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Parenting practices among Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers.

To date, there have been relatively few empirical studies of parenting practices among Latino families. Family-based research has paid too little attention to potential variation in culturally based parenting practices (Amato & Fowler, 2002; Hill, Bush, & Roosa, 2003; Ruiz, Roosa, & Gonzales, 2002; Zayas & Solari, 1994). The limitations of current research in addressing ethnic diversity may lead to a depiction of Latino parenting practices in the context of a social-deficit model. Existing studies of Latino parenting practices have yielded inconsistent findings (Martinez, 1999; Solis-Camara & Fox, 1996). For example, some studies have found Latino parents to be authoritarian, overly directive, and disciplinarian with their children (Cardona, Nicholson, & Fox, 2000; Schulze, Harwood, Schoelmerich, & Leyendecker, 2002; Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992). By contrast, other studies have noted the warmth and closeness that characterize Latino parenting (Calzada & Eyberg, 2002; Julian, McKenry, & McKelvey, 1994; Molina & Chassin, 1996; Raffaelli & Green, 2003). Some have suggested that Latino and white parents are more similar than they are different (Fox & Solis-Camara, 1997; Lindahl & Malik, 1999; Medora, Wilson, & Larson, 2001), especially those at comparable socioeconomic levels (Solis-Camara & Fox; Uno, Florsheim, & Uchino, 1998). Despite the rapid growth of the Latino population in the United States, which is expected to reach one-quarter of the population by 2050, the role of Latino culture in understanding the parenting practices of Latino families has remained largely understudied.

This descriptive, qualitative study integrates the uniquely Latino cultural constructs of familismo, respeto, personalismo, and simpatia, and the gender roles of machismo and marianismo, with the parenting domains of demandingness and responsiveness conceptualized by Baumrind (1983, 1987, 1991). We used these Latino cultural constructs in an open hut structured focus group format to elicit insights about how Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers and their adolescents identify parental control and warmth in their relationships.


The term "parenting practices" can be distinguished from parenting style. This study considers parenting style the set of culturally derived parental attitudes that create the emotional climate in which a child develops (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Parenting style evolves from implicit and explicit beliefs, values, and goals held by the parent. Parenting practices can be viewed as specific parent behaviors directed toward the child. A parent who follows a stricter style in such areas as family communication, adolescent participation in household tasks, or maintenance of a certain grade point average in school would differ in his or her paternal or maternal behaviors from a parent who espouses a more lenient style. Specific practices such as mealtime routines or birthday customs can be considered manifestations of parenting style that occur in the general family context.

Research on parenting is often associated with the seminal work of psychologist Diana Baumrind. Baumrind's (1991, 1996) typology established two parenting style domains: demandingness and responsiveness. Parental demandingness connotes parental supervision, monitoring, discipline, limit setting, and expectations the parent has of the child. Parental responsiveness refers to parental warmth, acceptance, involvement, and communication and the respect and receptivity with which the parent regards the child's perspective and needs (Pratt, Arnold, Pratt, & Diessner, 1999). Baumrind (1983, 1987, 1991) concluded that authoritative parents--those who practice high levels of both demandingness and responsiveness--are most effective in instilling confidence and competence in their sons and daughters. Contrasted with adolescents of authoritarian parents who only emphasize obedience or permissive parents who allow too much liberty, adolescents of authoritative parents who balance appropriate levels of supervision, nurturance, and democratic decision making achieve better psychosocial outcomes (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Kurdek & Fine, 1994; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994; Steinberg & Silk, 2002). Although having initially studied preschool- and primary-school-age children from white middle-class backgrounds, Baumrind and other researchers recognized the importance of culture in shaping parenting practices and expanded her typology to the study of adolescents from diverse cultural groups and socioeconomic strata (Baumrind, 1972, 1973, 1996; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Jacobson & Crockett, 2000; Kagitcibasi, 1990; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991).


