What’s at stake?
Beginning at a young age, boys and young men of color are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated, and receive lower-quality employment. Researchers and practitioners have sought to understand the barriers that are standing in the way of their success and at the same time have undertaken positive efforts by exploring ways that parents, schools, communities, and policies can foster the natural strengths of boys of color.
On the national level, in 2014, President Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” aimed at addressing bad publicity received by boys of color and the structural, societal, and economic realities they face in this country. In 2016, the Urban Institute released a report entitled, “Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color,” in which author Ronald Ferguson describes My Brother’s Keeper as more of a movement than an initiative and states that a social movement is what is needed to “dismantle the predicament” faced by boys of color.
Boys of Color Collaborative
In 2013, we published a special double issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry entitled, “Development of Boys of Color and Challenges for Ethnic Minorities.” These issues include work conducted by the Boys of Color Collaborative, which was initiated to take advantage of some of the longitudinal data sets in order to fill in gaps in knowledge about the status, trajectories, and moderators of developmental outcomes of boys of color. While acknowledging the poor developmental outcomes plaguing boys of color, the collaborative sought to provide a more balanced view by also addressing their strengths and resilience.
In placing a spotlight on the fact that many boys of color are, in fact, doing well, the Boys of Color Collaborative helps us consider ways to expand the ranks of those who thrive. Among the topics addressed are: issues related to cognitive and socioemotional functioning; the relationship of parental socialization practices with cognitive development, socioemotional functioning, language, and identity; the influence of social context on development; and family life and adolescent child development.
Summit on Positive Development of NOLA Youth: A Call to Action
Following the special issue, the Global Alliance co-sponsored the Summit on Positive Development of NOLA Youth: A Call to Action with the Boys of Color Collaborative at Tulane University.
Global Alliance award winners Drs. Oscar Barbarin, Constance Flanagan, Frank Furstenburg, and Tom Tyler presented on the importance of building trust with youth, nurturing psychological wellbeing and social competence in youth, identifying meaningful roles for youth in communities, and meeting the challenges in the transition to adult roles. They, along with our staff, participated in conversation sessions with youth and youth leaders from New Orleans. Summit participants discussed ideas about what is working and what needs to be supported and expanded in the city to help create more auspicious environments for youth development.
What can you do?
- Learn how you can support your local schools and community organizations in bullying prevention efforts.
- Model appropriate behavior based on kindness and respect.
- Organize community groups to develop and implement a shared vision of a supportive, respectful community.
- Advocate for systemic changes that address poverty, failed family dynamics, destructive peer cultures, inequalities in education, and a lack of economic opportunity.
Research on Boys of Color in AJO
If African American boys are contemplating taking their lives at early ages, the hope for future generations is challenging at best. What is going on in African American communities that there is a lack of safe spaces for boys to express their emotions and to share their travails with supportive networks in lieu of ending their lives? The situation of African American boys (ages 5–11) committing suicide at higher levels—more than any other group—and the recent studies regarding the rising rates of suicide among African American adolescent boys (12 and older) call for greater reflection and more discourse around the mental health challenges faced by this group. We must identify the emotional and psychological reasons that underlie suicidal behaviors for African American boys and work to provide immediate intervention. Families, educators, and community workers play key roles in identifying signs of mental health challenges such as depression and connecting African American boys to mental health care services. In this article, the authors discuss specific ways to better support boys who exhibit early signs of depression and suicidal behavior. Topics discussed include (1) untreated depression among African American youth; (2) looking deeper at the reasons for untreated depression; (3) misunderstanding and denial of mental health challenges; (4) risk factors in schools; (5) harsh discipline practices; (6) low teacher expectations; and (7) disconnection from adults.
Lindsey, M. A., Brown, D. R., & Cunningham, M. (2017). Boys do(n’t) cry: Addressing the unmet mental health needs of African American boys. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(4), 377-383.
Parents’ racial socialization messages, including messages focused on awareness, preparation, and strategies for managing racial discrimination, are necessary to help African American youth successfully navigate their daily lives. However, mixed findings regarding the utility of preparation for bias messages for African American youth’s mental health adjustment raise questions about the conditions under which these protective racial socialization messages are most beneficial to African American youth. The current study examined the degree to which communication and trust as well as anger and alienation in the mother–adolescent relationship moderated associations between 2 types of preparation for bias messages, cultural alertness to discrimination and cultural coping with antagonism, and adolescent mental health. Participants were 106 African American adolescents (57% female; mean age = 15.41) who reported about their receipt of racial socialization messages, mother–adolescent relationship quality, and depressive symptoms. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that positive associations between cultural alertness to racial discrimination and youth depressive symptoms were weaker for boys in the context of higher mother–adolescent communication and trust; communication and trust were not similarly protective for girls. For boys, the positive associations between cultural coping with antagonism messages and depressive symptoms were stronger in the context of high anger and alienation in the mother–adolescent relationship. Findings suggest that qualities of the mother–adolescent relationship, in which preparation for bias messages are delivered, are important for understanding the mental health adjustment of African American adolescents.
