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We explored how adolescents and parents negotiate adolescents' increasing food choice autonomy in European Canadian, Punjabi Canadian and African Canadian families. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 47 adolescents and their parents, participant observation at a family meal and a grocery shopping trip with the family shopper(s). Thematic and constant comparative analyses were used. Adolescents exercised considerable autonomy over much of their food choice and their parents monitored and controlled the environment within which adolescents were given independence and responsibility. Parents used strategies of coaxing, coaching and coercing, while teens responded by complaining, ignoring and refusing their parents' advice. At the same time, teens took responsibility and reflected on their behaviours while keeping in mind their parents' advice, even if in some cases they were as yet unable to act upon it. Food choice autonomy is not simply a negative act of teenage defiance. Instead, it is actively co-constructed by both teens and their parents as each resists and responds to the others. Studies of adolescent autonomy related to food choices, and interventions based on nutritional autonomy as a risk factor for poor nutrition would do well to take account of the co-constructive parent-adolescent process of teen autonomy.
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Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332
Research Report
Autonomy and control: The co-construction of adolescent food choice
Raewyn Bassett
, Gwen E. Chapman
, Brenda L. Beagan
School of Occupational Therapy, Dalhousie University, Forrest Building, Room 215, 5869 University Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3J5
Department of Food, Nutrition and Health, University of British Columbia, 2205 East Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
Received 3 April 2007; received in revised form 14 August 2007; accepted 24 August 2007
We explored how adolescents and parents negotiate adolescents’ increasing food choice autonomy in European Canadian, Punjabi
Canadian and African Canadian families. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 47 adolescents and their parents,
participant observation at a family meal and a grocery shopping trip with the family shopper(s). Thematic and constant comparative
analyses were used. Adolescents exercised considerable autonomy over much of their food choice and their parents monitored and
controlled the environment within which adolescents were given independence and responsibility. Parents used strategies of coaxing,
coaching and coercing, while teens responded by complaining, ignoring and refusing their parents’ advice. At the same time, teens took
responsibility and reflected on their behaviours while keeping in mind their parents’ advice, even if in some cases they were as yet unable
to act upon it. Food choice autonomy is not simply a negative act of teenage defiance. Instead, it is actively co-constructed by both teens
and their parents as each resists and responds to the others. Studies of adolescent autonomy related to food choices, and interventions
based on nutritional autonomy as a risk factor for poor nutrition would do well to take account of the co-constructive parent–adolescent
process of teen autonomy.
r2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Adolescent; Food decision making; Autonomy; Co-construction.
During adolescence, individuals develop responsibility
for health-related behaviours and attitudes that affect their
future (Milligan et al., 1997;Neumark-Sztainer, Story,
Perry, & Casey, 1999). Food-related attitudes and beha-
viours are particularly important during these years
(Cavadini et al., 1999;Story, Neumark-Sztainer, & French,
2002) since eating habits developed at this time continue
into adulthood (Videon & Manning, 2003). Adolescents
have a reputation for unhealthy food choices (Cavadini
et al., 1999;Story et al., 2002), and interventions have had
mixed success (Lytle, 1995). Research has found that
adolescents understand at an abstract level the healthiness
of certain foods but have limited concern about the future
(Bissonnette & Contento, 2001). Their eating habits tend to
be characterized by frequent snacking, skipping meals,
junk food consumption and consistently low intake of
milk, fruits and vegetables (Cavadini et al., 1999;Chapman
& Maclean, 1993;Pe
´res-Llamas, Garaulet, Nieto, Baraza,
& Zamora, 1996;Samuelson, Bratteby, Enghardt, &
Hedgren, 1996;Watt & Sheiham, 1996).
Multiple psycho-social and environmental factors influ-
ence teenagers’ food choices (Cavadini et al., 1999;Story
et al., 2002), including hunger, mood, preferences, appeal,
time demands, convenience and cost (Bissonnette &
Contento, 2001;Neumark-Sztainer et al., 1999). The family
context is seen as a key influence on teens’ diets, as eating
behaviours are embedded in, and influenced by the family
(De Bourdeaudhuij & Sallis, 2002). How parents encourage
their children to eat helps shape teens’ food preferences and
consumption patterns (Kremers, Brug, de Vries, & Rutger,
2003;Patrick, Nicklas, Hughes, & Morales, 2005). The
preparation of meals by parents and their insistence on
family meals encourage healthy adolescent eating habits
(Hannon, Bowen, Moinpour, & McLerran, 2003). On the
other hand, teens pester their parents for junk food (Lee &
Collins, 2000), bargain and negotiate, persuade and
manipulate, use emotion and make outright demands to
0195-6663/$ - see front matter r2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (R. Bassett).
influence their parents’ purchasing decisions. Parents, in
response, provide guidance and teach their teenage children
consumer skills, sometimes enforce decisions using their
parental authority (Palan & Wilkes, 1997) and at times
‘give-in’ to their children’s pestering (Turner, Kelly, &
McKenna, 2006). These adolescent–parent interactions
occur to varying degrees in different types of families. In
both the nutrition and consumer science literature con-
cerned with parents’ feeding practices and consumer
behaviours, respectively, family types have ranged from
laissez-faire, protective and authoritarian with little con-
cern for children’s choices, to authoritative and pluralistic
with shared parent–child responsibility for eating and
consumer choices, to consensual where choices explored
must not interrupt family harmony, to indulgent and
permissive with parents having little control over their
children’s eating habits (Branen & Fletcher, 1999;Hughes,
Power, Fisher, Mueller, & Nicklas, 2005;Moschis, 1985;
Moschis, Prahasto, & Mitchell, 1986;Patrick et al., 2005).
Home environment influences diminish in adolescence
and compete with external influences (Brown, McIlveen, &
Strugnell, 2006). Peer pressure, and acceptance and
conformity needs become important as teens increasingly
purchase and consume food away from home (Brown
et al., 2006;Chapman & Maclean, 1993;Turner et al.,
2006). In addition, the targeting of adolescents in food-
related advertising encourages some food choices over
others (Brown & Witherspoon, 2002;Turner et al., 2006).
