Family Influences African-American Boys’ Identities the Most, Study Finds

Masculinity is something most boys conform to, in their own ways, at one time or another. During adolescence, boys form their beliefs relating to masculinity in large part due to influences such as family, peers, society, media, and mentors. African-American youths’ perceptions of masculinity have been studied at length, particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged boys. Some of these individuals do not have the presence of a stable and secure father figure in their lives and could be at risk for adopting negative masculine ideals such as being in a gang, promiscuity, or financial and academic irresponsibility. To better understand how African-American boys from varying economic backgrounds conceptualize and adopt masculinity during their teen years, Karisman Roberts-Douglass of San Jose State University’s Counseling Services Department recently surveyed 15 African-American young adult men and asked them about the events that influenced their masculine identity formation.

The men recalled events and influences throughout their lives and reported that family members had the biggest impact on their conformity to positive or negative masculine ideals. The most significant predictor of masculinity was the presence of a role model in the form of a father or grandfather. Even participants who had no father figure present embraced the ideals of a deceased family member if he was cast in a positive light. This was true regardless of economic status. One surprising result was that the most privileged participants felt more pressure to conform to negative masculine ideals during adolescence than economically disadvantaged participants. This could be due to the fact that to compensate for their wealth, they needed to assert their cultural conformity through their behaviors, including sports, being sexually promiscuous, or engaging in other risky behaviors.

Roberts-Douglass found that even in circumstances where teens felt pressured to conform to negative African-American masculine ideals, positive family influences protected them from acting on those impulses. Parents and family members who stressed the importance of education and financial responsibility were cited as being significantly responsible for the choices the participants made. “In the case of this study, family was the most important variable,” Roberts-Douglass said.

Roberts-Douglass, K., Curtis-Boles, H. (2012). Exploring positive masculinity development in African American men: A retrospective study. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029662

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  • S.C

    November 2nd, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    Although everybody is responsible for his own actions and teens do some illogical things,the truth is that most of their actions are determined by what they see, hear,experience and learn. So it is as much a responsibility of the parents to provide an environment conductive of positive behavior as it is for teens to mind their actions.

  • jayson

    November 3rd, 2012 at 4:48 AM

    What about these young black men who have no positive make role model and have never had this in their lives? Where are they supposed to them derive their masculinity from? Oh wait I know, they then become dead beats like all of the other dead beat men who have cycled through their lives.

  • Starla

    November 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    I know that many people get tired of hearing this over and over again, but I think that it is very clear that young black men lack the support and the advantages that so many of the rest of us do.
    Many if not most come from broken homes that have never had a consistent father figure around and as a result these young men are left to flounder and wonder what it really means to be a man who not only takes care of himself but one who knows what he needs to do to take care of a family of his own.
    If there are strong women in their lives then of course this makes a great difference to them too but sometimes, especially for young boys there is no real substitute for having a father with them at home.

  • memorymakerz

    November 5th, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    I wish the media would get on board with this issue. As much as family is an influence, so is the media in my opinion. If young black men only see young black men portrayed as thugs, drug dealers, gang members, and pimps, what are they supposed to do? The rap culture is as responsible for this mess as much as anyone else. Personal responsibility only goes so far when what you see is what you become. If people would stop trying to make money off of promoting this type of culture, maybe some real change could come about.

  • Lacey Byrne

    November 8th, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Great comments. This is an important conversation. We cannot discuss masculinity without also discussing class, race, and sexuality. We certainly struggle with positive role models for youth but it is especially egregious for underserved populations when looking for role models. And because our culture is entrenched in racist ideology we don’t question these images portrayed about African American men. We need to question these images and realize that they are performance based trying to sell us something.

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