Lambert, Sharon F.; Roche, Kathleen M.; Saleem, Farzana T.; & Henry, Jessica S. (2015). Mother–adolescent relationship quality as a moderator of associations between racial socialization and adolescent psychological adjustment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(5), 409-420.
This special issue presents the recent work conducted by the Boys of Color Collaborative, which was initiated to take advantage of some of the longitudinal data sets to fill in gaps in our knowledge about the development of a most vulnerable segment of our society, with the notion that a better understanding might lead to more effective efforts to remedy the difficulties they face. This special issue offers accounts of several promising programs of research that have attempted to fill in gaps in our knowledge of the status, trajectories, and moderators of developmental outcomes for Boys of Color (BOC). The first section of the special issue addresses issues related to cognitive and socioemotional functioning of BOC. The second section includes a set of articles that examines the relationship of parental socialization practices with cognitive development, socioemotional functioning, language, and identity. The third section turns to the influences of the social context on the development of Boys of Color. The final section deals with family life and adolescent child development. Our hope for this special issue is that the ideas presented here will spark discussion that leads to deeper insights into the lives and conditions of BOC.
Barbarin, Oscar A. (2013). Development of boys of color: An introduction. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 143-144.
Stability and change in maternal intrusiveness during early childhood is rarely explored, particularly within African American families. The current study examined the prediction of maternal intrusiveness during the first 3 years of life among mothers of rural, low-income African American boys and its relation to school-related outcomes. Observations of mothers (N = 230) interacting with children at 6, 24, and 36 months were coded and analyzed. Predictors of the trajectories and child outcomes were assessed using questionnaires and various tasks. On average, mothers of African American boys increased in intrusiveness across the first 3 years of life. Cumulative sociodemographic risk was associated with initial levels of intrusiveness, and child fearfulness and maternal negative regard predicted increases in intrusiveness over time. After controlling for sociodemographic risk, child temperament, and parental negativity, increases in intrusiveness over the first 3 years of life were associated with lower levels of expressive communication, inhibitory control, and intellectual functioning but not with attention focusing. Comprehensive parenting intervention efforts aimed toward improving children’s outcomes must take into consideration the broader socioeconomic and affective context in which parenting behaviors occur as well as stability and change in parenting over time.
Clincy, Amanda R.; & Mills‐Koonce, W. Roger. (2013). Trajectories of intrusive parenting during infancy and toddlerhood as predictors of rural, low‐income African American boys’ school‐related outcomes. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 194-206.
This study investigated the social network system of African American early adolescents (N = 237) in rural, low-wealth schools, specifically in terms of networks with norms strongly favoring effort and achievement. Networks with norms favoring effort and achievement were more likely to be central to the social system at the end of the school year. Subsequent analyses focused on boys (n = 103) and the effects of affiliation in networks with norms that strongly favored effort and achievement. Twenty-four percent of boys sustained membership in these networks and experienced greater school valuing and likeability, but reduced admiration among peers, net of scores at the beginning of the school year. The results of the study stand to inform both an understanding of positive peer group affiliations of minority boys and intervention work with this population by clarifying developmental mechanisms that contribute to positive school adaptation among rural African American boys.
Hamm, Jill V.; Lambert, Kerrylin; Agger, Charlotte A.; & Farmer, Thomas W. (2013). Promotive peer contexts of academic and social adjustment among rural African American early adolescent boys. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 278-288.
Although parental socialization practices are critical to a child’s social development, little is known of the details of how parental practices function to meet the specific challenges of supporting young boys’ development as African American and men. Accordingly, this article offers a window onto how 15 parents of African American boys (ages 3–8) conceive and implement strategies for their sons’ social and emotional development. Using ethnographic observations and structured interview data, this article explores the ways they promote emerging racial and gender identities and socioemotional well-being. Findings reveal that highly incongruous messages and expectations are communicated to young boys about race and gender. The study’s findings have implications for young AfricanAmerican boys’ emerging racial and gender identities.
Howard, Lionel C.; Rose, Jason C.; & Barbarin, Oscar A. (2013). Raising African American boys: An exploration of gender and racial socialization practices. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 218-230.
Questions about socioemotional learning in boys of color (BOC) arise in light of the disproportionate rates of school adjustment difficulties BOC experience by adolescence. Socioemotional competence in BOC is assessed in terms of self-regulation, interpersonal skills, and positive relationships with peers and teachers when they enter pre-K. Changes in competence are tracked until the end of kindergarten. Teachers from randomly selected early childhood programs in 11 states rated children’s socioemotional competence in the fall and spring of pre-K. Children were followed through the end of kindergarten. Analyses compared Black (n = 278) and Latino (n = 347) boys to girls of color (n = 624) and White children (n = 1,209) while controlling for family poverty. Pre-K teachers rated a majority of BOC proficient on self-regulation and peer relations. BOC did not differ from White boys on initial competence ratings or on development over time, although boys as a group were rated as less competent than girls. Although gender mattered in the initial assessment of socioemotional competence, gender was unrelated to change in competence over time. The longitudinal analyses showed a decline in teacher ratings of socioemotional competence from pre-K to kindergarten. This decline was most likely attributable to the demands, structure, and didactic approaches common in kindergarten. Social competence did predict academic skills. Self-regulation of emotions was the domain most consistently related to academic functioning. The vulnerability BOC experience during adolescence is not evident in the levels of social competence they demonstrate early in their lives at school.
