Summary

Thus far we have outlined components of current research and theory regarding racial/ethnic socialization processes within families. First, we provided an overview of our conceptualization of racial/ ethnic socialization and highlighted that such messages can be communicated through a variety of mechanisms: verbal, nonverbal, deliberate, unintended, proactive, reactive, child initiated or parent initiated or a combination of these. Importantly, we stressed that the complex synergistic nature of racial/ethnic socialization means that researchers must assess the degree to which the messages parents intend to convey to their children are actually conveyed and understood by children. We discussed the importance of assessing the substantive content of racial/ethnic socialization messages as the consequences for children's development seem to depend on the particular ideas about race and ethnicity that messages convey. For example, cultural socialization and preparation for bias appear to have salutary effects on children whereas an overemphasis on racial barriers may undermine children's efficacy and promote maladaptive behaviors.

Guided by the framework previously set out, we return now to a consideration of the extent to which children actually receive the different types of race-related messages that parents believe they are communicating. This particular issue is of concern to us, as we have noted, for a number of reasons. First, only a handful of studies regarding parents' racial or ethnic socialization processes, including those that have focused on relationships between parents' practices and children's outcomes, have included independent reports from parents and their children. Even fewer have attempted to explicitly examine relationships between children's and parents' views of racial/ethnic socialization (see Marshall, 1995 for an exception). This methodological issue, alone, severely limits our knowledge of the ways in which racial/ethnic socialization messages influence children's development and well-being. As with research in any area, relying on a single informant to report both racial/ethnic socialization and any particular outcome of interest leaves open the possibility that respondent characteristics, respondent bias, or an unmeasured third variable accounts for documented relationships. Second, there are theoretical reasons to question the extent to which children accurately hear the messages parents believe they are transmitting about ethnicity or race. It is quite likely that parents find it awkward or difficult to discuss racial issues with their children, opening the door for miscommunication. Moreover, parents are quite likely to be unaware of many of the messages they transmit, because the messages are so subtle. Thus, before we can begin to fully understand the processes of racial/ethnic socialization within families, we need to learn more about what messages parent believe they send to children, what messages parents are willing to report and how children hear and interpret messages about race and ethnicity from their parents.

AN EXPLORATION OF PARENTS' AND CHILDREN'S PERSPECTIVES ON RACIAL/ETHNIC SOCIALIZATION

Processes

In the remainder of the chapter, we present exploratory results from a larger study of ethnic identity in middle childhood which permits us to examine the degree of correspondence between parents' reports of the race-related messages they transmit and children's reports about race related messages they receive. Although far from providing definitive answers, the data permits us to raise questions and address issues that, to a large extent, remain unattended to in the available research literature. We begin by providing basic descriptive information regarding parents' and children's reports of three types of racial/ethnic socialization messages: cultural socialization, egalitarianism, and preparation for bias. Because this study utilized an abbreviated version of the measure described by Hughes and Chen (1997) that we viewed as being appropriate for young children and across multiple ethnic groups, we do not have data pertaining to promotion of mistrust. However, the dimensions of racial/ethnic socialization we include, albeit not exhaustive, have been highlighted as critically important in the available research literature. Next, using both correlational analysis and difference scores, we examine the degree of correspondence between parents' and children's reports of dimensions of racial/ethnic socialization, based on identical measures administered to parents and their children. We examine several potential racial/ethnic socialization mechanisms that would not emerge if we focused solely on parents or children's reports of racial/ethnic socialization—namely, that parents' ethnic behaviors influence children's perceptions of racial/ethnic socialization, independent of parents' racial/ethnic socialization reports; that parents' socialization influences children's ethnic identity independent of children's perceptions of parents' racial/ethnic socialization messages, and that parents' ethnic behaviors are associated with children's ethnic identity independent of racial/ethnic socialization (according to either parents' or children's reports). In addressing these issues, our primary goal is to emphasize the importance of including data from parents as well as children, and of considering the multiple ways in which sole reliance on reports from adults, adolescents, or children alone may result in mis-specified conceptual and empirical models of racial/ethnic socialization processes.

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