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Some Parents More Challenged When Sons Encounter Bias

Some Parents More Challenged When Sons Encounter Bias

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that African-American parents who have had only limited first-hand experience with racial discrimination become less engaged as their sons encounter more racism. These parents are the most involved parents when their sons experience little discrimination. Yet, as their sons' racial discrimination experiences increase, they become less involved than parents of girls and other parents of boys.

The research appeared this month in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Fatima Varner, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences who led the study, notes that, when it comes to racial discrimination and their adolescent children, many African-American parents harbor different worries for their sons versus their daughters. One reason, she suggested, is that many perceive that racial discrimination has more serious consequences on the safety of boys, for example, in deadly encounters with police or other authorities.

The study involved surveying 155 African-American middle- and high-school students and their parents in the Midwest between 2010 and 2014. Some surveys were conducted before and others after the high-profile death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

The researchers were able to measure what changed between parents and their children when sons or daughters encountered racial discrimination. Parents whose style of parenting was characterized as high in involved vigilance – meaning more parent-child discussion, shared problem-solving, consistency in discipline and monitoring of kids' behavior – were unchanged when the child was a girl or when the parent was able to draw on their own experiences with racial discrimination.

However, parents who had experienced only limited discrimination themselves acted less vigilantly, immobilizing as their sons encountered more racial discrimination. Varner hypothesizes that these parents may lack some of the coping strategies of parents with more experiences aligned with what the boys expressed that they had encountered.

But parents' reactions matter, Varner explained. "Supportive parenting is linked to a host of positive outcomes for youth – from academic achievement to better social engagement. Parents have a critical protective role to play against the impact of racial discrimination."