The Impact of Parenting on Risk Cognitions and Risk Behavior: A Study of
Mediation and Moderation in a Panel of African American Adolescents
Michael J. Cleveland, Frederick X. Gibbons,
Meg Gerrard, and Elizabeth A. Pomery
Iowa State University
Gene H. Brody
University of Georgia
Hypotheses concerning the extent to which adolescents’ cognitions mediate the relation between parenting
behaviors and adolescent substance use were examined in a panel of African American adolescents (N5714, M
age at Time 1510.51 years) and their primary caregivers. A nested-model approach indicated that effective
parenting (i.e., monitoring of the child’s activities, communication about substances, and parental warmth) was
related to adolescent substance use more than 5 years later. The parenting behaviors protected the adolescent
from subsequent alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use through associations with two cognitive elements from the
prototype/willingness model: favorable risk images (prototypes) and behavioral willingness. Additional ana-
lyses indicated that these protective effects were strongest among families residing in high-risk neighborhoods.
It is generally agreed that a wide variety of risk
factors contribute to adolescents’ vulnerability to use
alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Hawkins, Cata-
lano, and Miller (1992) identified 17 known risk
factors for adolescent substance use, which they
discussed in terms of three general categories: (a)
contextual factors, such as norms, substance avail-
ability, and neighborhood disorganization; (b) in-
dividual factors, such as prodrug attitudes and
physiological factors; and (c) interpersonal factors
arising from children’s interactions in family, school,
and peer environments. Few studies, however, have
included factors from each of these categories or
examined how they may interact in determining
adolescent risk behaviors.
Moreover, research suggests that the risk factors
described by Hawkins et al. (1992) may not apply
equally to adolescents from different race and ethnic
backgrounds. For example, there is evidence that
African American adolescents have stronger bonds
to family than do White adolescents (Giordano,
Cernkovich, & Demaris, 1993). Past studies have also
revealed differences among racial and ethnic groups
in family management styles, particularly in terms of
parental monitoring and control of peer selection
(Peterson, Hawkins, Abbot, & Catalano, 1994). This
research suggests that for African American youth,
the family environment may be more protective
than for White youth (Wallace & Muroff, 2002).
Such discrepancies have led some to conclude that
additional race-specific research is needed to identify
the protective factors that reduce substance use
among African American adolescents (Wallace &
Parental Influence on Adolescent Substance Use
Several studies have concluded that peer sociali-
zation factors are the strongest predictors of adoles-
cent substance use (Brook, Whiteman, Czeisler,
Shapiro, & Cohen, 1997). However, some authors
have noted that peer influences, relative to parental
influences, may be overestimated (Aseltine, 1995;
Bauman & Ennett, 1996; Kandel, 1996). In fact, many
researchers have focused on the indirect effects of
parenting style on adolescent outcomes. This re-
search has provided evidence that family process
factors play a central role in determining associations
with deviant peers, which in turn predict adolescent
risk behaviors (Dishion, Capaldi, Spracklen, & Li,
1995; Whitbeck, 1999).
A substantial body of literature also suggests that
parents’ behaviors may directly affect their chil-
dren’s risk behaviors (Blanton, Gibbons, Gerrard,
Conger, & Smith, 1997; Brown, Mounts, Lamborn, &
Steinberg, 1993). Adolescents raised by parents who
are heavily involved in their lives (i.e., monitor their
behavior) are less likely to engage in risk behavior
(Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Li, Stanton, &
r 2005 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2005/7604-0010
Michael J. Cleveland is now at Department of Psychology,
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental
Health (Grant MH62668).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Michael J. Cleveland, Department of Psychology, University of
Massachusetts Dartmouth, 285 Old Westport Road, North Dart-
mouth, MA 02747. Electronic mail may be sent to mcleveland@
Child Development, July/August 2005, Volume 76, Number 4, Pages 900–916
Feigelman, 2000). Similarly, provision of warmth and
support by parents is associated with less adolescent
substance use (Barnes, Reifman, Farrell, & Dintcheff,
2000; Barnow, Schuckit, Lucht, John, & Freyberger,
2002). There is also some evidence that parent–child
communication about substances and substance
use is associated with reduced risk of early-onset
use (Chassin, Presson, Todd, Rose, & Sherman, 1998;
Jackson & Henriksen, 1997), although that evidence
is mixed (see Ennet, Bauman, Foshee, Pemberton, &
Parents can also indirectly affect their children’s
behavior by influencing the attitudes and cognitions
that their children develop about substance use and
substance users. For instance, Sieving, Maruyama,
Williams, and Perry (2000) reported that parents’
attitudes toward underage drinking were indirectly
related to their children’s alcohol use through their
association with the children’s alcohol-related cog-
nitions (i.e., intentions to drink, refusal efficacy, and
perceived importance of reasons not to drink).