Adolescents’ increasing independence around food
choice is often portrayed negatively, as an act of parental
defiance and peer solidarity (Hill, 2002), with teens
pursuing autonomy based on a desire to be alone, often
excluding themselves from meals (Neumark-Sztainer,
Story, Ackard, Moe, & Perry, 2000). Autonomy is
considered a risk factor for poor nutrition (Videon &
Manning, 2003) and in situations where adolescents have
more control, their food choices tend to be less healthy
(De Bourdeaudhuij & Sallis, 2002). Adolescents resolve
conflict between their need for autonomy over their food
choices and the needs of others in the family by making
their own meals, eating out, eating what is served, and/or
negotiating to have their own and other family members’
food choices and needs met (Contento, Williams, Michela,
& Franklin, 2006). Adolescents’ personal food choice
criteria may be satisfied by using different values for
different meals: taste for lunch and snacks, and health for
evening and family meal choices (Brown et al., 2006;
Chapman & Maclean, 1993;Contento et al., 2006).
Overall, however, we have very limited understanding of
the processes by which adolescents and parents, individu-
ally and collectively, negotiate adolescents’ increasing food
choice autonomy within the family in a context wider than
that of purchasing decisions. We also have limited under-
standing of how health and nutrition concerns come into
play in these processes.
Some of the limits in our current knowledge in this
area relate to methodological issues. Many studies of
adolescents’ eating patterns and food decision making have
focused on the adolescent alone or have asked parents
about adolescents’ food choices and eating habits (De
Bourdeaudhuij & Sallis, 2002;Wheeler, Wintre, & Polivy,
2003). Yet parents may not have full knowledge of their
adolescent children’s diets (Hannon et al., 2003). In studies
where adolescents and parents were both asked about
family food decision making, each had different percep-
tions about their level of influence (De Bourdeaudhuij &
Sallis, 2002). These differences have been discussed in
relation to concerns about the validity of self-report data,
but not from a constructivist perspective that explores
teens’ and parents’ unique understandings of food choice
processes. In consumer studies, too, the focus has largely
been on the effectiveness of adolescent influence on family
purchasing, although the parent’s response has not been
neglected (Palan & Wilkes, 1997). Different communica-
tion patterns within families result in different outcomes
for teens in terms of consumer activities (Moschis, 1985;
Moschis et al., 1986;Palan, 1998). These studies, however,
are narrowly focused on family decisions related to
consumer behaviour, and especially on family communica-
tion as it affects teens’ behaviour. Our interest was in the
shared decision making about food choices within the
household, which undeniably includes but is not limited to
the purchase of food, and the context within which that
decision making occurs. Further, much of the research
investigating food consumption and eating patterns has
been conducted with groups of European heritage. Few
studies have examined eating behaviours among ethnically
diverse populations (Videon & Manning, 2003), and
especially adolescents in ethnically diverse family contexts
(Neumark-Sztainer et al., 1999).
To begin to address these gaps, we conducted a
qualitative study of family food decision making in three
ethno-cultural groups in two Canadian provinces (Nova
Scotia (NS) on the East coast and British Columbia (BC)
on the West coast). In this paper, we present findings
regarding the processes by which adolescents and parents
negotiate adolescents’ increasing food choice autonomy in
European Canadian (EBC and ENS), Punjabi Canadian
(PBC), and African Canadian (ANS) families.
Following approval from the Research Ethics Board,
families were recruited to The Food Decision-Making
Study using poster advertising and snowball sampling. To
be eligible, consent to an interview was required from three
or more family members over the age of 13 years, including
a woman aged 25–55 years. Family members were
interviewed individually at a time and place of their
choosing, usually their home. Interviews were semi-
structured and recorded, lasting from 1 to 3 h. The
interview guide included questions about usual eating
practices, factors influencing food choice, family food
interactions, and health and nutrition beliefs. In addition,
R. Bassett et al. / Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332326
our interviewers observed and participated in the prepara-
tion, cooking, consumption and clean-up of a family meal,
and accompanied and audiotaped family members on a
grocery shopping trip.
Transcriptions of the recorded interviews, shopping trip
conversations, and interviewers’ field notes were entered
into a qualitative data analysis program (ATLAS/ti
revision 4). Themes (codes) were generated from the
transcribed data to describe, organize and interpret
participants’ experiences. Transcripts were examined for
words and phrases that participants used often, a label or
description for the pattern of words and phrases was
developed and applied, and patterns sorted, compared and
clustered until sufficiently distinct and comprehensive
themes were generated (Boyatzis, 1998;Luborsky, 1994).
For example, some households had specific food rules, such
as the requirement that children taste the foods served even
if they disliked them. This was interpreted and labelled by
the researcher as ‘household rules.’ ‘Household rules’ often
co-occurred in the same text segment with talk of a family
member overseeing children’s food choices to ensure they
ate what was considered ‘proper’ (healthy) food. This was
labelled as ‘control/monitor.’ In the process of comparing
text segments related to both these codes, it was apparent
that household rules differed from the monitoring process.
Held by all family members, rules were understandings
about how the household would operate, while monitoring
was an activity undertaken by an individual to ensure
household rules were followed. This process of reading,
interpreting, labelling and comparing text segments
occurred iteratively and systematically to develop distinct
and comprehensive codes. Coder consistency was ad-
dressed with frequent reviews of coded data, discussion
of discrepancies in code use and negotiation to reach
consensus around code definitions. Coders were trained in
the use of the software, and developed and used a
For this analysis we focused on the data from the 36
families with teenagers, including interviews with 47
adolescent children, 59 parents and 3 grandparents. We
define an adolescent as a person between the ages of 13 and
19 years of age, and we use the terms ‘adolescent’ and
‘teenager’ interchangeably throughout the paper. We
began the analysis by examining teenagers’ roles in food
decision making, and found that most teenagers had
considerable autonomy over food choice. It became
apparent that both parents and adolescents used strategies
that while eliciting some tension between the two sets of
actors, also resulted in the co-construction of teen
autonomy. These strategies are the focus of this paper.
Demographic profile
The demographic profiles of the teens can be found in
Table 1.
