Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Exploring Gender Issues in Parent-Supervised Driving

September 22, 2015

A note from Carol Murray, MSS, MLSP, CIRP@CHOP training manager: Today we are pleased to welcome a guest blog post from Genna Clayman, a recent Public Health graduate of Temple University who has recently joined the CIRP@CHOP team as a Clinical Research Assistant.

Imagine the time when you first learned to drive. For some of you, this was a relatively smooth and enjoyable experience, and for others, a stressful nightmare. Now, I’d like you to think about who was sitting next to you in the passenger seat during your practice drives. Maybe you practiced some days with your mom and some days with your dad, and for whatever reason, you began to notice that you felt more comfortable practicing with one parent than the other. Looking back now, you may even realize that whether you perceived the overall practice driving experience as enjoyable or stressful heavily depended on who was sitting next to you in the passenger seat.

For teens, learning to drive can be an exhilarating yet frightening time. While some remain eager to breeze through their practice drives, others may feel an overwhelming amount of anxiety and stress about the experience. Similarly, parents may feel these same emotions towards supervising their teen’s practice.

What makes practice drives anything but a breeze? Which factors predict the success of the parent-adolescent relationship? And even further, does the harmony of the parent-adolescent relationship predict the success of those practice drives? 

Parent Perceptions
Throughout my summer internship with CIRP@CHOP, I gained invaluable experience working on research projects dedicated to teen driver safety. Specifically, I spent the majority of my time learning about TeenDrivingPlan (TDP), an intervention program that was designed to help parents more effectively supervise practice drives with their teens. TDP targets driver inexperience as a major cause of teen crashes and encourages parents to plan routes, to set goals, and to log both the quantity and quality of the practice drives with their teens. With the support and mentorship of my supervisor, Dr. Jessica Mirman, I was able to explore some of my own research questions related to teen driving. I wanted to investigate parent-adolescent dyads (mom-daughter, mom-son, father-daughter, father-son) and how these dyads may differ in perceiving stress related to teen practice driving.

Initially, I conducted a literature review on differences in parenting and found that, dependent on their child’s gender, parents tend to differ both in their parenting style and in their emotional response to the child’s risk-taking behaviors. Research suggests that parents respond with anger towards boys and disappointment or surprise towards girls; moreover, the research maintains that parents tend to believe little can be done to prevent boys from dabbling in risky behaviors, but improved listening skills and firmer rules can help girls.*

After researching these attitudes and perceptions that parents often form long before their children reach adolescence, I was curious to see how these gender differences in parenting might influence the practice driving experience. For instance, do same-sex dyads (fathers and sons, mothers and daughters) perceive more or less stress than opposite-sex dyads (father and daughters, mothers and sons)?  Is the amount of perceived stress correlated with how often parents and teens practice together? 

During CIRP@CHOP’s Student Research Day, I had the opportunity to present our answers to these questions. Dr. Mirman and I analyzed data from a 2011 National Study, which surveyed parents about social support and parent-teen communication, stress and supervision, the impact of stress on practice, and the likelihood of varied practice environments. Overall, we found that the absolute amount of stress did not differ by dyad type, but that mothers and daughters were more likely to believe that stress would negatively affect the quality of practice driving compared to other dyads. We also found that the greater amount of perceived stress was positively associated with intentions to practice. In other words, the dyads that perceived the greatest amount of stress practiced more. With these findings in our preliminary report, I am looking forward to continue working with Dr. Mirman on this research topic in the future.

Since recently graduating from Temple University with a degree in Public Health, I have officially joined the translational research CIRP@CHOP team. I am extremely excited to continue my time at CHOP as a Clinical Researcher in Adolescent Medicine, and I cannot thank Dr. Mirman and the CIRP team enough for welcoming me to this field.

*Morrongiello, B., Zdzieborski, D., Normand, J. (2010).  Understanding gender differences in children’s risk taking and injury:  A comparison of mothers’ and fathers’ reactions to sons and daughters misbehaving in ways that lead to injury. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 322-329.