprising to find that maternal involvement was unrelated to children’s perceived competence given the consistent associations found between these constructs in previous research (Grolnick et al., 1991; Grolnick et al., 2002; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). Future research with a larger sample would be ideal for determining if small but non-zero relationships emerge. Given the difficulty of recruiting children with their parents’ consent to answer questions about a sensitive topic (i.e., parenting behavior), such research may not be feasible. As such, the present sample provides unique and valuable insights into sport parenting.
Interestingly, maternal involvement in the athletic domain was not associated with self-esteem, whereas maternal involvement in the academic domain was positively related to self-esteem. The finding that involvement in the academic domain was related to self-esteem was consistent with previous research (Gecas, 1971; Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1984; Loeb et al., 1980; Rosenberg, 1965). Children may rely more on their mothers for feedback concerning personal ability and worth in the academic domain whereas they may rely more on their fathers for the same feedback in the athletic domain. To test this hypothesis, future research should assess children’s perceptions of both maternal and p\aternal involvement in important achievement domains (e.g., academics, athletics).
Other non-parenting influences such as coaches, teachers, and peers may influence children’s perceptions of competence and self- esteem. Smith, Smoll, and their colleagues (Smoll, Smith, Barnett, & Everett, 1993; Smith, Smoll, & Curtis, 1978, 1979; Smith, Smoll, & Hunt, 1977; Smith, Zane, Smoll, & Coppell, 1983) have found that coaches’ behaviors can impact children’s self-perceptions. Rather than relying on evaluative information in the athletic context from their mothers, participants in the present study may have relied more heavily on feedback from coaches or teachers to determine their competence and worth. This hypothesis may provide one explanation why maternal involvement in the academic domain had a significant positive influence on children’s self-esteem and not their perceived competence, as well as why maternal involvement in the athletic domain did not have a significant relationship with either self- esteem or perceived competence. Peers may serve as another source of non-parenting influences on children’s perceived competence and self- esteem. Harter (1998) indicated that children begin to rely on peers for validation of worth and other forms of social support as they age. Several researchers have found positive relationships between peer acceptance and perceived competence (Smith, 1999; Weiss & Duncan, 1992), as well as between sport friendships and self-esteem (Weiss, Smith, & Theebom, 1996). The participants in this study may have placed greater emphasis on feedback from peers rather than on feedback from their mothers. One recommendation for future research is to determine if participants rely more heavily on evaluative feedback from parents or peers to make self-evaluations of competence in different domains.
Maternal involvement and autonomy support only represent a limited sampling of parent behavior that may influence children’s perceived competence and self-esteem. An additional dimension of parenting that may be relevant to children’s development is maternal love, or a lack thereof. Many scholars have identified this dimension of love as an important aspect of parental behavior (Benjamin, 1974; Bornstein, 1995; Bowlby, 1969; Harlow, 1958; Schaefer, 1965). Children are likely to internalize their parents’ behaviors (Bowlby, 1969), so a parent who loves his or her child will likely have a child who also loves him or herself. The love- hate dimension of interpersonal behavior has been linked to several psychopathologies, including alcoholism (Ichiyama, Zucker, Fitzgerald, & Bingham, 1996), bulimia nervosa (Wonderlich, Klein, & Council, 1996), dissociative disorders (Alpher, 1996), externalizing behavior problems (Florsheim,Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 1996), and multiple personality disorders (Benjamin, 1996). Perhaps this dimension of parental behavior could provide more insight into children’s perceived competence and self-esteem in future research.
An additional parenting dimension, structure, may also influence children’s perceptions of competence and self-esteem. Structure refers to “the extent to which parents provide clear and consistent guidelines, expectations, and rules for child behaviors, without respect to the style in which they are promoted” (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989, p. 144). Grolnick and Ryan indicated that parental provision of structure may be either supportive or undermining of autonomy, and that it may play an important role in children’s perceptions of control. The role of structure in the development of children’s perceived competence and self-esteem has not been examined.
Although not statistically significant, maternal involvement was more strongly related to children’s perceived competence than was maternal autonomy support. One possible explanation for this finding is that with children aged 8-14 years, parents are unable to provide sufficient autonomy support to promote perceived competence. Furthermore, children whose parents offer choices and support their children’s initiative may not feel they have very much autonomy. Maternal involvement, on the other hand, is a behavior in which children may be able to easily detect dissimilar levels. For instance, one child may notice without difficulty that his mother is much more involved than his friend’s mother. It may not be as simple for children to perceive differences in levels of autonomy support.
The present study marks a unique effort to compare effects of maternal behaviors across the academic and athletic domains. Previous research has generally examined the relationships in question in a single domain rather than across several domains. Current findings suggest that maternal behaviors have a stronger relationship with children’s outcomes (i.e., perceived competence, self-esteem) in the academic domain than in the athletic domain. Several explanations may account for these results. First, children spend significantly more time in school and school-related activities than they do in sports and leisure activities (Larson & Verma, 1999). Thus, parents may have greater opportunity to impact their children’s development in the academic domain than they do in the athletic context. Second, participants in the present study were recruited from a relatively affluent town (median family income = $50,557; U. S. Census Bureau, n.d.) in which 36.2% of employed citizens 16 years and older work in the educational, health, and social sciences (U. S. Census Bureau). Thus, parents of these participants, as compared to parents from less affluent towns, may value academics more than they value athletics. Children in this sample may be more likely to identify with their parents’ wishes and place more emphasis on striving to perform better in academics than in athletics than children who live in different communities with different values, thus, enhancing parental influence in the academic domain as compared to the athletic domain. This study provided support for the findings that maternal behaviors have a greater influence in the academic domain than in the athletic domain, and suggests that other influences, such as paternal, coach, and peer behaviors may be more relevant to children’s perceived competence and self-esteem in the athletic domain.
1 In an indirect-effects model, maternal behaviors contribute to children’s self-esteem only through their relationship with perceived competence. In contrast, a mediation model would indicate that maternal behaviors directly relate to self-esteem; however, the strength of this relationship diminishes when controlling for self- esteem.
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This study was conducted as a requirement for the Master’s degree while Camille M. Cassidy was attending The Pennsylvania State University. Theauthors would like to thank Angela Fifer and Jonathan Metzler for their assistance with this project. This manuscript was presented at the 19th annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology in Minneapolis, MN, 2004.
Camille M. Cassidy
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
David E. Conroy
The Pennsylvania State University
Address Correspondence To: Camille M. Cassidy, 1914 Andy Holt Avenue, 144 HPER Building, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: (865) 974-8981.
Copyright Journal of Sport Behavior, University of South Alabama Mar 2006