Parenting Behavior and Attitudes

Parenting Behavior and Attitudes



Drawing on other studies in which scales of parent-child interaction and parenting were used, in 1994 the Child survey introduced the following types of parenting measures: 

  1. parental monitoring
  2. emotional relationship with parents
  3. parent-child interaction in discussion and activities
  4. child perception of the degree of parent involvement

Details on the parenting items found in the Child surveys are outlined in Table 1, which is adapted from a study based on the NLSY79 Child data (Joshi et al., 1998). While several of these items are asked as part of the HOME sections of the questionnaire, many of them are not included as part of The HOME scale.

Table 1. Parenting Items in the NLSY79 Child 1994-2014

1. Engagement in Parent-Child Activities  Question(s)
a. Monthly Activities (Child rating)

Within the last month have you and your parent(s)-- (Yes/No)

  • Gone to the movies together
  • Gone out to dinner
  • Gone shopping to get something for you, such as clothes, books, records, or games
  • Gone on an outing together, like to a museum or sporting event
  • Gone to church or religious services together
b. Weekly Activities (Child rating)

Within the last week have you and your parent(s)-- (Yes/No)

  • Done things together such as build or make things, cook, or sew
  • Worked on schoolwork together
  • Played a game or a sport
2. Ratings of Parental Time/Involvement  Question(s)
a. Amount of Time (Child rating) Please think about the time you spend with each of your parents. Do you think your parents spend enough time with you? (Spends enough time with me, wish s/he spent more time with me, spends too much time with me)
b. Miss Activities that Are Important
(Child rating)
About how often does each parent miss the events or activities that are important to you? (Misses events a lot, sometimes misses events, almost never misses events)
3. Parent-Child Discussions  Question(s)
a. Talk Over Decisions (Child rating) How often does each of your parents talk over important decisions with you? (Often, sometimes, hardly ever)
b. Listen to Children in Discussions
(Child rating)
How often does each of your parents listen to your side of an argument? (Often, sometimes, hardly ever)
c. Ability to Discuss Things (Child rating) How well do you and each of your parents share ideas or talk about things that really matter? (Extremely well, quite well, fairly well, not very well)
4. Parental Monitoring  Question(s)
a. Parents Knowledge of Where Children Are (Child rating) About how often does each parent know who you are with when you're not home? (Often, sometimes, hardly ever)
b. Parents Knowledge of Where Children Are (Mother rating)* About how often do you know who your child is with when s/he is not at home? Would you say you know who s/he is with … (All of the time, most of the time, some of time, only rarely)
5. Emotional Relationship with Parents  Question(s)
 a. Feelings of Closeness to Parents
(Child rating)
How close do you feel to each of your parents? (Extremely close, quite close, fairly close, not very close)
b. Feelings of Closeness to Parents
(Mother rating)*
How close does your child feel toward you? (Extremely close, quite close, fairly close, not at all close)

NOTE: All questions were asked of children age 10-14 in the Child Self-Administered Supplement (CSAS), except for the mother's rating of her child's emotional relationship with parents (5b above) and mother rating of parents' knowledge where children are. Questions to mothers regarding the child's relationship with parents were administered in the Mother Supplement from 1994-1998, in the Child Supplement in 2000, and back in the Mother Supplement from 2002 to 2016. Mothers' knowledge of who the child is with when she is not home is included in the Mother Supplement as part of the Main Youth interview from 1992-1998, in the Child Supplement in 2000, and back in the Mother Supplement from 2002 to 2016.

*Asked in 2016 in the Mother Supplement.

Parent-child interaction

The questions on parent-child interactions that were introduced into the NLSY79 Child survey in 1996 were developed with the assistance of Robert Emery, University of Virginia. Three of the parental agreement items were derived from scales developed in the Stanford Divorce Study that measure (1) How often do your parents get along well, (2) How often do they agree about rules, and (3) How often do your parents argue (Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1991). The other parental agreement items were taken from instruments prepared for The 1991 American Teenage Survey, a large-scale survey of adolescent sexual behavior. Studies using the NLSY79 child parent-child interaction items indicate that parent-child discussions and arguments can be used to discriminate self-esteem and problem behavior trajectories (Fohl Bailey, 1996; Carlson, 2006).

Child discipline

A series of items related to child discipline are addressed to the mother in the HOME sections of the Mother Supplement. These items, derived from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH; 1988, M306, Q.306), ask: "Sometimes children behave well and sometimes they don't. Have you had to spank (CHILD) when (he/she) behaved badly in the past week?" The following questions are also used in the NSFH (1882-1883 M307, Q.307): "About how many times have you had to spank (CHILD) in the past week? (NSFH/1 October 88, Page M-186).

Father presence and contact

Created Variables


Starting with the 1984 main Youth interview, the mother reports, for each child, whether the child's father is living in the household. If not, she then reports on the  frequency of contact the child has with their father, how far away the child's father lives from the mother, and when he left the household or died if not living. These questions are asked in the Fertility section of the main Youth questionnaire. This information is then presented as five created child-based variables (listed above) in the CHILD BACKGROUND section of the Child database.

