Academic journal article Family Relations

Socializing Positive Emotion: A Qualitative Study of African American Single Mothers and Their Adolescent Youth

Academic journal article Family Relations

Socializing Positive Emotion: A Qualitative Study of African American Single Mothers and Their Adolescent Youth

Article excerpt

Despite the recent proliferation of research exploring emotion socialization (ES) processes in the family, there remain a number of important questions and contexts that merit attention. First, although investigators are increasingly examining ES in samples inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities and diverse family structures (e.g., Morelen, Jacob, Suveg, Jones, & Thomassin, 2013; Nelson, Leerkes, O'Brien, Calkins, & Marcovitch, 2012), the majority of research has been conducted with European Americans (EA) and often two-parent families. Second, investigators have largely focused on how parents teach young children about emotions, with less attention paid to how these processes unfold as youth transition into adolescence (Klimes-Dougan et al., 2007). Third, most studies have examined parent socialization of negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, with little regard to the messages provided by parents about positive emotions (PEs), such as happiness and joy (Fredrickson, 1998; Katz et al., 2014; see Yap, Allen, & Ladouceur, 2008, for a notable exception). Finally, little work has explored variables that may predict or influence parent socialization strategies (except the body of research on parental beliefs), with very little attention paid to parental mental health (see Silk et al., 2011, for an exception).

We designed the current study to address these gaps by exploring socialization of PE in single African American (AA) mothers and their adolescent youth while considering the potential impact of elevated maternal depressive symptoms on ES strategies. Furthermore, the present study augments the primarily quantitative body of work by taking a qualitative stance, with the intention of describing these processes in the participants' voices and adding to the small body of literature on parent socialization of PE (Lunkenheimer, Shields, & Cortina, 2007). In the sections that follow, we review literature foundational to our thesis, namely, that AA mothers respond to youth PE in unique and often intentional ways, highlighting the importance of PE as well as the specific cultural (AA), developmental (adolescence), individual (mental health), and familial (single-mother-headed) contexts in which these socialization messages are conceived and received. Our data build on this prior work and advance it by describing how AA single mothers, some with a history of elevated depressive symptoms, use complementary and seemingly contradictory responses to adolescent youth PE, often sharing and expanding but other times diminishing or teaching lessons.

ES Processes and Outcomes in Diverse Families

Caregivers play a crucial role in the socialization of youth emotion understanding, competence, and regulation (e.g., Eisenberg, Cumberland, & Spinrad, 1998; Halberstadt & Eaton, 2002). Conceptual and empirical models have explored associations between emotion-relevant parenting behaviors (ERPB)-including parental response to child emotional displays, discussion of emotion, and parental emotional expressiveness-and youth emotional and behavioral outcomes such as emotional adjustment, empathy development, and social competence (Eisenberg et al., 1998; see Katz, Maliken, & Stettler, 2012, for a review). Given that the studies that comprise these models were conducted primarily with EA samples, research describing ERPB among other racial/ethnic groups and family structures is of paramount importance.

To amass a literature that is inclusive and representative, attention to specific practices of AA mothers is necessary. Knowledge about family processes within ethnic minority families is needed not only to counterbalance a Eurocentric literature (Hughes et al., 2006), but also to highlight the developmental tasks and processes particular to AA parents and youth. For example, AA youth face unique challenges regarding navigation of the mainstream majority (i.e., discrimination) while also tendering acceptance by the AA community (i. …

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