Black, Hispanic, and White American Mothers of Adolescents: Construction of a National Standard

By Strom, Robert D.; Strom, Paris S. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Black, Hispanic, and White American Mothers of Adolescents: Construction of a National Standard


Strom, Robert D., Strom, Paris S., Strom, Shirley K., Shen, Yuh-Ling, Beckert, Troy E., Adolescence


Lifestyles that reflect cultural diversity in the United States are perceived as confirmation of the national capacity to accept and encourage differences. Consequently, most researchers examine parenting in the context of subcultures without examining their relationship to practices of the society as a whole (Alba & Nee, 2003). The prevailing assumption is that identification of subcultural attributes can help preserve valued characteristics, ease social integration, and support inter-group harmony. Granting such benefits, the use of a narrow frame of reference does not allow for comparisons with other ethnic groups or nations because data from subcultures are not combined to produce an overall image of the collective society (Farkas, Duffett, & Johnson, 2003).

Experience within a subcultural environment sometimes becomes the normative reference and is accepted without questioning how it contributes to or detracts from success in the larger society. Yet, children in school and adults at the workplace are expected to achieve ethnic integration and increase the appreciation they have for other groups. Looking at the larger picture can often be a more helpful basis for determining progress of subcultures and identifying particular changes that warrant consideration by subgroups (Buki, Ma, Strom, & Strom, 2003). All American subcultures should take seriously the opportunity to create new traditions for their group along with the intention to pass on longstanding customs. To remain viable during a period of rapid change, subcultures will have to identify which traditions that have been conveyed to them should be kept, abandoned or revised. Each generation of adults is obliged to support adjustment so that younger people are well prepared for success in the ever-evolving society (Alba & Nee, 2003).

Respecting Generational Differences

Knowing the history and customs of a subculture may support social identity but does not ensure the self-critical attitude needed to motivate group progress. The assumption that homogeneity within subcultures describes modern society ignores differences in the experience of successive generations. For example, a three-generational study of 777 Black, 672 Hispanic, and 1,086 Caucasian families found significant differences in how each of the generations judged degree of grandparent success (Strom et al., 1997). In a cross-cultural study of 1,200 mothers and adolescents in Japan, and 2,100 mothers and adolescents in the United States, greater differences were detected between the two generations of Japanese and Americans than between cohorts of Japanese and Americans (Strom & Strom, 2002). These findings underscore a need to respect differences in generational viewpoints within cultures by periodic assessment. The longstanding practice of a prominent figure, usually middle aged or older, speaking for an entire subculture can be misleading. As a rule, this means the contrary views that may represent a consensus among younger cohorts tend to be ignored until they become the governing group (Nichols & Good, 2004).Generational dialogue is essential to detect aspects of lifestyle that ought to modify and decide how to bring about change while preserving harmony. To thrive in the future, subcultures will need a healthy balance of group identity, objectivity, and collective self-criticism.

Considerations for Constructing a Standard

Demographic projections to 2050 show that the proportion of Hispanics is expected to double while Blacks record significant increases, and Whites decline (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). There could be some benefit if these population shifts were accompanied by public awareness regarding standards for parenting practices. Standards illuminate the criteria that foster self-evaluation. Formation of a collective standard could enable parents to identify personal strengths and detect learning needs in an interdependent society where everyone has some stake in the education and well-being of all children (Benson, 1997). …

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