Broadly defined, culture is a "system of meaning" or a "common cognitive orientation" (Foster, 1965), that is, a set of values, beliefs, and practices shared by an identifiable social group and characterized by an internal logic in which most members participate (Schulze et al., 2002). Latinos come from diverse nations and regions within nations, yet the nomenclature "Latino" refers to identifiable social and psychological characteristics that differentiate Latinos from other cultural or ethnic groups. The extent to which researchers rely on shared traits to characterize Latinos must be counterbalanced by attention to distinct ethnic groups. This is the approach used in this research.

Several core cultural constructs have been described in the literature related to Latino family life--specifically, familismo, simpatia, personalismo, respeto, and, in association with clearly defined gender roles in both family and society, machismo and marianismo. There is a large body of research discussing the operation and importance of these concepts to both Puerto Rican and Dominican family life (Arcia, Reyes-Blanes, & Vazquez-Montilla, 2000; Calzada & Eyberg, 2002; De la Cancela, 1986; Ortiz-Torres, Serrano-Garcia, & Torres-Burgos, 2000; Salyers Bull, 1998; Stycos, 1952). Familismo represents a constellation of attitudes, beliefs, values, and norms shared by those of Latino heritage that is decisive for the formation of a worldview, personal and family decision making, and context-specific behaviors such as parenting practices (Coohey, 2001). Latino families have been characterized as collectivistic rather than individualistic in their worldviews (Marin, 1989). Latino collectivism may express greater concern for family values and family wellbeing than for individual opportunities to further one's own aspirations (Sommers, Fagan, & Baskin, 1993).The term familismo encapsulates the Latino valuation of interdependence and the roles of individuals in a group context. Familismo refers to the attachment, loyalty, and reciprocity that characterize relationships among members of the nuclear family and among extended family members, including significant nonfamily individuals who play a key role in the upbringing of children (Contreras, Mangelsdorf, Rhodes, Diener, & Brunson, 1999; Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999; Sue & Sue, 2003). In contrast to the often high valuation of personal ambition and autonomous accomplishment in European American culture, Latino culture emphasizes affiliative achievement in service to family well-being rather than in pursuit of individualistic goals (Gonzales-Ramos, Zayas, & Cohen, 1998; Santisteban, Muir-Malcolm, Mitrani, & Szapocznik, 2002; Sommers et al.). Furthermore, Latino families are thought to hold conservative and traditional views on family life that reinforce family solidarity, mutual obligations, and reciprocal support (Cauce & Domenech-Rodriguez, 2002; Hovell et al., 1994; Julian et al., 1994).Within the context of traditional familism, the Latina mother bears responsibility as the primary source of care for the entire family (Epstein, Dusenbury, Botvin, & Diaz, 1994).

Latino families also are said to emphasize the maintenance of harmony and to avoid controversy and conflict. The term simpatia has been used in the literature to describe this cultural practice (Griffith, Joe, Chatham, & Simpson, 1998; Marin, 1989; Triandis, Marin, Lisansky, & Betancourt, 1984). Simpatia has no English equivalent but has been understood to mean politeness, agreeableness, and respectful behavior toward others (Griffith et al.; Marin). In addition it connotes "positive, smooth, interpersonal relations" (Marin, p. 413). By emphasizing warm and mutually responsive relationships, Latino families give priority to low-conflict relations with their adolescent children (Barber, 1994), in contrast to the assertiveness and debate that characterize many European American family relations (Gabrielidis, Stephan, Ybarra, Pearson, & Villareal, 1997).

Personalismo is consistent with familismo and simpatia. Among Latinos, personalismo accords great value to personal character and inner qualities, and represents a preference for people within the same ethnic group (Marin, 1989). In social relationships, warmth, trust, and respect form the foundation for interpersonal connectedness, cooperation, and mutual reciprocity (Flores, Eyre, & Millstein, 1998; Gloria & Peregoy, 1996).

