Parental Characteristics, Ecological Factors, and the Academic Achievement of African American Males

By Hines, Erik M.; Holcomb-McCoy, Cheryl | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Parental Characteristics, Ecological Factors, and the Academic Achievement of African American Males


Hines, Erik M., Holcomb-McCoy, Cheryl, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


African American males, in general, are in a dire situation in the United States (Noguera, 2003; N. Williams, 2006). According to a 2006 New York Times article, Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard University experts agree that the rapidly increasing population of poorly educated African American men is "becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society" (Eckholm, 2006, p. 1). National statistics and studies have indicated that African American males are overrepresented in juvenile detention centers and prisons (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006), overrepresented in special education classes (Garibaldi, 2009), underrepresented in secondary school honors and advanced courses (Whiting & Ford, 2009), underrepresented on college campuses (Toldson, Braithwaite, & Rentie, 2009), and consistently reported as academically underachieving in today's schools (Entwistle, Alexander, & Olson, 2004; Mandara, 2006). In addition, the Schott Foundation for Public Education (2011), a national organization that monitors the progress of African American males, reported that only 47% of African American males graduate from high school and that "Black males are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy, and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups" (Schott Foundation for Public Education, 2008, p. 3).

Given the aforementioned statistics, researchers--particularly those specializing in human services--have attempted to understand which environmental and family functioning factors mediate or protect African American males from these negative outcomes. Research and theory suggest that parenting is an important determinant of behavior among adolescents in general (e.g., Spera, 2005) and among young African American males in particular (Mincy, 2006). Poor parental supervision and monitoring, inconsistent disciplinary practices, and infrequent parent-adolescent communication have all been linked to negative behavioral outcomes among adolescents (e.g., Clark & Shields, 1997). Moreover, 43% of African American families are composed of single mother households as opposed to 12% of non-African American families (McKinnon, 2003). Also, 48% of African American families are married couple families compared with 82% of non-African American families (McKinnon, 2003). However, relatively few studies have investigated the effects of parental, family functioning, and environmental factors on the academic achievement of African American male adolescents. As part of his ecological theory, Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1986) posited that family/parental factors have the ability to protect against negative peer influences, implying a moderating role of family and peer variables. Other researchers have proposed more specific theoretical models of parenting styles and their influences on child behavior (e.g., Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Wentzel, Feldman, & Weinberger, 1991).

Maccoby and Martin (1983) developed an influential parenting typology that elaborated on the work of Baumrind (1971) and defined parenting as having a two-dimensional framework: parental demandingness (control and restrictiveness) and responsiveness (warmth and noncoerciveness). Based on these two dimensions, four parenting styles were delineated: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive/indulgent, and neglectful/ uninvolved. Each of these parenting styles reflects different patterns of parental values, practices, and behaviors, along with a distinct balance of responsiveness and demandingness. For instance, authoritarian parents are highly demanding and directive, but not responsive. Authoritarian parents believe that they have absolute control over their child's life and that the child should be totally submissive to parent demands. Moreover, authoritarian parents tend to have high regard for order and expect their children to conform to their rules. …

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