Maternal perceptions of ‘parental determinism’, media representations of parenting, and how these impact on their wellbeing

Collins, Hilllary Kate Emily Bradley (2022) Maternal perceptions of ‘parental determinism’, media representations of parenting, and how these impact on their wellbeing. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Aim: To examine how ‘parental determinism’ is understood by mothers, the role of the media in shaping these understandings, and how mothers perceive these understandings to impact on their wellbeing.

Background: Two main theories underlay this study. First, ‘parental determinism’, coined by Frank Furedi, is the concept that children’s outcomes are largely shaped by parenting practices, which ultimately shape society (Lee, 2014a). Second, Clive Seale’s (2003) argument that people use cultural scripts presented in the media to construct the self. Literature in parenting culture studies suggests intense social and political interest in parenting, which may be stressful for mothers. Scoping reviews of the literature found studies showing media representations of parental determinism, and that endorsement of ‘intensive mothering’ ideologies were associated with poorer maternal wellbeing (Rizzo et al, 2013). Research questions were formed with the intention of investigating possible links between these elements of key background literature.

Research Questions: Three key research questions: 1) What are mothers’ understandings of parental determinism and to what extent do they endorse a causal association between their actions and their children’s outcomes? 2) What do mothers think are the key sources of their beliefs and attitudes on parenting and what impact do mothers think broadcast and social media representations of parenting have on their parenting identities and behaviours? 3) What impact do mothers think their parenting identities and behaviours and the media have on their wellbeing? There were also two intermediary questions related to RQ2: 2a) What are the main media channels mothers consider they are exposed to? 2b) How do mothers perceive broadcast and social media to represent parenting?

Methods: Two main stages of data collection, each preceded by a contextualising stage. The main stages of data collection were: 1) interviews with 23 mothers (aged 20-49 years, living in SIMD areas 1-10, 14 with university degrees, 16 white Scottish, 3 South Asian (born outside Scotland), most (n20) with children aged 3 months- 5 years, 3 mothers of children with Autism); and 2) follow up interviews with eleven previously interviewed mothers. Preceding the first main stage of data collection was a contextualising analysis of content of 47 threads from an online parenting forum (data collection stage 1a); and before the second main stage, a contextualising analysis of content of 49 BBC News items (data collection stage 2a). This order of data collection stages allowed not just for cumulative insights but also ‘zooming in’ on specific issues. All data were analysed thematically following (with adjustments) Braun and Clarke’s (2006) method.

Results: RQ1: There was no complete rebuttal of the causality aspect of parental determinism, though there were varying levels of endorsement of it. Some mothers cited other important factors contributing to children’s outcomes, and others argued that parental actions are the single most important factor determining children’s outcomes. There was higher endorsement of parental determinism among mothers who had experienced poor parenting, and lower endorsement among mothers of children with Autism. RQ2: Reported influences on parenting ranged across the paradigms of expert guided and tacit knowledge and included childhood experiences, instincts, parenting groups, and the media. There were some examples cited by interviewees of behaviours changed because of a media message. Some mothers argued that they may be subject to unconscious influence, and there was also an argument that though they themselves may not be influenced by the media, others (due to lack of education or experience) might be. RQ2a: All of the interviewed mothers used social media of some sort, most Facebook. There were few overlaps in traditional media channels cited, with the exceptions of two sitcoms and the BBC as a news source. Mothers on the online forum frequently referenced the Daily Mail, possibly to prompt debate. RQ2b: Hall (1997) distinguished between studies of media representation concerned with being realistic, and those concerned with media as constituent of reality. Mothers in interviews identified two sitcoms as realistic; both feature themes which could be linked to notions of parental determinism and intensive mothering. Mothers identified sources of power that shaped media representations, in ways aligned to Hall’s consideration of representation as constituent of reality. RQ3: Feelings of worry and guilt were reported following reflection on their own parenting practices linked to ‘parental determinism’ and 'intensive mothering'. The media played a complex role in mothers' social lives, as representation and infrastructure, and had positive and negative impacts on their wellbeing.

Implications for Policy and Practice: A discursive shift away from dismissal of media studies towards bringing media literacy into general secondary education may better equip people to critique media messages and avoid harm from negative or unhelpful messages. Health professionals face a tension between providing mother-centred care and professional obligations to unequivocally promote breastfeeding. If major health and care organisations presented a more ambivalent view of breastfeeding, it would enable health professionals to offer more mother-centred care.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Funder's Name: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Supervisor's Name: Wight, Professor Daniel and Hilton, Professor Shona
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-83307
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2022 09:14
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2022 09:14
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83307

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