The term respeto has been used to describe the importance of adherence to authority, be it based on age or social position (Antshel, 2002; Lefkowitz, Romo, Corona, Au, & Sigman, 2000; MacPhee, Fritz, & Miller-Heyl, 1996; Zayas & Solari, 1994). Studies have found that parents of Puerto Rican descent place a high value on children's behaviors associated with respeto, such as demonstrating respect and responsibility toward eiders (Arcia et al., 2000). Latino parents have, at times, been characterized as authoritarian and control oriented in their interactions with their adolescents and as more insistent on discipline and obedience than white families (Florsheim, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 1996; Julian et al., 1994). Latino parents are said to make unilateral decisions affecting their adolescents rather than engage their adolescents in a democratic decision-making process. They are thought to expect their adolescents to conform to parental guidelines and assist parents and siblings (Fuligni et al., 1999). Compared with other ethnic groups, Latino parents are said to demonstrate lower levels of warmth, affection, and responsiveness toward their children, with less praise, fewer demonstrations of love, and less give-and-take in their interactions (Gorman-Smith, Tolan, Henry, & Florsheim, 2000). Several studies have questioned this rather severe image of the Latino parent, however, and noted the warmth and freedom that characterize Latino families (Calzada & Eyberg, 2002; Fox & Solis-Camara, 1997; Julian et al.; Vega, 1990).

Latino machismo and Latina marianismo have been understood as gender-role constructs that connote, respectively, male dominance within the family and female submissiveness (Julian et al., 1994). These complementary roles extend to decisions about sexual intimacy (Gomez & Van Oss Marin, 1996). Marianismo derives from the devotion shown to the Virgin Mary, whose humility and virtue exemplify the decorum, caregiving, and often stoicism required in the female role (Bracero, 1998; Flores et al., 1998; Gloria & Peregoy, 1996). For some Latinas, the importance of motherhood may be culturally sanctioned as a rewarding role in and of itself. Femininity is emphasized, but female sexuality and acceptance of sexual feelings are repressed (Dore & Dumois, 1990; O'Sullivan, Meyer-Bahlburg, & Watkins, 2001). Machismo refers to a constellation of attitudes and behaviors that accompany the leadership or decision-making role that men individually and collectively assume in the home and community. Although both positive (for example, responsible, confident, personable) and negative (for example, aloof, risk taking, aggressive) connotations have been used to characterize machismo, the differentiation of male and female domains pervades the ways in which this construct influences Latino parenting practices and child and adolescent socialization (Neff, 2001; Torres, Solberg, & Carlstrom, 2002). Some literature suggests that parents may use a more permissive parenting style with adolescent sons than with daughters due to gender biases in Latino parenting practices. It is also thought that Latino parents are more prone to adopting authoritative and egalitarian parenting styles with adolescent sons, but stricter and more authoritarian parenting styles with adolescent daughters (Dornbusch, Ritter, Mont-Reynaud, & Chen, 1990; Hovell et al., 1994). Researchers have found similar gender differences in parenting among Asian subgroups (Stewart, Bond, Abdullah, & Ma, 2000; Stewart, Bond, Ho, et al., 2000), but not among African American or European American groups (Dornbusch et al.).

The purpose of this research study was to integrate the literature on parenting styles with Latino cultural constructs to better inform social work practice with urban Puerto Rican and Dominican populations. The study reported here is part of a five-year intervention project, the Linking Lives Health Education Program, being conducted in the south Bronx, New York. The study used focus group methodology to examine parenting practices related to two core dimensions of parenting style--parental responsiveness and parental demandingness--among Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers and their adolescent children. The results are being used to develop a parent-based adolescent risk-reduction intervention for Latino families. Suggestions for effective parenting strategies will be provided to mothers in the Linking Lives program, based in part on information gathered from families participating in the focus groups.


Design Overview

Focus groups have been shown to be useful for generating data on group norms and meanings and for elaborating further avenues of inquiry (Bloor, Frankland, Thomas, & Robson, 2001; Morgan, 1997). Focus group participants were recruited from a south Bronx middle school consisting of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, with a total population of approximately 500 students. Eighteen focus groups were conducted with 63 adolescent and mother pairs. Nine focus groups were conducted with mothers and nine with adolescents, with an average of seven participants in each group. Mothers were selected as a key unit of analysis because research on parent-child communication in urban Latino families has shown that mothers are more likely than fathers to communicate with their children about avoiding risky behaviors (Miller, Kotchick, Dorsey, Forehand, & Ham, 1998; O'Sullivan et al., 2001). For the purpose of the current research, a mother was defined as the primary caregiver in the adolescent's life (for example, biological mother, foster mother, grandmother, or aunt). Focus groups were conducted in Spanish and English, based on participants' preferences as determined during the consent process.


