What parents do with their adolescent children, and what parents know about politics and government, are generally more important for youth civic development than who the parents are in terms of background characteristics.
The question of parental qualities in family political discussions is the focus of this study: "We ask whether youth-parent discussions of current events may be more effective at enhancing youth civic development when parents have higher, versus lower, levels of knowledge about politics and government." The authors assess the interaction of parental characteristics, the frequency of family political discussions, and measures representing civic outcomes in youth (political knowledge, news monitoring, public communication skill, and community service). Four key conclusions emerge from the study.
First, levels of parent political knowledge and youth-parent political discussion predict the level of youth political knowledge. Notably, more frequent youth-parent political discussion is associated with greater increases in youth political knowledge when parents have high political knowledge compared to when parents have low political knowledge. In this case, what parents know about politics is the strongest predictor. The authors observe that a "possible interaction between parent political knowledge and family political discussion in predicting youth political knowledge has not been reported before."
Second, in terms of the other three civic outcomes of news monitoring, public communication skill, and community service on the part of youth—which involve the development of civic behaviors and skills—what parents do (i.e., discuss politics and current events) with their children is the strongest predictor of outcomes.
Third, parental background characteristics—in particular, education levels—were found to play a role when the outcome is youth civic knowledge, a finding consistent with earlier research.
Fourth, Black communities appear to experience lower levels of youth civic knowledge, a finding the authors suggest may be linked to a historic lack of access to civic resources combined with the effects of a youth demographic bulge compared to the adult population.
Since at least the 1950s, social scientists have debated the influence of parents on the civic development of their children. This new research suggests that parents who take the time to talk with their adolescent children about the public affairs of the day can have a positive influence on the civic development of those youth.