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The Influence of Parenting Style and Locus of Control on Employment Counselling for People with Disabilities

As an adolescent with a disability makes the transition from school to work, it is not uncommon for a parent to become overly involved in their adult child’s career decision making and job search search process.  This can take the form of sitting in on an intake interview with an employment service provider, accompanying a candidate to a job interview or preventing your client from accepting a job offer.

Disability and Psychosocial Development

One of the reasons for this behavior is an attempt to advocate on the young adult’s behalf to mitigate the effects of disability on development, self-concept and life experience.  Disability can have an impact on a child’s physical, cognitive and emotional growth and development, generating feelings of anxiety and learned helplessness that results in a lack of motivation to try new things.  Disability can also block access to the environment, thereby preventing opportunities for learning.  This, in turn, shapes the child’s social, cognitive, physical and personal sense of self that is formed from mastering skills, interacting with the environment and being accepted by peers.

During the adolescent stage of development, a physical disability that requires dependence on others for daily living tasks may affect one’s body or self image as well as one’s autonomy and sense of independence.  The adolescent may believe general and conventional roles such as student, employee, spouse or parent are impossible to attain.  This belief leads to a sense of resignation and loss of will to try new tasks, which is reinforced by attitudinal barriers imposed by society, as well as a desire on the part of adolescent and family for protection from disappointment and harm.  As a result, self-actualization through participation in society may become compromised.

The unique developmental challenges to psychosocial success faced by individuals with disabilities are further influenced by factors such as parenting style and locus of control.  In 2007, the Journal of Education and Human Development published a study by Marsiglia, Walczyk, Buboltz and Griffith-Ross on the impact of locus of control and parenting styles on the psychosocial success of emerging adults (the period between the ages of 18 and 25).  Psychosocial success was operationally defined as a successful resolution of the developmental tasks of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, and identity as outlined in Erikson’s stage theory of psychosocial development. Parenting style was classified as the consistent pattern of parent/child interaction according to the following dimensions:

  1. demandingness: the integration into family life through maturity demands, supervision, discipline, and willingness to confront behavioral problems
  2. responsiveness: parental consent, awareness and support of their child’s needs or demands that fosters individuality, self-regulation and self assertion.

Locus of control was described as “the extent to which individuals believe that their life circumstances are a function of either their own actions or external factors beyond their control” (Rotter,1966).  The degree of locus of control is situated on a continuum ranging from internal – a belief that one’s future is determined by one’s ability and effort to external – a belief that life outcomes are a result of fate, chance or the behaviour of others.

The researchers identified the following three parenting styles:

  • authoritarian − highly restrictive and extremely demanding behaviours;
  • permissive − non-restrictive behaviors with few maturity demands and high levels of responsiveness, leading to indulgence or neglect of the child’s needs; and
  • authoritative − strikes a balance between demandingness and responsiveness and promotes initiative, purpose, goal directedness, confidence and accurate assessment of abilities.

Parenting Style and Psychosocial Development

An authoritarian parenting style inhibits independence and enforces strict compliance with rules.  Authoritarian parents are less responsive to and accepting of their son or daughter.  They are prevented from controlling their behaviour and learning from their mistakes, which can generate a belief that they are not responsible for the outcomes in their life.  Emerging adults of authoritarian parents tend to perform well at school and engage in fewer problem behaviors compared with those of permissive parents.  However, they have been found to have poorer social skills, lower self esteem and higher levels of depression than emerging adults of authoritative parents.  Daughters of authoritarian parents tend to be less independent, while the sons tend to be more aggressive.  Children of both genders tend to be more discontented and extrinsically motivated.

A permissive parenting style results in emerging adults who are self regulated and free from rules or discipline.  The lack of behavioral limits, goals and sense of responsibility results in a failure to teach them about being responsible for their own behavior.  They are susceptible to antisocial peer pressure, are more likely to engage in problem behaviors, and do not perform as well in school.  However, they have higher self esteem, better social skills and lower levels of depression than children of authoritarian parents.