Likewise, research has shown that the link between
parental alcohol-use norms and subsequent adoles-
cent alcohol use is mediated through the children’s
alcohol-use norms (Brody, Ge, Katz, & Arias, 2000)
and that frequent and bidirectional parent–child
discussions were associated with less liberal (i.e.,
abstinence-based) alcohol-use norms (Brody, Flor,
Hollett-Wright, & McCoy, 1998).
Few researchers, however, have examined the
extent to which children’s cognitions mediate the
relation between (effective) parenting behaviors and
children’s substance use. Consequently, several
adolescent-risk researchers have suggested that there
is a need for research that looks at cognitive media-
tion of the relation between parenting behaviors and
substance use (e.g., Beyth-Marom & Fischhoff, 1997;
Gochman, 1992). Such research is especially im-
portant in light of findings that suggest that risk
factorsFparticularly cognitive risk factorsFmay
play different roles for different ethnic groups
(Ellickson & Morton, 1999). The current study
addressed this empirical need by incorporating
elements from a recently developed model of health
risk behavior, the prototype/willingness (prototype)
The Prototype/Willingness Model
Cognitive mediation is the focus of the prototype
model of adolescent health behavior (Gibbons &
Gerrard, 1995) used in the current study. The model
is described in detail elsewhere (Gibbons & Gerrard,
1997; Gibbons, Gerrard, & Lane, 2003); a brief over-
view is presented here. The model is based on two
primary assumptions about adolescent risk beha-
vior: (a) it is largely a social activity and (b) it is
often a reaction to risk-conducive circumstances
rather than deliberative or planned. These two
assumptions are reflected in the two focal constructs
for the model: risk images (prototypes) and behav-
Young people have clear social images of the type
of person their age who engages in a particular risk
behavior (e.g., the ‘‘typical’’ smoker or drinker; cf.
Chassin, Presson, Sherman, Corty, & Olshavsky,
1981). They also realize that if they engage in the
behavior in public, others will tend to associate them
with the behavior and the image. In this sense,
the images are social consequences of the behaviors.
The more acceptable the image is to the adolescent,
the more willing he or she is to engage in the behav-
ior if the opportunity arises (Blanton et al., 1997;
Gibbons, Gerrard, & Boney-McCoy, 1995). Risk
images (or prototypes) have been shown to predict a
variety of health risk behaviors, such as sexual risk
taking, alcohol consumption, smoking, and reckless
driving (Gerrard, Gibbons, Benthin, & Hessling,
1996; Gibbons et al., 1995; Thornton, Gibbons, &
Gerrard, 2002; see Gibbons et al., 2003, for a review).
When asked, most adolescents say they do not
intend to engage in risky behavior (Brown, Di
Clemente, & Reynolds, 1991); nonetheless, as statis-
tics indicate, many end up doing so (Johnston,
O’Malley, & Bachman, 2000). The prototype model
explains this incongruence by proposing that there
are two pathways to risk behavior instead of the
single path found in most models of health and so-
cial behavior. One path is intentional; the other is not.
The former pathway proceeds to behavior through
behavioral intention (Ajzen, 1985, 1991). The second
path proceeds through an additional proximal ante-
cedent, unique to the prototype modelFbehavioral
willingness. Behavioral willingness is defined as an
openness to risk opportunityFwhat an adolescent
might do under certain circumstances. Behavioral
willingness adds to the amount of variance in ado-
lescent risk behavior that can be predicted by the
antecedent of behavioral intention (Gibbons et al.,
2003). To maximize predictive power, both behav-
ioral willingness and intention were included in the
current study in a construct labeled susceptibility.
