Parenting In Ethnic Minority Families Research Paper

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‘Parenting’ refers to the training or raising of children, focusing on parents’ responsibility to guide children’s development toward behaviors determined as functional in the surrounding culture. Parenting practices are shaped by the contextual circumstances in which the parenting occurs. One such contextual circumstance is ethnic minority status. Ethnic minority status in the USA usually refers to people of color, those with physical characteristics differentiating them from the majority white American. Ethnic minority groups include African Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and American Indians. The implications of ethnic minority status have been influenced greatly by the difficulties such designated groups have experienced in attempting to integrate and assimilate into the mainstream of US society.

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Past conditions of involuntary immigration and slavery, legal discrimination and segregation, exclusion and restrictions, and forced removal and internment to reservations have influenced the attitudes, perceptions, and behavioral patterns of the respective ethnic minorities. Interestingly, it does not matter whether ethnic minority groups were volunteer or forced immigrants or whether they were an indigenous people, their historical struggles of assimilating into US society was qualitatively different from other noncolor ethnic Americans (Ogbu 1981, Wilson 1989). This research paper considers the evolved parenting practices of the four ethnic American groups, focusing on African-American, Chinese-American, Mexican-American, and American Indian practices, illustrating their marked distinction from the dominant culture as well as variations between the ethnic groups.

1. Parenting Behaviors And Minority Families

Historically, past research on parenting has described practices in minority families in terms of their contrast to practices of the majority. In comparisons, dominant cultural norms and values have been used to evaluate the practices of minority parents, deeming them change worthy. Comparing practices of ethnic minorities with those of the majority remains an important topic given the stigma and social implications such comparisons elicit for ethnic minorities in the USA. Closer examination of parenting in each minority group suggests a link between the differing historical experiences of the groups and their evolved parenting practices. Analyses of adolescent adjustment indicate the adaptive nature and functionality of parenting among ethnic minorities.

Two basic parental behaviors, warmth and control, presume to underlie most categories of parenting practices. Baumrind (1991) formed four patterns of parental authority based on differing levels of parental warmth and control. The patterns emerging from Baumrind’s studies were authoritarianism, authoritativeness, permissiveness, and neglectful rejecting. Authoritarian parents displayed high levels of parental control but low levels of warmth. Authoritative parents were high in both parental warmth and control. Permissive parents were highly responsive (i.e., warm) to their children, but did not place many demands (i.e., control) on them (Baumrind 1991). Neglectful rejecting parents were low in both parental control and warmth.

Because authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive parenting represent a central concern of this research paper, additional comments are warranted. Specifically, authoritarian parents are described as using absolute standards in order to shape and control the attitudes and behaviors of their children. They place high regard on such values as respect for authority, hard work, and maintenance of order; simply put, the parents’ word is not to be questioned. Authoritative parents are best described as applying firm parental authority while engaging in and encouraging parent–child interaction with respect to socialization. Further, authoritative parents address their child’s affective needs. Permissive parents do not maintain and enforce clear behavioral expectations but are highly attentive to the child’s affective needs (Baumrind 1991).

Since parenting practices are assumed to be flexible and contextually sensitive to situational demands, comparative claims will not be offered regarding the advantages of any parenting style. Parents presumably incorporate their own beliefs about how the world works into their child-rearing practices. Such beliefs, developed by parental experiences, naturally have some bearing on what parents believe their children are likely to face in their own lives. Hence, a basis of understanding parenting practices is the notion that many contextual differences will shape the childrearing practices. Each parenting style is manifested in attitudinal and behavioral attributes that vary both between different ethnic groups and within ethnic groups.

2. Socialization In African-American Families

Wilson (1989) asserts that an important social context of African-American family development involves the involuntary migration to the Americas followed by a protracted period of African-American enslavement and, after emancipation, segregation and inferior status base on race and struggle for civil rights and political freedom. The African-American family evolved into an extensive familial structure that was based on mutual support and obligation.

Two types of studies have explored the child-rearing practices common to African-Americans. Comparative studies have focused on the differences between African-American child-rearing practices and those common to other ethnic groups (Rickel et al. 1988, Baumrind 1991, Bartz and Levine 1978), whereas within-group approaches focus on the variance in child-rearing practices among African-Americans only (Hill 1995, Kelley et al. 1993, Luster and McAdoo 1994). Much of the comparative research on parenting describes African-American parenting in terms of its relation to the dominant group’s child-rearing practices and ideals (e.g., Baumrind 1991). In contrast, the within-group research has described the diversity of attributes and behaviors within African-American families.