Of the 36 families with adolescents, 11 were ANS,
5 PBC, 10 ENS and 10 were EBC. More women than
men participated in the study as a whole, and in families
with adolescents, 42 women and 20 men agreed to be
interviewed. The mean age of parents was 41 years
(range 30–58). The majority of parents had higher
education: 82 percent of EBC parents, 71 percent of ENS
parents, 64 percent of PBC parents and 41 percent of
ANS parents had post-secondary education or better. In
NS, 35 percent of ANS parents and 29 percent of ENS
parents had high school education only, compared to 18
percent of PBC and 5 percent of EBC parents in BC.
Across all households 19 percent had annual incomes of
less than $20,000; 22 percent had incomes of $21,000–
$50,000; 30 percent had incomes of $51,000–$90,000; and
25 percent had incomes of more than $90,000. No PBC
households had an income of less than $51,000, while just
under half (45 percent) of ANS households had an income
of $21,000–$50,000.
Autonomy and control
The adolescents in our study had substantial autonomy
over their food choices. They selected many of their own
foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks, but for the evening
meal they were influenced by others in their food choices.
Eating together as a family, and/or having the dinner
prepared by their mother (or grandmother) meant less
choice over what they ate, though seldom did this mean no
choice. Adolescents could prepare something themselves if
they did not like the meal provided. The following
participant, asked what she does if she does not like what
is cooked for supper, states that her mother’s rule is ‘take it
or leave it.’ If she leaves it, she ‘‘just find[s] something to
make, easy to make’’ [ANS female, age 14 years]. However,
adolescents were in no doubt about their parents’,
and especially their mothers’, control over their eating in
Table 1
Adolescent sociodemographic variables
n¼14 N¼14 n¼14 n¼5N¼47
Male 3 4 5 1 13
Female 11 10 9 4 34
Age (years)
13 2 2 2 2 8
14 5 2 2 1 10
15 2 4 0 2 8
16 3 2 4 0 9
17 0 2 2 0 4
18 2 1 1 0 4
19 0 1 3 0 4
ANS, African Nova Scotian; ENS, European Nova Scotian; EBC,
European British Columbian; PNC, Punjabi British Columbian.
R. Bassett et al. / Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332 327
the household:
We eat what she buys, she’s choosing what we’re eating.
[ANS female, age 13 years]
Overall, parents influenced teens’ food choices by
controlling household food supplies within which these
choices were made, and by using strategies such as
coaching, coaxing and coercing.
Parents’ strategies
Setting the parameters: Interview and participant ob-
servation data clearly showed that the household manager,
most often the teen’s mother, controlled the food that came
into the house through grocery purchasing. On a shopping
trip with one participant, the interviewer observed her
place one white and one whole wheat loaf of bread in the
shopping cart. She asked the participant if her children
prefer one or other of the loaves. The participant
[The children] prefer white but I make them eat whole
wheat. White is for my husband. [ANS female, age 44
Mothers generally did not encourage, and often did not
allow their teenagers to accompany them on shopping
trips. Children tended to select unhealthy food items,
increased the shopping bill and added to the time it took to
shop. One teen indicated she never bothers asking her
mother to buy particular foods:
There wouldn’t be any point. She would just say no.
Mom usually buys the same stuff every time. [ENS
female, age 15 years]
Many teens and parents acknowledged that mothers
generally knew what their children liked and did not need
this type of input. Most parents allowed requests for food
they perceived as healthy, and controlled junk food
purchases. The input into the grocery list many mothers
sought was in relation to which food items in the house
needed restocking.
The food purchased on the grocery trip often dictated
meals, although menus were sometimes created prior to
grocery shopping. By doing most of the cooking, parents
controlled what was prepared, with their children’s likes
and dislikes in mind. Children might make their own
supper if they did not like what was prepared, but were
restricted to what was available in the house. Teens most
often said they choose what to prepare from that available
based on convenience and taste. One teen mentioned it had
to be something for which he was not ‘hassled’ by his
mother. That is, it had to be healthy.
Within the home environment of relatively controlled
food choice, parents, especially mothers, incorporated a
number of explicit strategies to encourage and direct their
adolescent children towards making specific food-related
Coaching: Mothers often invoked health discourses to
explain food choices to their teenage children and coach
them towards specific choices. A health discourse might be
related to family health concerns; a response to a recent
diagnosis or a strategy aimed at preventing illness, as the
following teen suggests:
Mommy tells me not to eat too much greasy food
because it’s bad for youyand my uncle just got
diagnosed with diabetes. [ANS male, age 14 years]
Beyond health concerns, some parents coached teens to
incorporate cultural ways of eating, such as boiled dinners
and soul food in some ANS families, and the alternating of
Punjabi and Canadian meals in PBC families. Some PBC
female teens were encouraged to learn to cook Punjabi
food for their future roles as adult women. While
accommodating adolescents’ desire for Canadian food
parents also subtly coached adolescents in their cultural
food heritage.
Coaxing: Parents used nagging to encourage their
teenage children to eat in particular ways. Attempting to
get her son to remember to take a healthy lunch from the
fridge, the following mother states:
And after about three days of nagging, sometimes he
manages, sometimes he doesn’t. [ENS mother of 16 year
old son]
Adolescents also mentioned their mothers telling them
time and again to make their supper or to eat in healthy
ways. By nagging, parents were sometimes able to coax
their teens to make one choice over another.
Coercing: At times some adolescents were required to eat
foods they disliked. In these cases, parents used various
strategies, ranging from providing a number of choices
from which to choose, to insisting teens take a bite or two
of the offending food.
They don’t like broccoli, so if we are having broccoli we
make them eat one or two pieces. They go ‘‘Ugh’’, but
they’ll eat a piece. [EBC mother of 13 year old son]
When the interviewer asked whether he ate food he did
not like, the above mother’s son said, ‘‘Well, yes, because I
have to’’ [EBC male, 13 years]. While parents saw
themselves as insisting rather than forcing their teens to
eat, adolescents used words such as ‘force’ and ‘make’ to
describe the perceived coercion of their parents. It should
be noted, however, that some parents also explicitly stated
that they never force their children to eat foods they really
Bribes were sometimes used to convince teens to alter
their eating habits. Something of value might be with-
drawn, such as a ride to an activity. For example, one teen
was coerced with monetary payment to avoid certain
My Mom was worried that I might get diabetes so she
put me on this no flour, no corn, no sugar thing. I’m
R. Bassett et al. / Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332328
getting paid not to eat those foods. [EBC female, age 19
Parents noted that they had more control over their
children when they were smaller, and could invoke strict
rules to teach them what to eat.
