Race Socialization and Parenting Styles

Published date01 October 2016
Date01 October 2016
Subject MatterArticles
YVJ581390 448..467 Article
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2016, Vol. 14(4) 448-467
Race Socialization and
ª The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permission:
Parenting Styles: Links to
DOI: 10.1177/1541204015581390
Delinquency for African
American and White
Frank S. Pezzella1, Terence P. Thornberry2, and Carolyn A. Smith3
This study investigated differences in the use of authoritarian parenting (AP), a race socialization
practice among high-risk African American parents and compared it to authoritative parenting (ATP)
a style found efficacious for White adolescents. Data from the Rochester Youth Development Study
are used inclusive of African American (n ¼ 413) and White (n ¼ 114) adolescents. Risk for
delinquency is measured by six factors. ATP includes parental responsiveness and monitoring, and
AP added restrictive parental control. Multivariate regression models were used to assess main
and interaction effects of the parenting styles with cumulative risk. Findings indicated ATP is a
racially and class invariant child rearing style that reduces delinquency.
race socialization, authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting, protective factors
The plight of urban poor African American male adolescents and their disproportionately high risks
for delinquency and violence has been well documented (Freidman, Granick, Bransfield, &
Kreisher, 1995; Glazer & Moynihan, 1963; Kunjufu, 1985; McNulty & Bellair, 2003; Myers,
Taylor, Alvy, Arrington, & Richardson, 1992; Ogbu, 1988). The life experience of urban African
American adolescents is likely to include residence in socially disorganized neighborhoods charac-
terized by substandard housing, underachieving schools, and overburdened health care systems
(Myers et al., 1992; Nettles & Pleck, 1996; Taylor, 1991). Indeed, poverty, school failure, teen preg-
nancy, and isolation from mainstream networks and opportunities have become normative within the
life experiences of urban African American adolescents.
1 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY, USA
2 University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
3 University at Albany, Albany, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Frank S. Pezzella, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 445 W. 59 Street, North Hall, New York, NY 10019, USA.
Email: Fpezzella@jjay.cuny.edu

Pezzella et al.
The consequences of exposure to the range of risk factors within African American communities
are evident in the racial composition of arrest and incarceration rates. In a recent study of self-
reported encounters with police, Brame, Bushway, Paternoster, and Turner (2014) reported that
by the age of 18 nearly 30% of all African American adolescents experienced their first arrest;
by the age of 23, nearly 50% of African American adolescents experienced an arrest. Contributing
to this are frequent ‘‘stop and frisk’’ police strategies that target African American males (Tonry,
2011). In a study of race and mass incarceration, Alexander (2010) found that African Americans
were severely overrepresented in the nation’s prisons.
Arguably, the legacy of racism and its consequences makes a major contribution to African
American adolescent offending behavior. Therefore, efforts to reduce African American adolescent
offending will require modifying the effects of racism on development and thus the behaviors of
African American adolescents. Many African American adolescents, of course, do not go on to com-
mit offenses and there are several studies that examined the critical role that parents play in protect-
ing children against threatening environments. We contribute to that literature by examining how
authoritarian parenting (AP), as an element of racial socialization, will modify the effects of
high-risk environments generated by racism on African American adolescent offending behaviors.
To test this hypothesis, the effects of AP on delinquency are examined in a sample of high- and low-
risk African American and White adolescents and contrasted with the impact of authoritative parent-
ing (ATP).
Racism and Race Socialization
Studies of racism have found many negative consequences that impact the lives of African American
people socially, economically, and psychologically (Blake & Darling, 2000; Peters, 1988a, 1988b;
Utsey, 1998). However, the deleterious effects of racism affects African American adolescents at a
critical phase in their lives and its toxic effects have severe developmental and social consequences
(Anderson, 1999; Barbarin, 1993; Safyer, 1994; Wilson, 1987, 1996) that ultimately begin a trail
toward encounters with the criminal justice system. This trail begins with the development of
oppositional social identities, followed by assimilation of street codes and subsequently the emer-
gence of irreversible antisocial behavior (Anderson, 1999; Boykins & Toms, 1988; Clark, 1991;
DeGruy-Leary, Brennan, & Briggs, 2005; Ford, 1994; Grier & Cobb, 1992; Miller, 1999; Ogbu,
1988; Stevenson, Reed, Bodison, & Bishop, 1997; Wilson, 1996). Ford (1994) found that fear and
anger toward racism preceded the formation of oppositional social identities and lead to the attain-
ment of ineffective coping and subsequent poor school performance. Brookins (1996) studied a sam-
ple of inner-city youth and found that adaptations to social, economic, and political oppression lead
to social consequences including teen pregnancy, school failure, and gang membership. Wilson
(1996) found that early oppositional value assimilation and adverse social identity preceded preoc-
cupation with obtaining respect and willingness to engage in violence if respect was withheld.
It is in this context that African American parents face the daunting tasks of adopting a child rear-
ing strategy that protects their children from the social and psychological consequences of racism.
To this end, contemporary scholars suggest preparing African American adolescents for the inevi-
table encounters with racism (Burt, Simons, & Gibbons, 2012; Unnever & Gabbidon, 2011). How-
ever, race socialization as a parental strategy is not a new concept. Decades ago, Billingsley (1968,
p. 28) noted the challenge to black families:
For the Negro family, socialization is doubly challenging, for the family must teach its young members
not only how to be human, but how to be black in a White society. The requirements are not the same.
Negro families must teach their children very early in life, sometimes as early as two years of age, the
meaning of being black.

Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 14(4)
Historically, race socialization has been implemented as a proactive socialization process adopted
by African American parents to build self-confidence, self-esteem, and a cultural identity capable
of neutralizing the effects of racism (DeAnda, 1984; Hale, 1991; Hughes & Chen 1997; Hughes and
colleagues, 2006). African American parents who socialize their children to the issues of race endea-
vor to help children understand the meaning of their race within the larger sociopolitical structure. At
its core, race socialization includes candid parent–child communication that competencies to navi-
gate a hostile environment will have to be developed (Brown & Gary, 1991; Miller, 1999; Steven-
son, 1994; Unnever & Gabbidon, 2011). Specific race socialization strategies include raising
cognition of African American cultural heritage, traditions, and discussions of strategies to navigate
around adverse social policies (Brown & Tylka, 2011; Burt et al., 2012; Stevenson, 1994). Tradition-
ally, within the context of elevated risk, African American parents use AP strategies to protect chil-
dren from adverse developmental and social outcomes, including admission into the criminal justice
system (Unnever & Gabbidon, 2011). It is the latter notion, which is only part of the broader notion
of race socialization, that is examined here.
Risks, Resilience, and Protective Factors
We hypothesize that AP may serve as a race socialization protective factor that modifies the rela-
tionship between risk and offending behaviors for African American youth. The origin of this con-
ceptual approach is located in epidemiological research that studies successful developmental
outcomes in the presence of elevated risks (Garmezy, 1990, 1996; Pellegrini, 1990; Rutter, 1983;
Smith, Lizotte, Thornberry, & Krohn 1995). Essentially, research on the efficacy of protective fac-
tors illuminates numerous reports of intervening factors that alter paths toward negative outcomes.
For instance, Michael Rutter’s (1979) seminal epidemiological study of psychiatric resilience
detected competent mental functioning in high-risk schizophrenic offspring as the product of factors
that modified negative response to environmental hazards. He found the presence of a warm and
affectionate relationship with the remaining functioning parent an important modifying protective
factor. Similarly, Garmezy (1991) investigated resilience in a high-risk urban sample of African
American children exposed to poverty and prejudice. He reported dispositional characteristics, fam-
ily cohesion and warmth, and supportive role models as protective factors that distinguished resilient
adolescents. Emmy Werner’s (1989) comprehensive interdisciplinary investigation of a 30-year-old
birth cohort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai discovered protective factors that separated competent
from incompetent functioning among high-risk youths. These included social and personal compe-
tence, academic achievement, and,...

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