European American racial socialization : the influence of mothers' behaviors and beliefs on young children's racial attitudes
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Although psychologists and sociologists have studied the origin and nature of European American children’s racial biases for decades, relatively little is known about the role of European American families in shaping their young children’s understanding of and attitudes about race. The primary goal of the current study was to examine European American mothers’ approaches to race-related issues with their children, with particular interest in exploring the ways mothers may influence their young children’s racial attitudes. I explored these questions by completing a multi-method study of 84 European American mothers and their four- to five-year-old children. Mothers read two books with race-related themes out loud to their children and then completed surveys concerning their race-related attitudes and behaviors while their children worked with a researcher to complete measures of cognitive skills and racial attitudes. Results indicated that European American mothers provide few race-related messages to their preschool-aged children. Specifically, mothers’ self-reports of their racial socialization strategies and their behaviors during the book reading session indicated that they are reluctant to discuss race explicitly. Furthermore, neither mother’s self-reported racial socialization strategies nor their behavior in the lab predicted their children’s racial attitudes. Instead, children’s racial attitudes were related to their mothers’ friendships. Those children whose mothers had a higher percentage of non-European Americans friends showed lower levels of racial biases than those children whose mothers had a lower percentage of non-European American friends. This study suggests that children’s racial attitudes are unaffected by mothers’ vague messages about diversity; instead, it seems that mothers need to engage in intimate, cross-race relations and send explicit, frequent race-related messages if they hope to influence their children’s racial attitudes.
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