Teenagers’ strategies
Within the relatively controlled food environment in
most families, together with more explicit parent directives
such as coaching, nagging and bribery, teens put in place
their own strategies in the process of becoming indepen-
dent and making their own food decisions. These included
complaining, refusing, ignoring and taking responsibility.
Complaining: Teens complained when asked to eat
something they did not like but noted complaining did
not work as well as when they were younger. The following
teen described being served foods he does not like:
I whine and I groan. (laughs) I don’t want my
vegetables; I don’t want an egg for breakfast. But it
doesn’t work anymore. Mom and Dad still have me eat
it. [ENS male teen, age 16 years]
On the other hand, complaining might affect family
eating beyond the teen’s awareness, since most parents
took their children’s likes and dislikes into account:
We always had fish and pork when the boys were
smaller and then eventually my older son didn’t like
either. My younger son really likes both. So when my
older son was not home we would have those so I didn’t
have to listen to him complain. [ENS mother of 16 year
old male teen]
Refusing: Some teens simply refused to eat the food
served. While on the one hand, this might seriously
undermine parents’ control, on the other hand, it was
mostly dealt with by having the teen make something else.
Parents exercised control by purchasing the food for the
household, yet they told us they buy what they know their
children will eat. This went largely unnoticed by the
teenagers who believed they had little say in what food was
served, despite telling us their parents know what they like
and they more often than not are served food they like.
While they may refuse to eat certain foods at home,
when away from home, teens sometimes chose to eat those
same foods:
If you served my oldest son fish he’d eat it. There’s
things like that he’s learned to like that he would never
have tried here. I could strangle him. He complained
and complained when we’d have them. Next thing he’d
say, ‘‘Oh, I had such-and-such at somebody’s house and
it was really good.’’ Yeah. Okay. [ENS mother of 16
year old male teen]
Ignoring: Teens sometimes overlooked their parents’
advice, choosing when to follow it. Some teens said they
got angry at times and did not take their parents’ advice.
Mostly, they followed advice ‘‘every once in a while’’ [ENS
male teen, age 16 years].
Outside the home, some teens purchased food they were
not allowed at home. They talked about ‘cheating,’ and
tended not to tell their parents when they had purchased
such food. As one teen said, ‘‘Sometimes [my Mom]
doesn’t know if we don’t tell her’’ [ENS male, age 13 years].
Taking responsibility: Our teenaged participants not only
resisted their parents’ attempts to have them make healthy
food decisions, they also talked about engaging with and
increasingly mirroring their parents’ food choices. As part
of autonomy granting and taking, teens learned to monitor
their own food choices by watching and listening to their
mothers, aunts and grandmothers. Many teens said they
were most influenced in their food choices by their mothers.
I definitely keep learning things. Mom mentions things
and I pick up on them. She has time to read and learn,
and I don’t really have that time right now. [ENS
female, age 18 years]
Some teens, especially those with health problems,
learned from their own experience. For example, a teen
with ADHD talked about how MSG ‘‘screws around with
my head’’ [ENS female, age 15 years]. She had learned
what foods to avoid. Other adolescents mentioned that
foods they knew were unhealthy for them made them feel
sick. The following teen explained why she does not eat fast
They’re bad for you. Every time I eat McDonalds I feel
really sick, and it’s like, why bother? [EBC female, age
14 years]
Teens reflected on why they often ignored the advice
from their mothers. While they could recite the information
about healthy food choices and why those choices should
be made, they acknowledged that they often did not put
that knowledge into practice.
I guess I probably don’t think hard enough about it. I
eat and I don’t think, should I be eating this, or could I
find a better restaurant? I’ll get whatever tastes good and
probably with the highest fat content on the menu. Then
later that night I’d think, well, I shouldn’t have eaten
that. [EBC male, age 14 years]
The reciprocity in the parent–adolescent relationship
around food, and the utility of having healthy rather than
junk food available in the house was recognized by a 13
year old ENS teen. He tried not to eat foods his parents (on
an Atkins diet) cannot eat, and acknowledged his parents’
reciprocity in this regard.
Teens consistently said that their eating habits had
changed over time. They reflected on the past and discussed
perceived changes in eating habits. Change invariably
involved putting in place some of the healthy food choices
their parents had encouraged.
R. Bassett et al. / Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332 329
There are certain things that I didn’t eat previously that
I do now. Certain types of fish and stuff like that. I still
eat most of the things I used to eat, and still won’t eat
most of the things I didn’t used to eat. [ENS male, age
16 years]
For a few teens, change in their eating habits was not
their choice. This was particularly the case for daughters in
two PBC families. One teen reported that her eating habits
had changed over time:
Yeah, recently. It wasn’t my choice. My Dad thinks its
time I changed my ways of eating. [PBC female, age 13
Autonomy is the process by which adolescents take
responsibility and parents become less responsible for their
teenager’s food decision making. To relinquish responsi-
bility and control of their children’s food decision making,
most parents in this study established what they believed to
be a relatively safe and healthy environment in which their
children could develop autonomy. They stocked the house
with food they wished their children to eat; thus teens were
able to avoid conflicting food choices at home. In setting
the parameters of food choices, parents established an
environment of trust within which adolescents could resist
and ignore their parents and safely make their own food
choices, cook their own meals and/or choose among
several food items. Parents enabled autonomy taking, yet
ensured that the choices available were ones they con-
sidered healthy.
Parents’ coaching, coaxing and coercing to instill in teens
the development of healthy food choices was met at times
with compliance, resistance and/or refusal. Most teens in
the study were aware of why they should eat particular
foods or meals and were simultaneously aware of times
when they cheat, ignore or resist in the face of this
knowledge, usually because other values such as food
preferences, peer norms or convenience were given higher
priority. Despite cheating, ignoring and resisting their
parents’ advice, teenagers told us they compared their
behaviours and attitudes against the norms instilled by
their parents, especially when away from home. At home,
as Contento et al. (2006) found, they resolved conflict
between their need to decide what to eat and the needs of
other family members by making their own meals if they
did not like what was prepared or ate what was served even
if they disliked it, aware that their own preferences could
not always be met.
