Social Capital: Strengthening Mexican-American Families through Parenting Education

By Montañez, Marcel; Devall, Esther et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Capital: Strengthening Mexican-American Families through Parenting Education


Montañez, Marcel, Devall, Esther, VanLeeuwen, Dawn M., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Development of social capital was explored from a scientific evaluation of adult and teen parents (N = 102) who voluntarily participated in a parenting program. Most were unmarried, young, low-income, and Mexican-American. A strengths-based, culturally specific method was utilized to recruit and retain participants. After training, parents had significantly greater empathy, decreased belief in corporal punishment, fewer inappropriate expectations of children, less reversal of parent-child roles, and increased knowledge of positive discipline techniques. Developing social capital in communities and focusing on relational social capital optimizes the potential for increasing parenting knowledge and skills in Hispanic families.

Social capital can be a useful theoretical basis for understanding how to work with at-risk communities to increase their capacities across a range of family issues. Social capital has been described with an emphasis on resources linked to a network of individuals who have membership in a group (Bourdieu, 1986). In this view, social capital is an asset, the value of which is determined by the size of the network and the volume of the capital (Bhandari & Yasunobu, 2009). Social capital also has been defined with an emphasis on the relationships among members of the networks (Coleman, 1990) and marked by reciprocity, information channels and flow of information, and norms enforced by sanctions (Bhandari & Yasunobu, 2009; Putnam, 1993).

In this study, the authors stress the importance of these definitions of social capital and demonstrate how incorporating each into parenting programs leads to greater knowledge of parenting and improved parenting skills of participants. The working definition of social capital in this study has two components. First, capital refers to commodities such as community access to expert resources and knowledge - the parenting classes as a community commodity or asset. Second, the concept of social capital incorporates the value of the relationships that exists among members of the family systems and members of larger social networks.

Mexican American Culture

In this study, the parenting intervention program was tailored to complement the normative roles and characteristics of Mexican American families. Although several aspects of Mexican-American culture are assets, the intervention focused on sociocentrism, familismo, and compadrazgo.

Mexican-Americans are sociocentric: their interdependence, social relationships, and the understanding of behaviors are largely dependent on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). When social pressures promote positive outcomes, sociocentrism is considered a cultural asset or social capital.

Familismo, a strong family orientation, has been shown to be significantly greater in Mexican Americans than in European Americans. The strong family orientation is important in determining child and parenting outcomes because parents with a high degree of familismo may see family as an extension of the self (Vega, 1990). A bond between a primary caregiver and a child is strong even without considering familismo. However, familismo includes psychological, emotional, and social constructs beyond love. High levels of familismo lead to increased amounts of contact among extended family members.

To this end, the custom of having padrinos is strong and has been referred to as compadrazgo (Vidal, 1988). In the context of parenting, padrinos are non-biological godparents or honorary parents who play a role in child development. The parenting education intervention utilized this concept. Parenting instructors developed a relationship with parents essentially as padrinos to the parents and children. Such supportive social networks may be helpful in reducing stress, acting as buffers against threatening events, providing emotional support, and ultimately helping to increase parenting knowledge and beliefs (Osofsky & Thompson, 2000).

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