Barbarin, Oscar. (2013). A longitudinal examination of socioemotional learning in African American and Latino boys across the transition from pre‐K to kindergarten. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 156-164.
The transition to middle school often presents behavioral and academic challenges to youths. Boys of color (i.e., African American and Hispanic in this study) may be especially vulnerable. In this study, peer nominations of aggressive and academic behaviors as well as youths’ perceptions of how these behaviors were related to popularity in peer networks were obtained from the spring semester of fifth grade through the spring semester of seventh grade, with the transition occurring as the students entered the sixth grade. The sample included 188 boys (71 Caucasian, 90 African American, and 27 Hispanic) from an urban school district in the northeastern United States. Trajectory analyses showed that African American boys scored lower in studentship and higher in rule-breaking and aggressive (both physical and social) behaviors prior to the transition, and such differences among ethnic groups were largely maintained during the transition. Hispanic boys displayed decreases in their studentship during the transition. AfricanAmerican boys’ perception of how studentship affects popularity was more positive than other boys prior to the transition, but it decreased during the transition. African American boys also endorsed rule breaking and physical and social aggression more positively for popularity prior to the transition, whereas Caucasian and Hispanic boys’ endorsement increased during the transition and eventually caught up with those of African American boys in seventh grade. A positive within-individual association was found between youths’ popularity perception and their behavior for studentship, rule breaking, and physical aggression, which did not differ by ethnicity.
Xie, Hongling; Dawes, Molly; Wurster, Tabitha J.; Shi, Bing. (2013). Aggression, academic behaviors, and popularity perceptions among boys of color during the transition to middle school. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 265-277.
This article explores the development of psychosocial competence in boys of color (BOC; 226 African Americans and 109 Latinos). Changes in competence were assessed over 2 years in cohorts of low-income BOC beginning in pre-K, kindergarten, or first grade. Psycho-social competence was assessed in terms of self-regulation, interpersonal skills, and positive relationships with peers and teachers. Psycho-social and academic competence in literacy and math were assessed in prekindergarten through second grade using teacher reports, child reports, and normed measures. One-year follow-up data were available on measures of psycho-social competence. BOC evidenced high levels of psycho-social competence, especially on self-regulation, which was related to both math and reading achievement. Teachers and children held similarly favorable views of their relationships, but teacher ratings of peer relationships of BOC were less positive. Although emotional self-regulation was stable, declines were observed in self-regulation of attention, quality of peer relationships, teacher-rated closeness, and satisfaction with life at school, especially over the transition from pre-K to primary school.
Barbarin, Oscar; Iruka, Iheoma U.; Harradine, Chistine; Winn, Donna‐Marie C.; McKinney, Marvin K.; & Taylor, Lorraine C. (2013). Development of social‐emotional competence in boys of color: A cross‐sectional cohort analysis from pre‐K to second grade. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 145-155.
Incarceration is a much more common experience for African American males than White males. The ‘‘school-to-prison’’ pipeline is often invoked as a metaphor to capture the seemingly inexorable progression of African American boys. The rationale for this approach is that the more African American preschool males there are in the United States, the more prisons that will be needed when those young children become young adults. Of the approximately six hundred thousand 4-year-old African American males growing up in the United States in 2008, prisons are being planned to house 28,134 of them by 2029. We need concerted, coordinated, and multi-systemic efforts if we are to be successful in improving the conditions under which African American boys are growing up and ultimately their outcomes. An all-out effort is needed to mobilize community networks on behalf of the boys, raise awareness of the problems in communities, strengthen appropriate practices in families, increase the preparedness of early childhood teachers, expand community-based activities that nurture the role of fathers and father figures in boys’ lives, and promote advocacy around issues of gender equity.
Barbarin, Oscar A. (2010). Halting African American boys’ progression from pre-K to prison: What families, schools, and communities can do! American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 81-88.
The current study examines violent and nonviolent traumatic events involving friends and family members as predictors of PTSD, depression, internalizing, and externalizing behaviors in a sample of 403 African American early adolescents from chronically violent environments. Although there are many studies of urban children’s exposure to community violence, few address the unique contribution of events involving significant others, and almost no research addresses African American youths’ exposure to traumatic events other than violence. This study found that violent and nonviolent traumatic events were pervasive in the lives of these urban youth, and that they were as likely to report loss and injury of a close other through an accident as an act of violence. There were strong gender differences in the data. Unexpectedly, injury or loss of a close friend or family member from nonviolent events, but not from violent events, predicted PTSD, internalizing, and depression for boys. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for school-based universal interventions in communities where large numbers of children live with loss and trauma.
Jenkins, Esther J.; Wang, Edward; & Turner, Larry. (2009). Traumatic events involving friends and family members in a sample of African American early adolescents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79(3), 398-406.