Impact of Parenting 901
Other Factors That Influence Adolescent Substance Use
Another domain of risk factors includes in-
dividual or dispositional factors such as sensation
seeking (risk-taking tendencies), which have been
shown to predict adolescent substance use (Shen,
Locke-Wellman, & Hill, 2001; Wickrama, Conger,
Wallace, & Elder, 1999; Wills, Windle, & Clearly,
1998; Wills et al., 2001). It has been suggested that a
risk-taking tendency has a predisposing role for
substance use (Wills, Vaccaro, & McNamara, 1994).
Controlling for this trait provides some protection
against spurious results arising from a common
disposition among adolescents willing to engage in
risky behaviors, including substance use.
Hawkins et al. (1992) also described several con-
textual factors that influence adolescent substance
use. In fact, considerable attention has recently been
devoted to the impact of context (neighborhood) on
children’s health (Rankin & Quane, 2000). Generally,
this research has found that adolescents who live in
more disadvantaged (high-risk) neighborhoods tend
to fare less well than those who reside in more ad-
Gunn, 2000). For instance, neighborhood risk has
been associated with decreased academic perfor-
mance (Gonzales, Cauce, Friedman, & Mason, 1996),
affiliation with deviant peers (Brody et al., 2003),
delinquent behavior (Peeples & Loeber, 1994), and
higher rates of substance use (e.g., Brook, Nomura, &
Cohen, 1988; Smart, Adlaf, & Walsh, 1994). Most of
this research has been conducted among urban and
inner-city youth; however, less is known about how
neighborhood risk factors influence adolescent sub-
stance use in rural communities or suburban areas.
There is also evidence that neighborhood risk
factors may moderate the effects of parenting behav-
iors (e.g., monitoring and supervision of children) on
several adolescent outcomes (Rankin & Quane,
2002). For example, Gonzales et al. (1996) found that
higher levels of parental control were prospectively
associated with higher academic achievement (GPA)
in neighborhoods perceived by the adolescent as
high risk; a negative relation between maternal
control and GPA was found in low-risk neighbor-
hoods. Nonetheless, both studies were limited to
samples of African American children residing in
only large urban areas.
The Current Study
The current study is part of a larger project, the
Family and Community Health Study (FACHS),
which is examining the impact of environmental
factors on the mental and physical health of African
American families living in contexts other than inner
cities. Several cross-sectional studies have examined
the influence of neighborhood context on negative
adolescent outcomes using the FACHS panel. Brody
et al. (2001) found that children’s (but not care-
givers’) reports of nurturant-involved parenting
significantly interacted with a measure of neighbor-
hood disadvantage to predict their affiliation with
deviant peers. Brody et al. (2003) concluded that
caregivers’ reports of their own parenting behaviors
were associated with children’s conduct disorder
symptoms, and again, this relation was strongest
among families residing in high-risk neighborhoods.
However, Simons et al. (2002) found that the relation
between caregivers’ appraisals of their parenting
behaviors and child conduct problems tended to
decrease as the level of community deviance, as
perceived by caregivers, increased.
Thus, although it is clear that a warm and in-
volved parenting style is associated with healthy
youth development, current knowledge about how
these processes unfold over time is limited, espe-
cially among nonurban African American adoles-
cents. Some clarification of this issue has been
provided by other research conducted with the
FACHS sample. For example, Gerrard, Gibbons,
Stock, Vande Lune, and Cleveland (2005) found that
parental behaviors were associated with risk images
and behavioral willingness, which predicted initia-
tion of smoking. However, these findings were lim-
ited because parenting, risk images, and behavioral
willingness were measured concurrently, constrain-
ing the interpretation of effective parenting as ante-
cedent to risk cognitions. The present study used
three waves of data to address this need.
The present research had two related objectives.
The primary goal was to determine the extent to
which cognitive factors mediated the relation be-
tween parenting behaviors and substance use among
African American adolescents, a population for
whom little evidence is available (Bachman et al.,
1991; Vaccaro & Wills, 1998). Our model is presented
in Figure 1. In addition to a direct influence, par-
enting behaviors at Time 1 were also hypothesized to
have indirect effects on Time 3 adolescent substance
use by way of associations with Time 2 risk images
and susceptibility. Because there is substantial
evidence that parenting behaviors influence adoles-
the model also allowed for indirect effects of par-
enting on Time 3 use through its association
with Time 2 friends’ use. The theoretical model
controlled for individual factors (risk-taking ten-
dencies, gender, and age) and contextual factors
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916 Cleveland, Gibbons, Gerrard, Pomery, and Brody