Parents as coping resources for adolescents with learning disabilities
This study uses a qualitative methodology to examine how adolescents with learning disabilities cope with stressors and the role of their parents in this process. Fifteen middle school students with learning disabilities and their parents were interviewed separately, using a semi-structured interview format. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using a grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) to create an integrated conceptualization of the role of parents in the coping of learning disabled adolescents. Adolescents with learning disabilities experience academic and interpersonal stressors. The level of stressors experienced by adolescents with learning disabilities seems to vary widely and is related to adolescents’ personal characteristics and their academic and social context. Adolescents in this study utilize a wide variety of coping strategies, dependent on stressor properties (e.g., duration, severity, domain), personal characteristics (e.g., emotionality, knowledge), and environmental characteristics (e.g., family climate, school setting). Based on the current data, a model was developed to explain parents’ role in adolescent coping within this population. The data suggest that parents serve as a coping resource for adolescents with learning disabilities by creating a space in which adolescents are able to develop and use independent coping strategies. Parents engage in monitoring strategies to assess their child’s academic and behavioral functioning, development, and emotional state. Information obtained through monitoring is passed through parents’ cognitive lens— parents’ attributions, knowledge, goals, and beliefs. Parents’ varying beliefs about themselves, their children, and the school system intersect to create predictable patterns of parent support. In creating a space, parents set boundaries and expectations that regulate exposure, shielding adolescents from some experiences, while allowing them access to others. Parents structure the home environment to makes various coping resources available for adolescents and influence the school system to create an environment that is safe, stable, supportive, and sufficiently challenging. Parents also respond to adolescents’ stressors by offering situation-specific coping assistance. Finally, by preparing and equipping adolescents, parents seek to provide adolescents with coping resources such as knowledge and skills.