Maternal respect stronger among African-American and Latina girls
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Young African-American and Latina girls treat their mothers with greater deference than do whites but their mothers take it harder when tempers flare, according to a new University of Florida study.
“Within African-American and Latino families, children follow a cultural tradition that places a high value on respecting, obeying and learning from elders, and in our study they did indeed show more respect for parental authority,” said Julia Graber, a UF psychology professor.
However, when African-American and Latina girls do act up, their mothers consider the arguments more intense than those reported by white mothers who clash with their daughters, said Graber, whose study is published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
Hispanic and black mothers, who value strong family connections, a deep sense of family loyalty and the importance of extended family and social support networks, seemed to be much more upset if daughters fell short of cultural, good girl expectations, Graber said. “It may be just the kind of issue that pushes their buttons more, thinking of their daughter as no longer being the good, respectful daughter,” she said.
For all girls, discipline was the only factor that influenced how much conflict they perceived in the relationship. The stricter and harsher mothers were, the less conflict their daughters reported, Graber said. However, as girls get older, stricter discipline may lead to greater conflict if girls try to disagree, she said.
The study differs from other research on mother-daughter conflict in that instead of looking at adolescence, it examines girls in middle to late childhood, at an average age of 8½, Graber said. The teenage years are naturally turbulent times for families, but understanding what happens immediately preceding them sets the stage for a smoother or rockier transition, she said.
Teen conflict is a risk for other behavior-related problems, Graber said. “It does seem that when there are higher levels of conflict, those daughters are more likely to have adjustment problems in terms of feeling more depression, sadness, anxiety and those problems,” she said.
The intensity of the conflicts aside, the study found that mothers’ and daughters’ reports of the frequency of conflict were similar, Graber said. The study, which Graber did with Sara Villanueva Dixon, a St. Edward’s University psychology professor, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a Columbia University child development professor, involved 45 African-American, 23 Latina and 65 white girls recruited through fliers while in the third grade and their mothers. The girls and their families were from racially integrated, working and middle-class communities in a large metropolitan area.
The girls’ respect for authority was observed during a series of videotaped interactions with their mothers. Daughters were scored on their listening behaviors, which included attending to their mothers when their mothers were speaking, acknowledging their mothers’ comments and not interrupting their mothers. They also were evaluated for defiant behaviors, such as disobeying their mothers’ requests, being unwilling to cooperate with their mothers and ignoring their mothers during the interaction.
Not only do children need to be more aware of the expectations their parents have for them, but mothers may also want to reassess their feelings about particular issues, she said.
“The challenge for African-American and Latina mothers is they are in an environment where their children are potentially getting messages at school, on television and elsewhere about what normal childhood behavior is like that may conflict with their own expectations for these behaviors,” Graber said.
“In the higher conflict families where mothers and daughters are arguing much more often there seems to be less productive resolution going on and less learning of those skills,” she said. “Everybody feels mad afterwards rather than feeling the potential of moving forward.”
“This is a fascinating study that enhances our understanding of ethnic and racial differences in parent-child relationships,” said Judi Smetana, a University of Rochester psychologist. “One of its strengths is that it examines in a very careful and detailed way how different cultural values are expressed in mother-daughter interactions and how those values influence the quality of family relationships.”