College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The aims of the current study were to identify natural patterns of environmental risk conditions and parenting practices in African American families, assess the similarities and differences between the parenting patterns and mainstream parenting types, clarify the efficacy of each parenting pattern in reducing risk and promoting adolescent adjustment, consider key variables that may influence these processes, and thereby advance understanding of African American child rearing in social-ecological context. A case-centered approach featuring cluster analysis was utilized to permit exploration of multiple child rearing behaviors across the dimensions of parental warmth and control and to afford examination of multiple combinations of these parenting variables along with indicators of maternal distress and adolescent exposure to economic hardship and community violence. This approach enabled investigation of the natural occurrences of these factors among families facilitated consideration of how these configurations may holistically provide vulnerability or protection to adolescents.

Cluster analyses revealed two types of families. The first type, Competent families, was exposed to moderately high levels of community violence and featured very low maternal distress and moderately high levels of functioning across the warmth and control dimensions of parenting. The second type, Struggling families, was exposed to higher levels of community violence and displayed higher maternal distress and lower functioning across all of the parenting practices. Both types of families experienced moderate to high levels of economic hardship. Competent and Struggling families appeared similar to prototypical authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles respectively in many ways but also differed from these mainstream types in key areas. While the parenting pattern of Competent mothers appears similar to the authoritative type in terms of high levels of parental warmth and indirect-external control practices and low levels of punitive discipline, they diverge from the authoritative style in their moderate encouragement of adolescent independence and moderate use of inductive reasoning. Whereas the parenting pattern of Struggling mothers is reminiscent of the authoritarian style in terms of moderately high parental influence and low levels of parental warmth and indirect control practices, they vary from the authoritarian type in their low levels of parent hostility and harsh discipline. While the distinctions from the authoritative type that are demonstrated by Competent mothers appears to be related to adaptations that are necessary in high risk environments, the similarities to the authoritarian type that are displayed by Struggling mothers seem to derive from the adverse effects of ecological risk exposure.

Evaluation of the efficacy of the two parenting patterns indicates that the Competent pattern may be optimal for raising adolescents in the context of economic adversity and high levels of community violence. Adolescents from Competent families displayed lower levels of combined externalizing and internalizing problems than their counterparts from Struggling families. However, when these forms of adolescent adjustment were considered separately, adolescents from Competent families demonstrated lower externalizing problems but the two groups of adolescents did not differ in internalizing symptoms. While the difference in externalizing problems between Competent and Struggling adolescents appears to be explained by resilience and high quality parenting demonstrated by Competent mothers, which appears to be effective in both reducing their adolescents' exposure to violence and facilitating healthy adjustment in the after math of exposure, the unexpectedly low level of internalizing symptoms displayed by Struggling adolescents may be a result of desensitization or denial resulting from heightened exposure to violence and the ineffectiveness of parenting resources to reduce or mitigate the effects of risk exposure. The knowledge generated from this research will not only increase understanding of African American parenting in social and cultural context but will inform the development and improvement of interventions and public policy designed to promote the well-being of families and children exposed to harsh conditions in urban environments.