Comparative studies on socialization have generally found African-American parenting styles to be authoritarian and more restrictive than European-American styles (Baumrind 1991, Rickel et al. 1988, Kelley et al. 1993). Also, African-American parents appear to employ gender-specific socialization practices. Specifically, African-American boys are more likely to be expected to act maturely and responsibly than are European-American boys. Parents of African-American girls have been shown to exert high levels of control. African-American fathers discourage infantile behaviors in their daughters. African-American mothers display firm enforcement and rejecting behaviors, and discourage nonconformity in their daughters. Bartz and Levine (1978) examined specific parenting practices in low-income African-American, European-American, and Mexican-American families. African-American parents exercised more control over their child’s behavior, were more likely to press for acceleration of development, were more concerned about their children wasting time, and used supportive behaviors more frequently than European-American and Mexican-American parents. African-American parents also reported doing more to enforce their rules and expectations. Generally, African-American parents value strictness and expect their children to gain a sense of responsibility. They encouraged decision making, expressed loving concern, and closely monitored their children’s behavior to assure goals such as obedience and high achievement (Bartz and Levine 1978).

Within-group ethnic studies generally focus on the specific characteristics that influence the development of a particular parenting style (Kelley et al. 1993). Generally, it has been found that mothers with a higher family income and a greater number of children report using more parental warmth and firm discipline and lower levels of control. In addition, discipline has been shown to correlate negatively to the number of adults in a family (Wilson 1989).

Inasmuch as authoritarian practices appear to be common among African-American families, there are important familial caveats that are related to familial socioeconomic levels, maternal resources, and neighborhood. Namely, older, educated, middle-class, married mothers employed more authoritative practices than do young, single mothers with less education. Conversely, young, single, less educated mothers were more likely to emphasize obedience, use physical punishment, and employ a more parent-oriented approach (Kelley et al. 1993). Also, mothers who perceived their neighborhoods as dangerous were likely to use harsh discipline and authoritarian practices.

In addition, Luster and McAdoo (1994) found that adolescents with the highest level of cognitive competence came from homes with older, more educated and high esteem mothers, a supportive environment, and a small family size. Thus, there is variance of socialization practices among African-American families.

3. Socialization In Chinese-American Families

Research on Chinese-American parenting practices is often described in ways similar to the characteristics of the authoritarian style. However, the child-rearing practices may be the outgrowth of the Chinese philosophy of hsaio, or filial piety, which prescribes Chinese children to fulfill the desires of their parents (Lin and Liu 1993, Kelley and Tseng 1992, Chiu 1987). Devotion to one’s parents takes precedence over other relationships, including one’s obligation to one’s own children (Lin and Liu 1993). Parents are very involved in the training of their children, and hold a definite position of authority over them. Strict discipline is highly valued. Parental control, therefore, is apparent as children learn that their parents are ‘always right’ (Chiu 1987, Kelley and Tseng 1992, Lin and Liu 1993). Kelley and Tseng (1992) examined the child-rearing practices of Chinese-American and European-American mothers. Specifically, they measured use of external threats and punishment, permissiveness, and emphasis on school-related skills, obedience, concern for others, and self-reliance. Chinese-American mothers scored higher than did European-American mothers on ratings of restrictiveness and control (Chiu 1987, Kelley and Tseng 1992).

4. Socialization In Mexican-American Families

Mexican Americans make up the vast majority of Latino peoples living in the USA. Other groups include Central and South Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans. Mexican Americans have been incorporated in US society through military conquest of the Southwest and ambivalent immigration policies that at some times encourage immigration and at other times deports citizens of Mexican decent. Bartz and Levine (1978) found Mexican-American parents to exhibit more authoritative behaviors than African- American parents but less authoritative behaviors than European-American parents. Specifically, Mexican-American parents’ reported levels of firm control and warmth were intermediate between those reported by African-American and European-American parents. In examination of Mexican-American and European-American mothers from low and high socioeconomic status (SES), Cardona et al. (2000) indicated that Mexican-American and higher SES mothers reported using higher levels of discipline and lower levels of nurturing behaviors than did European-American and lower SES mothers. Moreover, higher SES Mexican-American mothers reported more frequent use of discipline than did other mothers. Further, Buriel (1997) found generational patterns in the Mexican-American parents of first-, second-and third-generational children. Parents of first and second-generation children reported authoritative oriented practices whereas the parents of third-generation children reported authoritarian practices. In addition parents of first-and second-generation children reported higher level of parental permissiveness than did the parents of third generation children. Taken together, it would appear that as Mexican-American parents become more acculturated and integrated into US society, they resort to more authoritarian patterns of parenting.