While Hill (2002) has suggested that food choice
autonomy is a teenage act of parental defiance, we have
found that autonomy is simultaneously granted and taken
by parents and teens, respectively. We suggest that
adolescent autonomy be viewed as co-constructed; a
symmetrical rather than asymmetrical relationship. Over
time, teens are given and take more autonomy. As the
literature suggests, parents influence and control their
teenagers’ food habits, and adolescents resist their parents’
control. Yet our data also show that parents do respond to
their teenagers’ likes and dislikes, and purchase and serve
food they know their children will eat more often than
refuse. Simultaneously, adolescents hear what their
mothers (primarily) tell them about healthy eating, and
sometimes pay attention and even change their food
choices. Our identification of these implicit and explicit
strategies, developed over time in ongoing and iterative
family practices, add to the findings of Contento et al.
(2006) regarding family food interactions by showing how
parents and teens go about negotiating food choice
through activities such as coaxing, coaching, complaining,
ignoring and taking responsibility. In taking responsibility,
teens mirror their parents as they monitor their own food
choices, acknowledge their mother’s influence and intro-
duce some of the healthy eating strategies encouraged by
their parents. Teenagers do increasingly take more
autonomy for their food choices; parents can, and do,
use a variety of strategies to support adolescents’ auton-
omy taking. Overall, our analysis suggests that in contrast
to conceptualizations of teenage autonomy as an act of
parental defiance, teenage autonomy is more appropriately
viewed as a co-construction negotiated within and between
parent and adolescent interactions.
Our data also suggest that teenage nutritional autonomy
does not necessarily result in less healthful diets. Parents
(primarily mothers) continued to encourage healthy eating
through the processes of autonomy granting, and teens
began to consider parental advice in some of their decision
making. However, we did not assess the nutritional quality
of participants’ diets, nor did we impose our definitions of
‘healthy eating’ on participants. As we explore in more
detail elsewhere, the specific notions of ‘healthy eating’ that
were being encouraged within each family varied, including
differing emphasis being given to following traditional
ways of eating, emphasizing vegetables, fruits and low-fat
choices, and making food choices that reflect health, ethical
and moral concerns (Ristovski-Slijepcevic, Chapman, &
Beagan, forthcoming).
There were no discernible differences in the granting of
autonomy by parents or the taking of autonomy by teens
according to gender, ethnicity and income group, nor was
the development of teen autonomy associated with specific
ages. However, our study was not designed to determine
such effects, and we did not have a sample size large
enough to draw conclusions about group differences.
Instead, our interest was in elucidating the different
mechanisms by which autonomy granting and taking took
place within a wider understanding of how families make
decisions about food choices.
A second limitation of our study was interviewer effect,
especially on the grocery shopping trip and family meal
participation. It is possible that participants behaved
differently when shopping with the interviewer, for
example. The interviewers taperecorded the shopping trips
R. Bassett et al. / Appetite 50 (2008) 325–332330
and their presence was far from unobtrusive. We attempted
to minimize interviewer effect by explaining to the
participants as part of the informed consent process that
the purpose of the study was not to make judgments on
their food behaviours and choices; they knew we were not
there to evaluate their eating habits or food purchases.
Implications for future research and interventions
The family context is seen as a significant influence on
teens’ diets, yet many studies of adolescents’ eating
patterns and food choices have focused on the adolescent
alone, or have asked parents about adolescents’ food
choices and eating habits. We were able to discern the co-
construction of teen food autonomy by interviewing both
parents and adolescents. It was the parent–adolescent
interaction that emerged as most important in our data
analysis, rather than the action and influence of the teen or
the parent alone. While both parents and teens invoked
strategies to influence the other, these interlocked in a ‘give
and take’ rather than deadlocked in a direct rebuttal of
each other. Focusing on the family, rather than asking only
the parent or teen about the parent–adolescent relationship
gave us an advantage. We were able to sidestep the
methodological gaps in previous research we have men-
tioned above, such as whether parents can know fully their
adolescent’s eating habits. Future research would do well
to interview the parent(s)–teen dyad and situate it in the
family context to explore nutritional autonomy and food
decision making as a shared interaction.
Co-construction has implications for interventions where
poor nutrition is considered the (potential) result of
adolescent nutritional autonomy. As mentioned above,
teens’ nutritional autonomy develops largely within a
family and household context. Neither the teens nor their
parents believed that increased adolescent control resulted
in less healthy food choices. Adolescents made their food
choices within a household which their parent(s) stocked
with the food they wished their teens to eat. Adolescents
who refused what was prepared for a meal simply made
something else from within the household food supply. We
suggest that interventions related to adolescent nutrition
should include parents, especially the parent responsible
for setting the parameters in the family through cooking
and grocery shopping, and that such interventions should
help both teens and parents identify and understand the
processes by which they each influence family food
While much of the literature has focused on the parents’
or the adolescent’s role in the development of adolescent
food choice autonomy, we found that by examining the
strategies both parents and teens use, the co-construction
of adolescent food choice autonomy becomes apparent.
Both teens and parents resist and respond to each other.
Parents coach, coax and coerce their adolescent children
within a home environment of relatively controlled food
choice. At the same time, teenagers complain, refuse and
ignore their parents’ advice while beginning to take
responsibility for their actions as they increasingly monitor
their food choice decisions.
The study received funding from the Canadian Institutes
of Health Research (CIHR). We thank research assistants
Barin Chane, Andrea D’Sylva, Carolyn Gill, Lucki Kang,
Kandi Johnson and Svetlana Ristovski-Slijepcevic for data
collection, as well as their insights and reflections which
continue to inform the study. This revised manuscript has
benefited considerably from the comments and suggestions
of anonymous reviewers.
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... The food environment has been recognized as a determinant of obesity and the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children has been identified as a cause of poor diet and excess weight in youth [11][12][13]. Youth are valuable advertising targets for the food and beverage industry, as promoting sales in this highly impressionable age group may help to create life-long brand loyalty [14][15][16][17]. Youth are exposed to food and beverage marketing (herein referred to as food marketing) daily in a variety of media and settings, which have the power to influence consumption and future health outcomes [10][11][12][13][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]. ...