A total of 82 Latino families were randomly selected from the school's official student roster. Latino students make up approximately 80 percent of the population of the participating middle school, African American students the remaining 20 percent. Families were contacted by telephone by bilingual callers who invited the mother and adolescent to attend a focus group at the adolescent's school. In some cases, telephone numbers were incorrect or disconnected (n = 28). For families whose numbers were inaccurate or nonexistent, the researchers attempted to obtain accurate phone numbers or home addresses from teachers and staff at the school and, in some cases, from students. We also searched for family phone numbers using directory assistance and reverse directory assistance services of the local telephone company. This enhanced phone-calling strategy significantly increased the number of targeted families that were contacted and recruited (n = 21). All mothers who were contacted agreed to receive a packet of information, which included a cover letter, consent forms, Linking Lives program brochures, and supplemental project materials. Staff followed up these contacts with a telephone call to the mother a few days later to answer questions, address concerns, and confirm participation in the focus groups. For families whose telephone numbers staff could not identify (for example, the family had no home telephone), the information packet was sent to the mother at the most current address available or sent home from school with her adolescent child. A letter in the packet invited the mother-adolescent dyad to attend focus groups on a prescheduled date. Overall, 63 mother-adolescent pairs were recruited into the study. Nineteen of the original 82 randomly selected families could not be recruited. Twelve of these families refused to participate, and maternal contact information was unattainable for the remaining seven families, despite the use of numerous recruiting methods. Key demographic variables (for example, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, maternal educational level) were assessed for families who were unwilling to participate. Those who refused and those who agreed to participate were demographically similar.

Mothers signed consent forms for themselves and for their adolescents, and the adolescents signed assent forms. To increase understanding, staff members prepared all consent forms in English and Spanish and reviewed them with the mothers and adolescents. Compensation was offered for focus group participation, at a rate of $30 per mother and $20 per adolescent. Institutional review board approval was obtained at Columbia University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Focus groups were conducted with 63 mother and adolescent pairs at their south Bronx middle school; 44 pairs were Dominican, 19 were Puerto Rican. The majority of pairs were Spanish- rather than English-speaking (n = 50). Of the 18 focus groups conducted, 13 were conducted in Spanish. For mothers sampled (mean age = 39), a majority were foreign born (80 percent), Catholic (59 percent), and had two to four children (84 percent). For foreign-born mothers, 31 percent had resided in the mainland United States between five to 10 years; 21 percent had resided five years or less; 18 percent, 10 to 15 years; and 20 percent, 15 or more years. Of mothers sampled, 62 percent had completed some secondary education; 31 percent had some college education. Adolescents sampled were all between the ages of 11 and 14, with an equal distribution of boys and girls. Mothers and adolescents were assured of the confidentiality of all focus group data and informed of the importance of their contribution to improving adolescent outcomes in their community.

Data Collection

Focus groups were scheduled on the weekend because this was believed to be the most convenient time for working parents and their adolescents. Project staff coordinated use of the school with the school principal, and school staff were on site during the day. Spanish- and English-speaking moderators facilitated the focus groups, which lasted 1.5 to 2 hours. Moderators presented each mothers' focus group with questions about their perceived effective parenting practices for an adolescent in middle school. Moderators asked the following questions: (1) How strict or lenient should parents be with a middle-school adolescent? (2) what kinds of limits should a parent set for a sixth or seventh grader? (3) when a teen misbehaves or something wrong, how should a parent discipline the teen? (4) what should parents do to build a good relationship with their adolescent? (5) what things do parents do that get in the way of having a good relationship with their teen? and (6) suppose that you disapproved of one of your adolescent child's friends and felt he or she was a bad influence on your son or daughter; what should you do? Moderators of the adolescents' groups asked adolescents a similar set of questions, primarily focused on ideals of effective parenting (for example, how strict should parents be with children your age, what kinds of limits should parents set, and what can parents do to help their children stay out of trouble?), rather than on parenting practices that their mothers actually used with them at home.


