Written by Serie McDougal
Are there certain family and environmental experiences during childhood that effect Black men’s romantic relationships as adults? This topics sparks curiosity for many reasons, including, but certainly not limited to both positive and negative relationship experiences, marriage rates, and divorce rates. A brand new study has been published by Kogan, Yu & Brown (2016). They investigated the effects of childhood family and socio-environmental factors on the relationship commitment behavior of adult African American males. They used data from a panel study which interviewed 315 African American male youth, in addition to their primary care givers and 5th grade teachers. The males were interviewed from age 11 to 21. The researchers hypothesized that poor social environmental contexts such as poverty, would lead to harsh parenting, which would then lead to anger and poor emotional regulation among the Black male youth. Finally, this anger would lead to poor relationship commitment behavior.
What They Found
Kogan, Yu & Brown (2016) found that parents who were unemployed, low income, and single-parent headed, were more likely to include hitting, slapping, and shouting in their disciplinary strategies. The young males who experienced more of this kind of parenting were more likely to report anger in their mid-adolescence (13-15 years old). Anger was a key factor linking harsh parenting and commitment behavior. Those who experienced more anger were less likely to have supportive, committed, and secure quality romantic relationships.
If anger is the key element, then where does it come from? It is important to note that in this study, for young men who reported more experiences with racism, harsh parenting was more likely to lead to anger. For those who reported little experience with racism, harsh parenting didn’t lead to mid adolescent anger.
Based on the findings of studies like this one, it is important to provide youth with supportive environments and programs that help them to psychologically process and socially resist racism. Moreover, Kogan, Yu & Brown (2016) suggests that social programs that target parenting practices, by encouraging nurturing disciplinary approaches. They also raise the issue of the importance of racial socialization, or teaching Black youth what it means to be Black, knowledge about the history and cultures of Black people, and preparation for racial experiences.
What to Make of the Study
This study was conducted on a disproportionately poor sample. Harsh parenting might be less prevalent among a sample that was more representative of the Black community. Moreover, 21 years of age, the age at which this last phase of data was collected, is not quite adulthood, but what the researchers refer to as “emerging adulthood”. Because of this, there is likely to be a fair amount of maturation in the men’s relationship skills that would still be developing.
Give the importance of racism in this study for young Black males in mid adolescence, it is likely to be a factor for their caregivers as well. However, based on the data collected we don’t know much about how racism effected the parents. Future research would be enriched by looking at the effects of racial discrimination on parenting. Lastly, the study is clearly geared toward identifying or predicting negative outcomes. More diverse samples in future studies might help research in this area move away from the risk factor orientation that guides much of the current research on Black males. Ultimately, this study raises some very important issues about racism and its amplification of stress on the relationships between Black people that must be mitigated to enhance the Black world.
Kogan, S., Yu, T. & Brown, G. (2016). Romantic relationship commitment behavior among emerging adult African American men. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(4), 996-1012.