... Expenditure data also shows that expenditures on youthoriented advertising across all media is high and overall, the majority of advertising spend is devoted to unhealthy products, with fast food advertising dominating expenditures [22,33]. This emphasis on fast food marketing is notable as youth spend a lot of time viewing various media and hold autonomous buying power [14][15][16][17]. In response to the ongoing concern caused by industry marketing practices and its negative impacts on youth health, in 2010, the World Health Organization recommended that its members develop restrictions to limit the marketing of foods high in fats, sugars and sodium (HFSS) to children [34]. ...
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Background Consumption of fast food, which is associated with poor diet, weight gain and the development of noncommunicable diseases, is high amongst youth. Fast food marketing, a modifiable determinant of excess weight and obesity, affects youth’s food-related behaviours. This study aimed to examine the relationship between exposure to fast food marketing and the fast food brand preferences and intake amongst youth aged 10–17 across six countries. Methods Data from 9,695 youth respondents living in Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) were analyzed from the 2019 International Food Policy Study (IFPS) Youth Survey. Survey measures assessed exposure to fast food marketing and brand-specific marketing, and preference for these brands and fast food intake. Regression models adjusted for age, sex, income adequacy and ethnicity were used to examine the associations. Results Exposure to fast food marketing was positively associated with brand preferences and intake consistently across most countries. Overall, preference for McDonald’s (OR:1.97; 95% CI:1.52, 2.56), KFC (OR:1.61; 95% CI:1.24, 2.09) and Subway (OR:1.73; 95% CI:1.34, 2.24) were highest when exposed to general fast food marketing ≥ 2x/week compared to never. Preference for McDonald’s (OR:2.32; 95% CI:1.92, 2.79), KFC (OR:2.28; 95% CI:1.95, 2.68) and Subway (OR:2.75; 95% CI:2.32, 3.27) were also higher when exposed to marketing for each brand compared to not. Fast food intake was highest in Chile (IRR:1.90; 95% CI:1.45, 2.48), the UK (IRR:1.40; 95% CI:1.20, 1.63), Canada (IRR:1.32; 95% CI:1.19, 1.48), Mexico (IRR:1.26; 95% CI:1.05, 1.53) and the US (IRR:1.21; 95% CI:1.05, 1.41) when exposed to general fast food marketing ≥ 2x/week compared to never and was higher across most countries when exposed to brand-specific marketing compared to not. Respondents classified as ethnic minorities were more likely to report consuming fast food than ethnic majorities, and females were less likely to report consuming fast food than males. Conclusions Exposure to fast food marketing is consistently and positively associated with brand preferences and fast food intake in all six countries. Our results highlight the need for strict government regulation to reduce exposure of unhealthy food marketing to youth in all six countries.
... However, students in the focus groups reported that they often reached for food they would not consume in the presence of their parents, compensating for food restrictions at home with unhealthy snacks during school time. This reflects the desire for autonomy and control during adolescence, expressed through food choices (Bassett et al., 2008). This is also supported by existing studies, which indicate that high levels of food restrictions may lead to increased consumption of restricted foods (Jansen et al., 2007;Loth, 2016). ...
... This is also supported by existing studies, which indicate that high levels of food restrictions may lead to increased consumption of restricted foods (Jansen et al., 2007;Loth, 2016). Therefore, too many bans and restrictions at home can lead to increased consumption of unhealthy foods (Bassett et al., 2008;Kalavana et al., 2010). This highlights that social environments, in addition to pleasure and taste, drive eating habits of adolescents (Krølner et al., 2011). ...
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Background: Adolescents face high-choice school food environments that offer plenty of highly processed foods. Processed food producers target young people in their marketing, but there is limited data on the actual food supply inside and in the vicinity of Austrian schools and its impact on adolescent food choices. This study employs an innovative mixed-methods approach to explore adolescents' food choices. Methods: In Study 1, we conducted a citizen science study, with students as volunteer scientists. The students examined the food supply in and around their schools according to the Austrian food pyramid and categorized 953 food items in 144 food suppliers using photographs and descriptions. In Study 2, we explored students' food preferences in focus groups. We conducted four focus groups at four different schools in Tyrol, with 25 students (11 male, 14 female) between the ages of 12 and 15. We then linked the findings on individual preferences with the documented supply. Results: Study 1 found that the food supply in the investigated schools was predominantly categorized as unhealthy. The students categorized 46% as "unhealthy", 32% as "intermediate", and only 22% as "healthy". Study 2 identified three influential factors in students' food choices: 1) individual factors (such as taste and preferences), 2) social factors (such as mingling with peers), and 3) structural factors (such as physical environment and accessibility). Conclusion: The study shows that unhealthy products cater to unhealthy preferences among adolescents and dominate current school food environments. Policies need to address unhealthy school food environments to address this issue. For instance, food supplies should be presented in an attractive ways, in fun places where students can mingle and express their identities.
... Adolescence is a unique transitional period where individuals gain autonomy over many health-related behaviours including food choices (Bassett et al., 2008). This period of life is critical for health as behaviours established during this stage have been shown to track into adulthood (Craigie et al., 2011). ...
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Factors from social and food environments can influence the food choices of adolescents in ways not experienced during childhood. Evidence suggests these two environments influence adolescents' food choices independently, but there is limited knowledge of how the interplay between these environments influence adolescents' diets. An enhanced understanding of this interplay surrounding adolescent food choice could aid the development of more nuanced interventions and policies. This qualitative study involved 13 online focus groups with adolescents (n = 45) aged 11-18 years, attending secondary school or college in England, UK. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Social experiences which accompanied eating were perceived as more important than the food itself, and fast-food outlets were described as uniquely suited to facilitating these interactions. Young people wanted to spend their money on foods they considered worthwhile, but this did not always relate to the most affordable foods. Adolescents wanted to put little effort into making food decisions and appreciated factors that helped them make quick decisions such as prominent placement and eye-catching promotions on foods they wanted to buy. Chain food outlets were valued as they offered familiar and frequently advertised foods, which minimized the effort needed for food decisions. Adolescents' sense of autonomy underpinned all themes. Participants described having limited opportunities to make their own food choices and they did not want to waste these buying unappealing 'healthy' foods. Interventions and government policies should align with adolescents' experiences and values relating to food choice to ensure that they are effective with this important age group.