The analysis explored how Puerto Rican and Dominican mothers and adolescents defined parenting practices and the relationship between these practices and core Latino constructs widely cited in the extant literature related to Latino family life. Focus groups were tape-recorded and later transcribed. Spanish transcripts were translated using the backward-forward procedure described in Marin and Van Oss Marin (1991). A written transcript was produced for each focus group. To ensure participant confidentiality, all tape-recordings were destroyed after transcriptions were completed. Participants were identified on the transcription only by a number (for example, Mother #1). For parent focus groups, the average length of the transcription was 26 pages (range = 13-40); for adolescent focus groups, the average length of the transcription was 14 pages (range = 6-24). The transcriptions were collated into two documents: one for adolescents (130 pages) and one for parents (237 pages).

Mother and adolescent text data were analyzed and coded separately by three independent coders. Each of these individuals carefully reviewed the transcripts and performed content analysis to identify, categorize, and code themes from the data (Patton, 2002; Silverman, 2000). Prior to data analysis, the investigative team developed a set of preliminary coding constructs from the interview guide in the following topic areas: (1) general types of parenting practices, (2) parental warmth and control, (3) parental responsiveness and demandingness, (4) familismo, (5) simpatia, (6) respeto, (7) personalismo, (8) simpatia, and (9) machismo and marianismo. Coding norms were established during a one-day (eight-hour) training session led by two members of the investigative team. Conceptual definitions of each construct were provided to coders in advance so as to minimize subjective interpretation of the a priori identified study constructs. Coders were also instructed to identify additional themes not listed in the initial coding schemata. This strategy enabled coders to identity potentially important patterns that emerged during data analysis.

Coders were trained in computer-assisted content analysis and were instructed to identify thematic units in each transcript using the "cut-and-paste" technique described by Stewart and Shamdasani (1990). Thematic units were defined as frequently occurring sets of explanatory or interpretive statements (Stewart & Shamdasani). Each coder constructed a matrix of codes containing congruent thematic units organized into distinct categories and subcategories. The independent coders then used a frequency count strategy to tally the number of times each category and subcategory was mentioned in the focus group transcripts. Frequency counts serve as a guard against both investigator and respondent bias (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and provide a measure that can be used to calculate interrater reliability. After tallying the frequency of the coded responses, the three coders met to compare the number of agreements and disagreements in the coding. Comparisons of the frequencies of the coded responses showed that the coders agreed on 78 items and disagreed on nine items. Interrater reliability was calculated by dividing the sum of agreements by the sum of the total number of agreements and disagreements (Miles & Huberman). This approach revealed an interrater reliability rate of approximately 90 percent, which is within the recommended range of 80 percent to 90 percent described by Miles and Huberman. Coders resolved the remaining 10 percent difference through discussion until consensus was attained.


Consistent with both the Latino cultural constructs and the conceptual framework used to describe parenting practices in terms of both parental warmth and control, four main themes were identified in the mothers' and adolescents' focus groups: (1) the importance of close monitoring or control of adolescents; (2) the importance of warm and supportive relationships characterized by high levels of parent-adolescent interaction and sharing; (3) the importance of explaining parental decisions and actions; and (4) the importance of making an effort to build and improve relationships. Although specific questions about gender and environment were not asked, mothers' responses were consistent about the differential treatment of boys and girls, as well as about the effect of the urban environment on their parenting practices.

Responses from Mothers

Importance of Monitoring and Control. Consistent with Baumrind's conceptual framework, the Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers who participated in the focus groups discussed the need to supervise their adolescents closely and to have control over their activities. The need for parental monitoring was expressed through Latino cultural values of familismo, simpatia, and respeto. For Latina mothers, the loyalty, respect, and obedience of their adolescents, as encompassed by the Latino valuation of respeto, were very important. Most of the mothers stated that they expected their adolescents to adhere to parental guidelines and to obey their rules. One mother stated, "At that age, you should be strict, because they are growing up and you want them to know when 'no' is 'no' is 'no.' "Another mother noted that "You gotta be strict from the beginning and you gotta keep holding on to that strictness." In general, the mothers believed that by being consistent, firm, and never ignoring their child's misbehavior, they were teaching them the value of respeto.

