Certain parental messages to Black teens might preemptively dampen the emotional fallout from discrimination

Parental messages about racism can help buffer Black teens against the psychological consequences of experiencing everyday discrimination, according to new research published in Child Development. The study provides new insight into how different messages about race can have impacts on children.

“I am interested in this topic because I care about the well-being and psychological health of Black adolescents. The many changes and challenges that adolescents go through is hard enough; but in addition to the developmental challenges that all adolescents go through, Black adolescents and other adolescents of color are faced with racial discrimination in their everyday lives,” said study author Bridget Cheeks, an assistant professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“The racial discrimination experiences that I examined in the study include interpersonal experiences from adolescents’ peers or from adults in public spaces. However, we know that adolescents also experience racial discrimination in ways that are much more ambiguous like racial microaggressions, in systematic institutional ways, and also vicariously.”

“We are continuing to witness the killings of unarmed Black people all around the country by police officers and others. Our youth are also seeing this as these videos are widely shared on social media platforms. I am interested in how parents can help their adolescents cope emotionally if they experience racial discrimination and how parents can best prepare adolescents so that they can be as safe and emotionally protected as possible,” Cheeks said.

In the study, 164 African American adolescents (ages 12 to 18) completed an online survey every night for 21 consecutive days. As expected, on days when the participants reported experiencing racial discrimination, they also tended to report more negative emotions. “On days when parents gave adolescents messages that emphasized the adolescents’ self-worth, adolescents were more likely to experience more positive emotions on that same day,” Cheeks told PsyPost.

The researchers found that the Black adolescents reported receiving messages emphasizing their self-worth and messages about racial pride more frequently than messages about racism against Black people. These three different racial socialization messages predicted differing emotional responses to experiencing discrimination.

“Importantly, when adolescents experienced racial discrimination, if their parent gave them messages teaching them about the existence of racial discrimination against Black people on the day prior, adolescents were emotionally protected and did not experience as negative emotions compared to adolescents who experienced discrimination but did not get those teachings from the parent on the day prior to the discrimination experience,” Cheeks explained.

In contrast, Black adolescents tended to report experiencing more negative emotions on days they experienced racial discrimination if they had received a racial pride message from a parent on the previous day.

The findings highlight the importance of Black parents talking to their children about racial discrimination and similar issues.

“We know that talking to youth about discrimination can be very difficult conversations for parents to have as they are also coping with their own experiences and witnessing horrific events around the country. I am interested in helping parents, educators, and others who care for adolescents understand how the different messages about race (racial socialization messages) impact youth’s emotions, particularly when they experience racial discrimination,” Cheeks said.

“I have the ultimate goals of 1) understanding what the daily racial discrimination and parental racial socialization experiences of Black youth today are, 2) understanding how various messages can help teach youth about what racial discrimination and racism are while simultaneously instilling in them racial pride and feelings of self-worth, and 3) understanding what the most helpful messages parents can give to youth are that helps to protect youth from the negative psychological consequences of experiencing racial discrimination.”

The study examined Black adolescents from three different school districts, which varied in their level of racial and socioeconomic diversity. But all three districts were in a single Midwestern state.

“To my knowledge, this is the first study examining both the daily racial discrimination and racial socialization experiences of Black youth. There needs to be more research using daily diary methods to capture the daily experiences of Black youth from different environments to see if findings can be replicated or if there are unique patterns among particular Black youth,” Cheeks said.

The study, “A Daily Examination of African American Adolescents’ Racial Discrimination, Parental Racial Socialization, and Psychological Affect“, was authored by Bridget L. Cheeks, Tabbye M. Chavous, and Robert M. Sellers.

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