The use of observational measures of family functioning has gained increased attention in pediatric psychology research (e.g., Barakat, 2008
). Observing family processes provides an opportunity to examine the dynamic, reciprocal, and transactional characteristics of youth–parent interactions (Kerig, 2001
) independent of the family members’ own perceptions of their behavior (Stoneman & Brody, 1990
). A recent review of evidence-based assessments of family functioning included numerous observational measures (Alderfer et al., 2008
). However, significant variability regarding the strength of these measures’ psychometric properties exists, and most have not been evaluated in both healthy and pediatric populations. The present study provides comprehensive information about the psychometric characteristics of an observational coding system (i.e., the Family Interaction Macro-coding System; FIMS; Holmbeck, Belvedere, Gorey-Ferguson, & Schneider, 1995
) that has been used with families of adolescents with two different types of chronic medical conditions [i.e., spina bifida (SB) and type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM)] as well as with families of healthy youths. This study documents the reliability and validity of the FIMS in assessing key domains of parenting (i.e., parental acceptance, behavioral control, and psychological control) and family functioning (i.e., family cohesion and conflict) among youths and their families.
Parental acceptance, behavioral control, and psychological control have been identified as key parenting behaviors that have clear implications for youths’ psychosocial adjustment (Steinberg, 1990
). Parental acceptance
describes the degree to which parents are supportive of and able to adapt to their children’s needs and desires (Steinberg, 1990
). The extent to which parents set and consistently enforce developmentally appropriate standards for youths’ behavior (Steinberg, 1990
) describes parental behavioral control. Parental psychological control
is an intrusive parental behavior that compromises a child’s individuality and inhibits autonomy development (Steinberg, 1990
). Family cohesion
have been identified as central family processes in theories of adolescent development (Cox, Brooks-Gunn, & Paley, 1999
; Holmbeck, 1996
). Family cohesion
involves “positive, supportive interaction among family members,” (Cox et al., 1999
, p. 322). Family conflict
, which describes parent–adolescent disagreements typically over household responsibilities and privileges, has been posited to be central to transforming parent–adolescent relationships during adolescence (Holmbeck, 1996
The FIMS is a global coding method developed by Holmbeck et al. (1995)
and revised by Holmbeck, Zebracki, Johnson, Belvedere, and Hommeyer (2007)
, which was based on a system developed by Smetana, Yau, Restrepo, and Braeges (1991)
. The system developed by Smetana et al. (1991)
involved rating each family member separately on 16 scales assessing affect and communication, and the family unit was rated on 10 scales (e.g., conflict, power) that resulted in 58 items total. This system was revised by naming each code type (e.g., “confidence in stating opinions”), adding labels to each level of the Likert-scale coding (e.g., 1
“almost not at all”; 5
“very much”), and adding codes based on past literature relevant to the constructs assessed (see manual for list of citations that were influential in developing the new codes). The 2007 version of the FIMS includes 113 separate codes, 36 code types, and an additional seven family systems code types (e.g., “Family is overly close, stuck, over concerned with each other”). Within each code type, ratings are provided for each family member or, in some cases, just for the parent (i.e., mother, father), for the dyad (e.g., mother–youth), or for the family as a whole. Past literature (Cox & Brooks-Gunn, 1999
; Holmbeck et al., 2007
; Steinberg, 1990
) was used to guide the grouping of individual items to represent five constructs: parental acceptance, parental behavioral control, parental psychological control, family cohesion, and family conflict (see for items included in codes).
FIMS Codes with Individual Items
The FIMS has been employed in prior work by Holmbeck and colleagues in a longitudinal study of preadolescents and adolescents with SB. Such work has demonstrated differences in the FIMS scores between youth with SB and typically developing youth (Holmbeck, Coakley, Hommeyer, Shapera, & Westhoven, 2002
; Holmbeck, Shapera, & Hommeyer, 2002
; Holmbeck et al., 2003
), relations between FIMS subscales and other family observation measures (Holmbeck, Johnson et al., 2002
), relations between family conflict and longitudinal trajectories of FIMS subscale scores (Greenley, Holmbeck, & Rose, 2006
), relations between pubertal timing and longitudinal trajectories of FIMS subscale scores (Coakley, Holmbeck, Friedman, Greenley, & Thill, 2002
), and associations between FIMS subscales and child problem-focused coping (McKernon et al., 2001
). Although these findings have made conceptual and empirical contributions to the larger literature on family relations in youths with chronic health conditions, there has been no attempt to evaluate systematically the validity of the FIMS subscales employed in these earlier studies. Moreover, all of these studies have been conducted in a single laboratory. Thus, an additional purpose of this study was to examine the versatility of the FIMS across different chronic health conditions, ages, settings, and research protocols.
described the need to establish the reliability of family coding systems across clinical and nonclinical samples, different socioeconomic groups, different cultural, ethnic, or racial groups, and home and lab settings. Demonstrating the reliability and validity of observational coding systems across pediatric and healthy populations is also important. Moreover, it is unclear whether variability across medical conditions might result in differences in the use of family coding systems with different populations (Alderfer et al., 2008
To establish an evidence base of support for the FIMS, the present manuscript presents reliability and validity data for the FIMS as used with adolescents with two different chronic illnesses as well as with healthy youths and their families. The unique contribution of this manuscript is the systematic reporting of reliability (i.e., rater reliability and internal consistency) and construct validity of the observational scores in three groups (i.e., youths with SB, adolescents with T1DM, and healthy youths), with adolescents of different ages, across two independent laboratories, in different research settings, with different tasks, and with different combinations of parents and youth (i.e., dyads and triads). The aim of the study is to demonstrate how the use of the FIMS can be generalized to different pediatric and healthy adolescent populations.
Construct validity for the FIMS was evaluated by examining associations with self-report questionnaires assessing similar (convergent) constructs. The two studies included in this manuscript were developed independently, and therefore different measures were used to demonstrate convergent validity. In general, it was expected that convergent validity for the FIMS ratings would be evidenced by associations with self-report measures that assessed the same constructs coded with the FIMS. Moreover, several hypotheses were based on the assumption that the FIMS is measuring aspects of the family emotional climate, which is described as “the overall intensity and valence of emotional exchange” (Wood et al., 2008
, p. 23), where both positive and negative aspects of emotional exchanges are relevant.
First, it was hypothesized that FIMS parental acceptance scores would be positively related to parental ratings of acceptance and positive expressiveness and negatively related to negative expressiveness and parenting stress. FIMS parental behavioral control scores were expected to be positively associated with parental ratings of behavioral control. It was hypothesized that FIMS parental psychological control scores would be positively related to parental ratings of psychological control, negative expressiveness, and parenting stress. For the FIMS scores assessing family functioning, FIMS family cohesion scores were expected to be positively associated with parental ratings of family cohesion and positive expressiveness and negatively associated with family conflict and parenting stress. Finally, it was hypothesized that FIMS family conflict scores would be positively related to parental ratings of family conflict, negative expressiveness, and parenting stress and negatively related to family cohesion.