Parent versus child reports of parental advertising mediation: exploring the meaning of agreement.

Author:Buijzen, Moniek

The past 2 decades have witnessed an impressive rise in research investigating parental mediation of media content (for a review, see Austin, 2001). These studies have shown that parents and caregivers can reduce undesirable media effects, including television-induced aggression, fear, and risky sexual behavior (Buijzen, Walma van der Molen, & Sondij, 2007; Cantor, Sparks, & Hoffner, 1988; Nathanson, 1999, 2004; Nathanson & Cantor, 2000; Wilson & Donenberg, 2004), and advertising-induced responses, such as materialistic attitudes and parent-child conflict (Buijzen, 2007; Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2005; Fujioka & Austin, 2002). Although this research has produced a sophisticated body of knowledge, controversy exists regarding which is the more reliable source reporting media-related interactions: the parent or the child. Although both measures are common in the research literature, comparative studies have reported substantial disagreement between parent- and child-reported measures (Fujioka & Austin, 2002; Nathanson, 2001a; Rossiter & Robertson, 1975).

The observed disagreement between parent and child reports in mediation research concurs with research findings on more general types of family interactions (Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990; Tims & Masland, 1985). Family communication theories generally attribute discrepant reports from family members to perceptual differences rather than to measurement error (Austin, 1992; Ritchie, 1991; Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990). Research findings strongly suggest that the relatively weak correlations observed between parent and child reports of family interactions are due to systematic reporting differences. For instance, parents tend to report higher levels of interaction than do children (Rossiter & Robertson, 1975). Accordingly, Ritchie and Fitzpatrick (1990) have argued that parent-child agreement or disagreement in reporting family communication can be taken as an indicator of actual perceptual differences among family members.

In line with this argument, family communication research has shown that the level of parent-child agreement in reporting family interactions may depend on a number of factors, including general family communication style, the child's age, and the child's sex (Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990). Parent and child factors that increase understanding between the parent and the child can explain these differential findings. For instance, older children are more capable of understanding family interactions, while communication-oriented parents put more effort into explaining their actions and intentions (Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990). In other words, child perceptions of family communication relate to parent perceptions more closely among parent-child dyads with a higher level of mutual understanding.

As yet, this meaningful interpretation of parent-child agreement has not been investigated in research on media-related family interactions. The aim of the present study is to further explore agreement between parent and child reports of parental mediation. In a parent-child survey, parental mediation of children's responses to advertising is examined. Parents have been shown to be able to reduce the undesired effects of advertising by actively explaining the purpose and nature of advertising (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2005; Fujioka & Austin, 2003; Wiman, 1983). (1) However, most studies examining parental advertising mediation have relied exclusively on parent reports, while child reports of parental mediation are also included here.

The only study that compared parent and child reports of advertising mediation found a moderate correlation (r = .20) between the two measures (Fujioka & Austin, 2003). In addition, mediation reported by children in this study predicted children's responses to advertising more strongly than did parent-reported mediation. On the basis of this finding, the authors argued that child reports of parental mediation signify children's perceptions of their parents' mediation activities and thus might be an important predictor of the mediation outcome. Unfortunately, the authors did not further examine this interpretation of parent-child agreement.

The current study expands on previous research in two ways. First, by investigating how parent-child agreement in reporting parental advertising mediation activities varies by several family and child factors (i.e., family communication style, child age, child sex). As yet, the extent to which parent-child agreement in reporting media-related family interactions depends on these factors has not been investigated. Second, this study expands on previous research by examining the role of parent-child agreement in predicting the mediation outcome. If child reports of parental mediation activities reflect their perception of these activities, it is conceivable that higher parent-child agreement will lead to more effective mediation. The role of parent-child agreement in predicting the effectiveness of parental mediation has not yet been addressed in empirical research.

Hypotheses on Parent-Child Agreement in Reporting Parental Advertising Mediation

To formulate specific hypotheses on the role of family and child factors in parent-child agreement in reporting mediation, this study draws upon insights from research on media-specific and more general family interactions (e.g., Fujioka & Austin, 2002; Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990) as well as child development (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994).

Family Communication. First, general family communication patterns may affect parent-child agreement on parental mediation. It has been found that in families characterized by an overt communication style (i.e., favoring the open exchange of information among family members) parents are more likely to engage in media-related discussions with their children (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2005; Fujioka & Austin, 2002; Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Warren, Gerke, & Kelly, 2002). In addition, it has been suggested that an open communication environment may be essential in obtaining a child's awareness and acceptance of a parent's intended interpretation of media messages (Fujioka & Austin, 2002). Highly communication-oriented parents put more effort into explaining their actions and intentions, which is likely to result in a higher level of parent-child agreement in reporting these actions (Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2002). in the present study, therefore, the expectation is to find higher agreement between parent and child reports of parental advertising mediation in families with relatively high communication orientation. It is hypothesized that:

[H.sub.1]: Agreement between parent and child reports of parental advertising mediation is greater in families high in communication orientation than in families low in communication orientation.

Child's Age. Family communication researchers have also observed age-related differences in parent-child agreement on family interaction (Meadowcroft, 1986; Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990). Due to increasing cognitive and social abilities, older children should be better able to recognize and comprehend parental messages than younger children (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). Accordingly, earlier mediation research has suggested that young children may lack the socio-cognitive and information-processing skills to perceive and process parental mediation activities, whereas older children are progressively able to do so (Lang, 2000; Nathanson, 2004). Thus, if children's ability to understand and report family interactions increases with age, then the correspondence between parent and child reports should be higher for older than for younger children. The following hypothesis is investigated:

[H.sub.2]: Agreement between parent and child reports of parental advertising mediation is higher among older than among younger children.

Child's Sex. Parents' behavior toward daughters sometimes differs from behavior toward sons (Desmond, Hirsch, Singer, & Singer, 1987; Van den Buick & Van den Bergh, 2000). Parents generally put greater emphasis on the autonomy of boys, whereas they focus more on protectiveness, restriction, and supervision of girls (Cowan & Avants, 1988; Desmond et al., 1987). Moreover, even when boys and girls receive similar patterns of guidance, they perceive and react differently to it (Desmond et al., 1987; Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Van den Buick & Van den Bergh, 2000). In particular, girls have been shown to react more to informational cues administered by their parents, whereas boys are influenced more by power assertions (Ely, Gleason, & McCabe, 1996; Gunter & McAleer, 1997). In the present study, parental mediation of advertising is defined as active discussion of the purpose and nature of advertising (cf. Austin, 1993; Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2005). Given that such verbal explanations refer to informational cues, it is expected that girls will be more aware of parental mediation activities than boys. The prediction is that:

[H.sub.3]: Agreement between parent and child reports of parental advertising mediation is higher among girls than among boys.


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