Exploring the influences of educational television and parent-child discussions on improving children's racial attitudes

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Simpson, Birgitte Vittrup, 1973-

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Much concern has been voiced about the development of prejudicial beliefs in young children. Previous research indicates that socializing agents such as parents and the media can influence children’s development of positive and negative racial attitudes. Little research has examined how parents can use educational television to introduce discussions about race with their children. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to investigate the influences of educational television and parent-child discussions about race may have on improving White children’s attitudes towards Blacks. Ninety-three White children aged 5-7 years old and their parents participated. Parents’ and children’s racial attitudes were tested during their first visit to a research laboratory. Parents also filled out questionnaires regarding their involvement with their children’s television use and how often they engaged their children in discussions about race. Families were then randomly divided into four groups: (1) a video-only group where parents were asked to screen five educational videos (provided by the researcher) over the course of one week; (2) a video-and-discussion group where in addition to the videos, parents were given a set of topics to discuss with their children during and after the screenings; (3) a discussion-only group, where parents were required to have the discussions with their children without the use of the educational videos; and (4) a control group. All families returned to the laboratory about one week later. At the follow-up visit, children’s racial attitudes were reassessed. Three main hypotheses guided the study: (1) Children’s pre-test attitudes towards Blacks were expected to be influenced by their prior exposure to Black people, as well as their prior conversations with their parents about race, such that children with more exposure were expected to hold more positive attitudes; (2) Children who watched racially diverse programs and discussed the content with their parents were expected to show more positive attitudes towards Blacks when comparing their post-test attitude scores to their pre-test scores; (3) Children in the video-and-discussion and discussiononly groups were expected to be better able to predict their parents’ racial attitudes at post-test, compared to their own pre-test predictions and compared to children who had not had such discussions with their parents. Children who reported having Black friends showed slightly more positive evaluations of Blacks. However, neighborhood diversity was positively correlated with children’s negative evaluations of Blacks. Results revealed that parents in general were very reluctant to discuss the topic of race with their children. Only 33% of mothers and 20% of fathers reported having significant race related discussions. Many parents chose not to have such discussions because they did not want to make a “big deal” out of it, they did not think it was important to talk about, or they did not know how to approach the topic in conversation. Parents’ and children’s racial attitudes were uncorrelated, indicating that children do not automatically adopt their parents’ attitudes. However, children’s perceptions of their parents’ racial attitudes were significantly correlated with their own positive and negative attitudes towards Blacks. It appeared that parents were equally reluctant to talk about race even when specifically instructed to do so. Close to half of parents in the two discussion groups admitted that they only briefly mentioned some of the topics. Only 10% of the parents reported having more in-depth discussions with their children. This likely affected the effectiveness of the intervention, and the children in the experimental groups did not show statistically significant improvements of their racial attitudes following the intervention. Prior to the intervention, many children reported that they did not know if their parents liked Black people or if their parents would approve of them having Black friends. Children who were aware of their parents’ interracial friendships showed more positive and less negative evaluations of Blacks. Furthermore, children in the discussion groups expressed more awareness of their parents’ racial attitudes following the intervention. Implications of the results of this study are discussed.




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