Incarcerated mothers can reduce children’s risky behaviors with communication

By Charles David Henry

Many incarcerated mothers can help prevent risky behavior in their adolescent children by how they communicate with them.

Separation may be linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression, a study published by the Johns Hopkins University Press revealed. 

The U.S. ranks first in the world in the incarceration of women.  Approximately, 60 percent lived with their children prior to incarceration. One-third of these mothers reported having more than one child. Over half of these children are between the ages of 10 and 17.

Many of the children placed with caregivers have experienced past trauma as a condition of their living situations and their mothers’ incarceration. Lack of contact with their mothers causes feelings of alienation, thus contributing to psychological distress.

“I really do want that time that we used to have before she left,” one teenager said, in the study. “And sometimes it makes me angry that she did. . . and that she did the things that she did to leave cause I would say to myself, Why did she have to do that? Why is she in there now?  It’s hard, cause we can’t see her. I mean, I watch these movies sometimes, and I see all these kids seeing their moms and dads, and sometimes I get upset.”

Many issues raised in the study were concerns about the children’s behavior, education and future plans. Mothers reportedly were very interested in the lives of their children and often participated in disciplining them along with caregivers when allowed to do so.

“When we talk, it’s like we are having a conversation. It’s like she ask about how I’m doing,” said a young male. “And what’s new and stuff like that. And I ask her about some of the friends she got in jail and stuff.”

Many conversations with their mothers cover a variety of topics, including sports, school, boyfriends/ girlfriends, daily life occurrences, and the mother’s expected release date.

Mothers were still seen as disciplinarians. One female caregiver described how the mother, although incarcerated, still had influence over her son’s behavior.

“She is still parenting from there, because I have to tell her a lot of times about his attitude…She kind of had that same attitude. So, I guess that’s where he got it from.

“Like, ‘You need to talk to him about this.’ So she talks to him, and it actually calms him down, even though she’s incarcerated. He does get better with it,” added the care giver.

Some of the child-mother relationships were described as close and others as chaotic. Most of the children described close relationships with their mothers. After incarceration, many recognized their mother’s mistakes, expressed disappointment and anger about her poor decisions. “In spite of this, most youth respected their mothers and desired close relationships with them,” the study revealed.


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