Authoritative parents provide guidance and direction to their children using a rational, issue oriented approach and explaining the purpose of rules.  They recognize their children’s individuality, encourage dialogue, engage them in joint decision-making, and expect them to gradually become more responsive to the needs of other family members.  Authoritative parents support their children’s learning by providing help with tasks when needed and reducing the degree of intervention as the child increases mastery over the skill.  As a result, emerging adults of authoritative parents learn from their mistakes, thereby developing independence, self-reliance, positive self esteem and leadership skills which, in turn, foster social and academic competence.  They also have fewer behavioral and mental health problems than children of permissive or authoritarian parents.

Marsiglia et al found that at the college level, students’ adjustment and success were also influenced by parenting style.  Students of authoritative parents were more confident, persistent and task oriented, thus experiencing higher grades and better rapport with instructors.  Student adjustment and success was also found to be influenced by the development of a sense of autonomy and a healthy work orientation.

Locus of Control and Psychosocial Development

Locus of control shapes one’s perceptions about power and autonomy, competence, achievement and social involvement.  These perceptions, in turn, affect motivation, expectations, self-esteem and risk taking behaviour.  Locus of control also influences goal setting and the degree of effort invested in achieving such goals.  All these aspects are important variables that influence career development and workplace success.  An internal locus of control has been shown to be associated with high self-esteem, job satisfaction, self-efficacy and educational aspirations.  Conversely, an external locus of control has been found to generate higher stress levels, frequent illness, psychological distress and relationship dissatisfaction.  The perceived degree of control over one’s situation determines how well they cope.  An internal locus of control can facilitate the development of resiliency and adaptive coping strategies such as working to change an adverse situation as opposed to retreating into a state of apathy and hopelessness.

Marsiglia et al discovered that although authoritarian parenting style was associated with a stronger external locus of control than authoritative parenting, the harsh discipline approach that is characteristic of this style often increased the likelihood of academic and other forms of achievement. Paradoxically, such success may result in a stronger internal locus of control and greater psychosocial success, particularly in terms of sense of industry and identity formation.  A permissive parenting style, on the other hand, instils an external locus of control that greatly impedes the emerging adult’s psychosocial success.  A correlation was found between authoritative parenting and a strong internal locus of control.

Differences were also found between the effect of maternal and paternal parenting style on locus of control.  Authoritative maternal parenting is consistent with an internal locus of control in emerging adults. Conversely, paternal parenting style did not influence locus of control.  With respect to authoritarian and permissive parenting styles, the influence of locus of control on psychosocial success was found to apply to fathers only; i.e. higher levels of psychosocial success with an authoritarian parenting style and lower levels of psychosocial success with a permissive parenting style.  This gender difference may be attributed to the different roles ascribed to mothers and fathers, particularly in the area of discipline.

Interface Among Parenting Style, Locus of Control and Disability

The effects of disability on physical, cognitive, emotional and social development in terms of access to learning experiences, role attainment, self-concept, peer acceptance and participation in society can have a significant impact on locus of control and parenting style.  Disability can impede resolution of the developmental tasks of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry and identity achievement, resulting in an external locus of control which is manifested in feelings of anxiety and helplessness, low self-esteem, lack of motivation to try new things and a sense of resignation.  In a school or work setting, this external locus of control can transform into high levels of stress, psychological distress and frequent illness combined with apathy and hopelessness.  The external locus of control could be compounded by an authoritarian parenting style that inhibits independence and is unsupportive and rejecting of the child, or a permissive parenting style that is free from discipline and fails to instil a sense of responsibility in the child.  Ideally, for employment counselling interventions to be successful, people with disabilities need an internal locus of control and the benefits of an authoritative parenting style that fosters psychosocial success through development of independence, self-reliance, positive self esteem, leadership skills as well as social and academic competence.  This ideal could be partially achieved through life skills training for the world of work.

Marsiglia, Cheryl S., Walczyk, Jeffrey J., Buboltz, Walter C. & Griffith-Ross, Diana A. (2007). Impact of Parenting Styles and Locus of Control on Emerging Adults’ Psychosocial Success. Journal of Education & Human Development, Volume 1, Issue 1.

SSTA Research Report #91-05, SSTA Research Centre

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Denise Feltham
Designer of D.I.C.E. (Disability Impact on Career/Employment). Owner/Operator of D.I.C.E. Assessment & Employment Counselling Services Bachelor of Social Work Degree (Ryerson University). Career & Work Counsellor Diploma (George Brown College) Life Skills Coach Certification (Levels I & II) - YWCA

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