5. Socialization In American Indian Families

Although American Indians are a diverse group making up 450 distinct groups, one common experience shared by the diverse groups is their history of military conflicts with white Americans and forced removal from the ancestral homelands and placement on reservation. American Indian customs place great value on collectivism, natural harmony, humility, and respect for and importance of family. Because the family network is an important part of American Indian life, child rearing is a shared activity among the network. Through valued collectivism and the family support network, the growing child is placed in the protected environment of close relationship with familial kin (Forehand and Kotchick 1996). Several researchers have indicated that specific parenting practices among American Indians appear permissive in that American Indians report using low levels of control or punishment and high levels of warmth (Cross 1986, Red Horse 1997).

6. Socialization Of Children And Adolescents In The Context Of Ethnic Differences

Although research maintains that authoritative parenting produces the most optimal child outcomes (Baumrind 1991), numerous studies suggest that the actual positive effects of authoritative practices are correlated with some specific domains of development only (Steinberg et al. 1995) and are generally more relevant to European-American adolescents than ethnic minority adolescents (Steinberg et al. 1995, Darling and Steinberg 1993).

The differential cultural and contextual experiences of ethnic minority groups are likely to provide an explanation for the differing effects of the authoritarian style on child outcome between ethnic minorities and the majority group. Although authoritarian parenting practices among European-American parents may be viewed as excessively harsh and punitive, and may be indicative of parental rejection and lower level of investment, similar practices among African-Americans may be interpreted as a sign of parental involvement and concern (McLeod et al. 1994). African-American mothers report using authoritarian measures to teach their children about harsh realities in a racist society (McLeod et al. 1994, Hill 1995), for teaching values such as respect, child safety, and school achievement (Kelley et al. 1993), and as a protective measure in high-risk environments (Rickel et al. 1988).

Chao (1994) suggests that Chinese-American parents’ use of authoritarian and restrictive practices are more indicative of parental concern, involvement, and caring than parental hostility and aggression. Authoritarian practices are part and parcel of successful and harmonious family and community life.

7. Concluding Remarks And Future Directions

Several implications of the review on minority families’ socialization practices are evident. First, although the concept of authoritarianism is generally analogous to parental hostility, aggression, and dominance, the common occurrence of authoritarian and restrictive parenting practices in African-American, Chinese-American, and Mexican-American populations are not necessarily associated with such negative parental attributes. Rather, the use of authoritarian procedures has demonstrated functional benefits for ethnic minority Americans. Second, although common among several of the ethnic minority American groups, the authoritarian and restrictive practices evolved from different contextual concerns. For African Americans, the use of authoritarian practices were developed and maintained in response to harsh environmental realities like low-income, inner-city living environments, and hostile discriminatory practices of US society. For Chinese Americans, traditional cultural beliefs and values of filial piety initiated the practices. For Mexican Americans, value of the strong patriarchal presence in families appears to increase the use of authoritarian practices. Interestingly, American Indian socialization practices are typically permissive, while close-kin networks maintain protectiveness. Last, different parenting practices do have different meanings, uses, and benefits for minority and majority children (Chiu 1987, Ogbu 1981). Contending that one method embodies positive outcomes for one group does not imply that another group would or would not benefit from that practice. Parenting practices must be examined carefully from the perspective of the people who employ them and the contexts in which those practices will be employed. In order to understand ethnic minority socialization, it is important to examine applied socialization practices within their particular ecological context.

It is clear that the US population will continue its racial and cultural diversification. Likewise it is acceded that a diverse US population will display different kinds of socialization practices. Contextual aspects of socialization will continue to play a fundamental role in understanding and determining adaptive socialization processes. Thus, socialization practices must be appreciated for their particular situational meaning, significance, and consequence. Rather than presume peremptory negative and positive connotations of authoritative and authoritarian parenting practices, the merits of each style should be judged according to its contextual contingencies and influence on adolescent adjustment. Also, it is important that we view socialization practices from a cultural perspective. An understanding of the interacting mechanism of culture, family, and socialization may lead to an appreciation of the familial complexities experienced by various ethnic groups. Furthermore, understanding the links between ethnic minority status, socialization practices, and child outcomes may foster appropriately directed family interventions.


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