Important Information

Due to an oversight, the parent presence/visitation question (Q.19) in the 1991 main Youth Fertility section was only asked about children born since the last interview. The documentation currently describes these items as follows:


The restriction in 1991 on the universe of children means that there is incomplete data for "Does parent of child live in HH" for all children for all years. If the mother was interviewed subsequent to 1991, information for those children may potentially be recovered based on reports of when the child's father left/died (if not living). Comparing those dates with the 1991 interview date should allow the user to determine, in most cases, whether a given child's other parent was in the household at the time of the 1991 interview. Data loss would occur primarily for children who have a father who moves in and out of the household repeatedly. 

Users are reminded that rather than an event history, the father-child contact information is an indication of his residence situation at the time of the mother's interview. In 1987 and 1989 there is one child-based created variable for father presence, since those two survey years contain abbreviated information in the main Youth interview.

Family rules

A set of questions on family rules was introduced in the 1988 NLSY79 Child survey round. These questions were adapted from the National Survey of Children (NSC), Wave 2, 1980. Users interested in details on this survey and its content are directed to Child Trends: Questions about family rules are answered by NLSY79 children ages 10-14 in the Child Self-Administered Supplement (CSAS) from 1988 to 2014. 

With the exception of variations in response choices, the following questions were taken directly from the National Survey of Children, Wave 2 (Spring 1981), Section C: Child Questionnaire, items 58-61: CSAS questions 3a-3d (child expected to help around house), Q.4a-4d (existence of rules about watching TV, parent knowledge of child's whereabouts, homework, and dating), Q.5 (how much say child has in the previous rules i.e. how much child gets to help decide), and Q.6 (how often child and parents argue about the rules). The differences in response choice scoring are as follows:

NLSY79 1988 CSAS Q.3a-d (expected to help around house) and Q.4a-d (rules) are scored 1=yes, 0=no; NSC items 58a-d and 59a-d are scored 1=yes, 2=no.

NLSY79 1988 CSAS Q.5 (how much say in rules) was scored on a 4-point scale and presented in order of 4=a lot of say to 1=no say at all.  This was a simple reversal of the NSC scoring for the same question (item 60, also a 4-point scale) presented in order of 1=a lot of say to 4=no say at all.

NLSY79 1988 CSAS Q.6 (argue about rules) was scored (3-point scale) 1=hardly ever, 2=sometimes, 3=frequently. This represented somewhat more of a change from the NSC item 61 (3-point scale) 1=frequently, 2=occasionally, 3=hardly ever.

In 1990, a change was made to CSAS items 5 and 6 (interaction about rules). Rather than two global questions about the child's influence and arguments with parents about rules, CSAS items 5 and 6 were expanded to Q.5a-5d and Q.6a-6d. The updated items inquired specifically about each of the four categories of rules asked about in Q.4a-4d. The response choices for the expanded items were kept consistent with previous scoring.

In the 1988-1994 CSAS (and the corresponding NSC wave 2 item), a conditional skip follows question 4d. If child answered "no" to all four items 4a-4d (i.e., the child reported none of the four categories of rules were in force in the household), the question flow skips over items 5 (child's say in the rules), and 6 (arguments about the rules). This skip was dropped from the CSAS beginning in 1996.

Survey Instruments Parenting questions are found in the Child Self-Administered Supplement and Mother Supplement. Father presence questions are asked as part of the Fertility section of the main Youth interview.
Areas of Interest CHILD BACKGROUND


Young Adult

A wide variety of items in the Young Adult surveys are designed to measure aspects of relationships between parents and children, both between the Young Adults and their parents and between the Young Adults and their biological, adopted, step children or partner's children.  

First-time Young Adults are asked about interaction patterns between the Young Adult and his or her parents as well as between the Young Adult's parents. These questions were also asked of the 10-14 year olds in the Child Self-Administered Supplement through 2014. In 2000, younger Young Adults were asked about how close they felt (ranging from extremely close to not very close) to their mother and their father, unless a parent was deceased. From 2002 onward, these parental closeness items have been asked, if appropriate, of all Young Adults. Beginning in 2006, all Young Adults also answered a series of questions concerning family conflict. A series of questions about childhood adversity, also used in the NLSY79, was introduced in 2012 and will be asked of Young Adults in their first survey after turning 21.

Respondents who are parents themselves are asked a variety of questions about parenting. From 2000 to 2010, respondents with children, whether or not these children were coresidential, answered a series of parenting attitude questions. These questions were derived from a series of parenting questions asked of male respondents in the 1998 NLSY79 survey. These questions are no longer included in the Young Adult Survey.

From 2008 through 2016, Young Adults indicated for each child how much conflict they had with the other parent of that child in terms of how the child was raised. Additionally, Young Adults with at least one biological, step, adopted or partner's child in the household are asked a series of parenting questions derived from the HOME section of the NLSY79 Mother Supplement. In 2008, some new questions about parenting behaviors, adapted from the NLSY97, were added to improve the detail we have about parenting residential children as well as to provide a comparison to parenting of noncoresidential children (these questions are asked about noncoresidential children in the fertility section). From 2012 to 2016, the Behavior Problems Index from the Mother Supplement has also been asked about each child living in the household. Beginning in 2018, the Behavior Problems Index has been asked about children at ages 6/7 and 10/11.

Survey Instruments Parenting questions are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Section 12, Fertility; Section 13, Children in the Household; and the Young Adult Self-Report Section.
Area of Interest YA Birth Record
YA Child Care
YA Self Report