... The period of adolescence represents a distinctive phase of life characterized by swift and profound biological and social transformations. Important developmental tasks in adolescence is increased autonomy and desire to feel respected, and these factors have been found to have a connection with food choices and unhealthy snacking (Bassett, Chapman, & Beagan, 2008;Neufeld et al., 2022;Yeager, Dahl, & Dweck, 2018). ...
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Background: Research has demonstrated the importance of the family environment in the eating and activity levels of offspring. We examined the cross-sectional associations between moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and diet quality of parents and the MVPA and diet quality of pre-adolescents. Interactions were tested to assess whether the child's sex and the parental level of involvement in daily child care moderated these associations. Methods: Data from 2467 pre-adolescents (age 11.5 ± 0.2 years; collected in 2015-2016) and their parents or caregivers from a large-scale prospective birth cohort study in Amsterdam (ABCD-study) was used. Parents and pre-adolescents individually reported their diet quality and physical activity. Child care involvement was assessed using the Caregiver Child Interaction Scale. With hierarchical linear regression analyses, we assessed the independent contribution of fathers and mothers. Results: An association between mother-child MVPA was found (β = 0.013; 95 % CI: 0.006;0.021). The association between father-child MVPA was only significant for highly involved fathers (β = 0.014; 95 % CI: 0.004;0.023). The child's sex did not change these MVPA associations. Regarding diet quality, associations were found between mother-child diet quality score (DQS) (β = 0.254; 95 % CI: 0.192;0.316) and father-child DQS, with stronger associations between fathers and sons (β = 0.234; 95 % CI: 0.169;0.298) than between fathers and daughters (β = 0.114; 95 % CI: 0.047;0.181). Parental levels of involvement did not change these associations. Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that both parental behaviours represent an important factor in physical activity and diet quality in pre-adolescents in a sex-specific manner. As such, it is essential to include both parents in research to obtain the necessary insights for developing effective interventions to promote children's healthy eating and physical activity behaviours.
... Several factors are associated with adolescents' eating behaviors. In adolescence, major physical and biological changes (i.e., puberty and brain development) require greater nutritional demands on the body [20], while increased autonomy and independence allow youth to take greater responsibility and be more engaged in decision-making for their dietary behaviors [21]. However, adolescents' dietary decision-making is complicated by their access to food [22,23], knowledge [24], and attitudes and beliefs about food [23,25]. ...
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Unhealthy eating behaviors, such as consumption of unhealthy diet and emotional eating, are common in adolescence and tend to co-occur. However, how these behaviors are patterned may vary among adolescents. This study identified patterns of dietary consumption and emotional eating behaviors in adolescents and examined the sociodemographic and psychosocial (e.g., self-efficacy beliefs and motivation) covariates associated with these eating patterns. Data were from the Family Life, Activity, Sun, Health and Eating study. Latent class analysis was used to estimate adolescent dietary patterns from dietary consumption (i.e., fruits, vegetables, sugar-sweetened beverages, junk food, etc.) and emotional eating variables (i.e., eating when feeling sad or anxious). The sample included 1,568 adolescents (Mean age = 14.48-years-old, 49% girls, 55% White). A four-class solution best fit the data (e.g., Bayesian Information Criteria [BIC] = 12263.568, three-class model BIC = 12271.622). Four unhealthy eating behavior patterns were identified: poor diet/high emotional eating, mixed diet/high emotional eating, poor diet/low emotional eating, and mixed diet/low emotional eating. Compared to the poor diet/high emotional eating group, the other groups were less likely to include older adolescents, girls, and adolescents who experienced food insecurity, and more likely to have higher self-efficacy for eating fruits and vegetables and limiting junk foods as well as motivation for consuming fruits and vegetables and limiting junk foods. Our findings highlight adolescents' complex dietary patterns that include dietary consumption and emotional eating behaviors. Future studies should examine other potential dietary patterns that include emotional eating. Efforts to address unhealthy patterns of adolescents' dietary consumption and emotional eating behaviors should be expanded.
... During adolescence, there is often a change in youth food choices and consumption as parents begin to grant them more autonomy over their eating behaviors (Hou et al., 2013). As adolescents begin to explore this autonomy and develop stronger food preferences (Bassett et al., 2008), most tend to show a reduced emphasis on healthy eating and an increased tendency towards unhealthy foods (Grenard et al., 2013;Neumark-Sztainer et al., 1999). This shift has been seen not only in hypothetical food preferences (Fitzgerald et al., 2010), but also in adolescent snacking behavior (Grenard et al., 2013;Laitinen et al., 2002;Pelchat, 1997), with some studies showing that unhealthy foods account for up to half of adolescents' snack foods (Grenard et al., 2013). ...
Adolescents experiencing stress sometimes exhibit an increase in unhealthy eating behaviors; however, it is unclear whether and how adolescents' food cravings play a role in adolescents’ behavioral reactivity to stress. The present study evaluated whether trait food craving predicted preferences for and actual consumption of unhealthy (i.e., high fat and/or high sugar) versus healthy foods following the Trier Social Stress Test in a sample of 96 adolescents. Further, we evaluated whether emotion regulation moderated these associations, such that those who endorsed more frequent use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies exhibited a higher preference for and consumption of unhealthy foods. Results indicated that higher levels of trait food craving predicted higher levels of unhealthy food consumption after the laboratory stressor. However, trait food craving did not predict preferences for healthy or unhealthy food, nor consumption of healthy food, following the stressor. Additionally, emotion regulation did not moderate any of these associations. These findings suggest that trait food tendencies may play a role in adolescents’ food-related behavior in response to acute stressors, should they be replicated in other studies using both laboratory-based and naturalistic designs to study adolescent eating behaviors.
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s: The study was undertaken to assess effectiveness of structure teaching program on knowledge regarding complication and management of obesity among obese adolescents in selected educational institutes of Sangli Miraj Kupwad Corporation Area. Objectives were to assess existing knowledge regarding complication and management of obesity, to assess the Post-test knowledge score, to find association of pre-test knowledge score with selected demographical variables. Material and Method-Pre-experimental one group pre-test and post-test design was used for assessing the knowledge and effect of plan teaching program. Total 45 samples were selected by using Non-probability purposive sampling method.
