Links between childbearing age and observed maternal behaviors with 14-month-olds in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project



Teenage parents are commonly characterized as poor, minority, single mothers with low levels of education and problematic parenting behaviors. The role of teenage childbearing per se in mothers' parenting behaviors, however, is not well understood. This study addressed links between maternal childbearing age and parenting behaviors among 1,702 low-income mothers participating in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. The sample includes White (n = 704), Black (n = 595), and Latina (n = 403) mothers. One third of the sample were teenage childbearers (younger than 19 years at the birth of the target child). When the children were 14 months old, mothers and children were videotaped in their home during a 10-min free play assessment. This study examined four key parenting behaviors coded from this assessment: supportiveness, detachment, intrusiveness, and negative regard/hostility. Findings indicate that teenage childbearers were significantly less supportive, more detached, more intrusive, and more negative/hostile with their infants than older childbearers. Associations held above and beyond the effects of race/ethnicity, education, family type, family income, and child sex and age for supportiveness, detachment, and intrusiveness (but not negative regard/hostility). These findings provide the most definitive evidence to date of differences between teenage and older mothers' parenting behaviors, above and beyond demographic co-factors. Within-group analyses revealed different patterns of association in the three racial/ethnic groups. ©2002 Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.