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Mary Sedrak, Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D., Frank Golom, Ph.D., Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.

Investigating Parenting Perspectives and Experiences of African Americans Living in Low-Income, Urban Centers

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Cross-cultural research identifies parenting as an imperative process by which children are socialized into the world in which they will become productive and independent members (LeVine, 1988). There is a robust literature indicating that parenting is related to a range of developmental outcomes, including children’s mental and emotional well-being and academic success (e.g., Graue, Clements, Reynolds, & Niles 2004). Parenting is informed by its social, cultural, and economic context (Ogbu, 1981), meaning that the goals of parenting and the strategies implemented to meet those goals depend on the social, cultural, and economic environment within which the families live. As the United States grows more culturally diverse and the field of psychology seeks to recognize the unique experiences and perspectives of sociocultural groups, it becomes necessary to analyze parenting within the context of the family’s environment so that efforts to support parents may take contextual factors into account.

Research with African-American parents in low-income, urban environments identify five main goals for parenting: meeting basic needs, ensuring safety, promoting educational success, passing along values, and fostering dual socialization (e.g., Brodsky & Devet, 2000). Parents employ several strategies to meet those goals, including monitoring, developing a strong parent-child relationship, discipline, and verbal instruction (e.g., Brodsky & DeVet, 2002). Parents also encounter various challenges to childrearing, including intrapersonal stressors, such as parental or child psychopathology, behavior, or temperament, and interpersonal complications within the familial constellation (e.g., Belsky & Jaffee, 2006). Parents raising children in low-income, urban settings face additional challenges stemming from the environments in which neighborhoods are situated as well as more global and systemic issues associated with socioeconomic status and race. These stressors include lack of financial resources and limited options for housing and schools (e.g., Barajas-Gonzalez & Brooks-Gunn, 2014). These stressors not only potentially increase the risk that children will experience negative physical, educational, and mental health outcomes, but they also may negatively impact parenting (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997).

To gain a better understanding of childrearing in low-income, urban neighborhoods in order to better support parents in their childrearing efforts, it is important to first identify how effective parenting is defined, experienced, and supported within these communities. A contextualized understanding of parenting goals and the strategies parents employ to meet them, as well as the stressors parents face in implementing those strategies and the resources they use to facilitate their efforts, can inform the development and delivery of resources that serve and support parents and promote optimal child development in economically disadvantaged contexts (e.g., Danforth, Harvey, Ulaszek, & McKee, 2006).

This study will use qualitative methodology within an action research, organizational development framework to explore the parenting goals, practices, challenges, and resources of African-American parents living within socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in Baltimore, Maryland.  The goal of the proposed project is to draw conclusions about the needs of parents based on a comparison of literature reviewed and the data collected. The project also aims to provide recommendations for providers seeking to offer services that support parents from similar communities in their parenting efforts.

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