Parental Warmth And Guidance Help Black Teens Succeed In School

November 08, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- New research suggests that parents of academically successful, low-income Black teens assert a great deal of control over their children's lives -- and the children are glad.

The study of 116 11th- and 12th-graders found that 60 percent reported that their parent or parents made controlling demands on a regular basis. But children who reported high levels of parental control also showed higher levels of affection for their parents.

"Rather than resenting parental control, children whose parents offered more guidance in decision-making also feel more affection for their parents," said Barbara Newman, a professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University's College of Human Ecology.

She and her husband Philip Newman, a senior researcher at Ohio State, led a series of four studies examining students who participated in a special college preparation program for academically talented minority youth.

The Ohio State University program, called Young Scholars, began in 1988 and is designed to provide access to college for bright, low-income urban minority students in the state. It is open to students whose parents didn't go to college and who show academic promise.

Results of the studies were presented November 8 in Arlington, Va., at the annual conference of the National Council on Family Relations.

The findings suggest that parents of successful African American teens don't give their children as much independence as do parents of white, middle-class children. But Black parents have found close monitoring is vital in their difficult urban environments.

"Children in these families are exposed to threats and temptations that are often common in disadvantaged neighborhoods," said Philip Newman. "They're exposed to threats like violence and temptations like gangs and drugs. African American families have developed some adaptive solutions to protect children from outside dangers and point them toward academic goals."

But while parents keep close tabs on their children, the studies show they don't do it in a cold, authoritarian manner. Students who were surveyed reported a lot of affection in their households.

"When close monitoring is done with warmth and affection, the teens respond positively and do well academically," said Barbara Newman. "This combination of affection and control is important. If you just have tight supervision and intrusive involvement without warmth, you're going to get rebellion."

The results also showed that students who reported a lot of family closeness had higher levels of self-esteem and were more likely to believe they had the skills and abilities to do well in school.

Students who reported a great deal of independence in decision-making reported more self-esteem, but not higher levels of belief in their academic skills.

"The implication is that giving these African American youth a lot of independence may help their self-esteem, but it won't help them do well in school," Barbara Newman said. "Family closeness had the strongest relationship to academic success."

Other related findings of the studies:

The Newmans said that one of the important contributions of this research was that it examined successful minority youth.

"Researchers haven't studied low-income African Americans who are doing well," Philip Newman said. "Only about one-third of the students in these studies lived in two-parents homes, but they were succeeding. We should be learning from these families who are doing well despite the odds."

The Newmans conducted the research with former graduate students Gloria Watkins-Cannon, Kirk Bloir, and Renda Ross. Watkins-Cannon and Bloir are now on the staff of Ohio State University Extension.

The Young Scholars Program was developed by Ohio State to help encourage more disadvantaged minority students to attend college. Each year, teachers, principals and guidance counselors from selected public school districts in nine Ohio cities nominate sixth-grade students to enter the program.

Young Scholars participate in a variety of academic enrichment programs, including tutoring, educational field trips, and a summer institute on the Ohio State campus. Young Scholars who successfully complete the program, graduate from high school with a 3.0 or better cumulative grade-point average and meet program requirements are guaranteed admittance to Ohio State and provided appropriate funding. More than 1,500 students have been admitted to Young Scholars so far.

Ohio State University

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