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Latinas, Black Girls Respect, Defer to Moms Most


Latinas and African American girls defer to their mothers more than non-Hispanic white girls do, according to a University of Florida study.

“Within African-American and Latino families, children follow a cultural tradition that places a high value on respecting, obeying and learning from elders, and in our study they did indeed show more respect for parental authority,” said Julia Graber, a UF psychology professor.

The girls’ respect for authority was observed through videotaped interactions with their mothers. Daughters were scored on their listening behaviors when their mothers were speaking: attending to them, acknowledging their mothers’ comments and not interrupting. They also were evaluated for defiant behaviors, such as disobeying their mothers’ requests, being unwilling to cooperate and ignoring their mothers.

When African-American and Latina girls do act up, said Graber, their mothers consider the arguments to be more intense than those reported by white mothers who clash with their daughters. The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Psychology and reported recently by the university.

“In the higher conflict families where mothers and daughters are arguing much more often, there seems to be less productive resolution going on and less learning of those skills,” she said. “Everybody feels mad afterwards, rather than feeling the potential of moving forward.”

Graber said Hispanic and Black mothers, who value strong family connections, family loyalty and extended family/social support networks, seemed to be much more upset if daughters fell short of cultural, good girl expectations.

“It may be just the kind of issue that pushes their buttons more, thinking of their daughter as no longer being the good, respectful daughter,” she said.

“The challenge for African-American and Latina mothers is they are in an environment where their children are potentially getting messages at school, on television and elsewhere about what normal childhood behavior is like that may conflict with their own expectations for these behaviors,” Graber added.

The study differed from other research on mother-daughter conflict that has looked at adolescence. This study examined girls in middle to late childhood, at an average age of 8, Graber said. The teenage years are naturally turbulent times for families, but understanding what happens immediately preceding them sets the stage for a smoother or rockier transition, she said.

Teen conflict is a risk for other behavior-related problems, Graber said.

 “It does seem that when there are higher levels of conflict, those daughters are more likely to have adjustment problems in terms of feeling more depression, sadness, anxiety and those problems,” she said.

The study, which Graber did with Sara Villanueva Dixon, a St. Edward’s University psychology professor, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a Columbia University child development professor, involved 45 African-American, 23 Latina and 65 white girls and their mothers. The girls were recruited through fliers while in the third grade. The girls and their families were from racially integrated, working and middle-class communities in a large metropolitan area.

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