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Amaç: Okullar, çocuklara erişim sağlama konusunda evrensel bir ortam oluştururlar ve beslenmeyle ilgili yetersizliklerle mücadelede büyük avantaj sağlarlar. Türkiye’de 2010 yılında “Okullarda Obezite ile Mücadelede Yeterli ve Dengeli Beslenme ve Düzenli Fiziksel Aktivite Alışkanlığının Kazandırılması” başlığı altında “Beslenme Dostu Okullar Programı” hayata geçirilmiştir. Bu çalışmanın amacı, beslenme dostu okul programının çocukların beslenme bilgi düzeyleri ve Akdeniz diyet kalitelerine etkisini değerlendirmektir. Yöntem: Çalışmaya üçü beslenme dostu okul programında yer alan ve dördü beslenme dostu okul programında yer almayan toplam yedi özel okul dahil edilmiştir. Çalışmanın örneklemi her grupta 250 öğrenci olacak şekilde toplam 500 öğrenci olarak belirlenmiştir. Bu kapsamda öğrencilere genel bilgiler, beslenme bilgi düzeyleri, Akdeniz Diyet Kaliteleri (KIDMED) ve antropometrik ölçümleri içeren anket formu uygulanmıştır. Bulgular: Beslenme dostu olan ve olmayan okullarda okuyan öğrencilerin Beden Kütle İndeksi (BKİ) sınıflandırmaları ve beslenme bilgi düzeyleri arasındaki fark anlamlı değildir (p>0,05). Ancak öğrencilerin Akdeniz diyet kaliteleri (KIDMED) arasındaki fark anlamlıdır (p<0,05). Çalışmada öğrencilerin beslenme bilgi düzeyleri ile Akdeniz diyet kaliteleri arasında beslenme dostu okul programı, sınıf, yaş, ebeveynlerin eğitim düzeyleri ve annelerin çalışma durumları ayrı ayrı modele dahil edildiğinde pozitif yönlü anlamlı ilişki olduğu görülmüştür (p<0,05). Sonuç: Beslenme dostu okul kriterlerinin geliştirilmesi, beslenme dostu okullara yapılan denetimlerin arttırılması, beslenme dostu olmayan okulların teşvik edilmesi, okullarda beslenmeyle ilgili aktivitelerin (beslenme kulübü vb.) ve derslerin arttırılması yönünde politikalar geliştirilmelidir. Beslenme dostu okul programının doğru yöntemlerle geliştirilerek yaygınlaştırılması beslenme bozukluklarını önlemede avantaj sağlayacaktır.
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Although conflict resolution in family decision-making processes has been a key topic in consumer behaviour research, very few studies have considered the impact of children on decision outcomes. Observation is used in this study to determine the relative influence of family members and the dominant decision-making strategies that are used. Observational data are derived from videotaped recordings of family interactions during a simulated decision-making situation. The paper begins with an overview of the decision-making strategies used during the conflict resolution stage, discusses how the formation of coalitions influences the decision, and considers the role of gender and gender composition of children in family decision making. This is followed by the results, which indicate how these factors influence the family decision-making process for nuclear families with two adolescent children.
A qualitative research project was conducted to examine the meanings of foods within adolescent female culture by looking at ways in which young women classify and use foods. Ninety-three young women ages 11 to 18 participated in semi-structured individual interviews or small group discussions in which they talked about what, where, and with whom they ate. The main food classification scheme that emerged from the data analysis was the dichotomization of foods into two groups: “healthy foods” and “junk foods”. The study participants agreed on the core foods and common characteristics of foods in each group. They associated consumption of junk food with, among other things, weight gain, pleasure, friends, independence, and guilt, while consumption of healthy food was associated with weight loss, parents, and being at home. Through these associations, the food-meaning system relates to issues of adolescent development such as the maturation of relationships with family and friends, and societal pressures on women to be thin. Appreciation of meanings given to different foods within adolescent women's culture and the links between these meanings and social and developmental issues may help nutrition educators in designing intervention programs for this age group.
This study examined the role of late adolescent females' ongoing perceived reciprocity in their relationships with parents, their sense of incompetence (in terms of an impersonal-causality orientation), and their identity style and commitment in predicting disordered eating symptoms. Some variables were also examined from the mothers' perspectives to consider the potential impact of mother-daughter discrepancies on symptomatology. This questionnaire-based study used a multicultural sample of 256 female university students. Disordered eating was inversely related to the perception of reciprocity with parents and positively related to a sense of incompetence, an avoidant identity style, and a lack of identity commitments. Further analyses revealed that both perceived parental reciprocity and an avoidant identity style are related to disordered eating indirectly through their relation to personality variables linked to eating disorder psychopathology. Mother-daughter discrepancies were not significant predictors of symptoms. Implications for identifying females at risk for disordered eating are discussed.
The need for effective nutritional education for young consumers has become increasingly apparent given their general food habits and behaviour, particularly during adolescence. Aims to analyse the interaction between young consumers’ food preferences and their nutritional awareness behaviour, within three environments (home, school and social). Preliminary findings in this study would indicate that the perceived dominance of this home, school and social interaction appears to be somewhat overshadowed by the young consumers, developing “independence” trait, particularly during adolescent years. This appears to be reflected in their food preferences within the associated three environments. Suggests that such food preferences are often of a “fast food”-style and consequently the food habits of many young consumers may fuel the consumption of poor nutritionally balanced meals. While young consumers were aware of healthy eating, their food preference behaviour did not always appear to reflect such knowledge, particularly within the school and social environments.
This study uses a multitrait, multi-informant approach to examine the relationships between family communication and adolescent involvement in consumer activity using two measures of family communication, one that measures the general quality of communication between parents and adolescents, and another that measures the frequency of consumption-specific communication between parents and adolescents. In addition, the perceptions of mothers, fathers, and adolescents are used in the analysis. Findings show that the two communication constructs are conceptually distinct. Positive relationships between the communication constructs and adolescents’ consumer activities are found; however, the presence of significant relationships depends on which individual family members’ or family member dyads’ perceptions are used in the analysis. On the basis of the findings, several suggestions for future research are discussed.