Effect of Parental Warmth on Adolescent Externalizing in African-Americans

Single-family households are widespread throughout the country. Much research has been dedicated to understanding the impact this type of family structure has on children. Studies have focused on how divorce, parental involvement, maternal warmth, attachment, and conflict can affect a child’s emotional regulation and behaviors. Researchers have examined the link between single-parent households, childhood behavior, and socioeconomic status, as well as race and gender. However, few studies have looked at these factors in a narrow enough light to determine how conflict and parental warmth affect African-American adolescents’ externalizing behaviors. To address this gap, Nada M. Goodrum of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a study that examined 194 African-American mother/teen pairs.

The groups reported their levels of conflict as well parental conflict (between the mother and nonresidential co-parent), parental warmth, and externalizing behaviors. Goodrum found that the children with the highest levels of externalizing behaviors reported the most mother/co-parent conflict. This suggests that there is a spillover effect that occurs when parents, even noncohabitating parents, fight. Goodrum also discovered that co-parent warmth, or lack thereof, contributed to youth externalizing behaviors.

The finding that the co-parent warmth was more strongly associated with child externalizing problems than maternal warmth was interesting and suggests that parental conflict could result in less co-parent presence, which could lead to emotional distance between the parent and child. This dynamic could result in less opportunities for the nonresidential co-parent to demonstrate warmth and develop a relationship with the child. Because very few fathers were identified in this study, the findings should be considered in light of that limitation. Also, Goodrum believes future research should examine whether the association between parental warmth and child externalizing behavior is bidirectional, such that anger, aggression, and other externalizing behaviors could decrease the warmth demonstrated by the parent as much as parental detachment could exacerbate externalizing behaviors. Goodrum added, “Our findings suggest that health care professionals working with African American youth evidencing or at risk for externalizing problems should carefully assess the structure and functioning of each family.”

Goodrum, N. M., Jones, D. J., Kincaid, C. Y., Cuellar, J., Parent, J. M. (2012). Youth externalizing problems in African American single-mother families: A culturally relevant model. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029421

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  • Bonnie


    September 13th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    In so many homes you find that the parents withhold the wamth and love that every child should be privy to. Why do that to your kids? If you are not willing to show them the kind of love and affection that we all need, then why even procreate and bring a child into that situation? I think that it is also interesting to note that this seems to indicate that warmth is not sufficient if it is just coming from the mom. I know that a mother’s love has no end, but when raising an adolescent somethimes that is not enough, they need a male role model too that shows them the example of family stability and structure that so many lack today.

  • mike k

    mike k

    September 13th, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Like so many other things that happen in families this seems like it could become a cycle of bad behavior among all family members. The parents do a poor job at raising the kids, so then maybe a little later on they decide it’s time to change. But the kids don’t want any part of it. They have been hurt and put in danger too many times, so their defenses go up and they fight back. Which of course makes the parents resent the fact that their changes are not being accepted and they act out in the only way that they know how, which is abusively. And then it starts all over again and then sadly will eventually move on the the next generation.

  • natalie


    September 13th, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    when there is just so much conflict at home and the children see that the parents do not get along well then that puts just so many things in their mind.there is just no end to it.they could go in the wrong direction because these conflicts are not letting them have a peaceful family time,they are not receiving the parental warmth that every child needs so very much and they have negative role models at home.all this can really get to a child.

  • Talia


    September 15th, 2012 at 3:45 AM

    If you are not willing to care for a child that you bring into the world, then why even do it?

    Aren’t there enough unloived children out there already?

  • tate s

    tate s

    September 17th, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Not only do I think that it’s wrong for parents to have screaming matches in front of the kids, but I also think that the parents who never argue or disagree in front of the children are not doing them any favors either. Our kids need to know that adults do not always agree on everything and that even married couples who love one another are going to fight from time to time but that this is not the end of the world. There is a way to fight fair and a way to argue so that you can still forgive one another and move on once it’s over. You have to behave like adults and remember that this is someone you love even in the midst of the disagreement. I think that when kids see that this can be done then they don’t have to feel so overwhelmed and nervous, and then act out themselves, any time that there is any sort of parental conflict.

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