Importance of Warm and Supportive Relationships. Contrary to representations in the literature, we found little evidence suggesting Latino families are characterized by unrelenting authoritarianism. Indeed, despite the consensus among mothers that strictness is better than leniency, mothers emphasized the importance of warm and supportive relationships. For example, many of the mothers felt it was important to maintain control while still demonstrating love toward their children. Additionally, mothers expressed the need for parental firmness and adolescent respeto but did not advocate a harsh or hierarchical attitude toward their adolescents. To describe this parenting approach, several mothers used the phrase "tough love." Mothers also affirmed the importance of simpatia when they described their efforts to build rewarding and mutually responsive relationships with their adolescents. For some mothers, this meant participating in and discussing activities deemed important by their child:
 The minute I see my son, that he's bored or not
 doing something, [I say] "Okay, come on upstairs,
 let's either play a game" ... I don't know anything
 about video games hut I'll learn ... Or we'll sit
 and watch my son's favorite show "Whose Line
 Is It Anyway?" And we will spend hours there
 just watching TV and conversing about what
 we're watching.

Importance of Explaining Parental Decisions. Consistent with the meaning of personalismo, mothers reported a concern for interconnectedness and mutual reciprocity in decision making. Mothers viewed their role as one of instilling trustworthiness and shaping a sense of responsibility in their developing adolescents. For example, one mother elaborated on the importance of explaining parental limits and expectations, rather than simply issuing directives: "But then I'm going to explain why, if there's a reason why not to do it. You know, you should explain why it's not too good to do it." Another mother felt it was important for her adolescent children to develop the ability to voice their opinions: "Allow them to, to voice their opinion in some things ... if they do something that may be wrong, allow them to explain why they did it and why they think they were right in doing it." A third mother agreed, but noted that granting adolescents increased amounts of autonomy had to occur within the context of clear parental rules and guidelines: "Different parents have different rules, so you gotta lay your rules down. Let them know what you expect, or do not expect. Then, you know, you can give them some space so they could work out their own ways."

Importance of Building Relationships. Although the majority of mothers in our focus groups subscribed to a high degree of parental control, they recognized that control alone was counterproductive to fostering positive adolescent development. Consistent with the close bonds and mutual obligations inherent in the cultural values of familismo and personalismo, mothers in the focus groups prioritized family relationships. The majority of mothers voiced the desire for close and trusting relationships with their adolescents. One mother felt that spending time with her adolescent was critical to fostering closeness and trust: "I spend time with my kids and I tell them to tell me everything, you know." Most of the mothers discussed the importance of engaging their adolescents in activities designed to support both positive parent-adolescent relationships and adolescent development. For one mother, this translated to playing physical sports with her children: "I go play handball with them, I play basketball with them, I play baseball with them."

Although mothers all placed a high value on spending time with their children, mothers who worked multiple jobs reported that this was a challenge. Busy work schedules and other responsibilities often made dedication to their families difficult. One mother stated, "If you work, you are a working parent, you don't give enough time to your kids. But when you have a little time, give them quality time. It's not the quantity, it's the quality." In general, the mothers who participated in our focus groups acknowledged their belief in familismo and demonstrated a clear sense of priorities in their desire to concentrate on their adolescents' well-being, even if it meant material sacrifice: "I'd rather miss a day of work to do something for my kids, to go out and do without that money 'cause they need me, their mother, more than the money that we making that day."

Differences in Parenting Related to Gender. Most of the focus group mothers reported differential parenting practices as a function of the gender of their adolescent children. In general, the mothers overwhelmingly attributed these gender differences to Latino cultural norms of male liberty and female submissiveness, that is, machismo and marianismo. Both Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers explained that boys should be raised with more freedom than girls and how, in some Latino families, girls were strongly encouraged to participate in activities inside the house, and boys were allowed more freedom to explore activities outside of home. One mother stated, "Boys, they have more, they are raised with more freedom than girls, I am like that ... boys you tell them, take care of yourself because something bad can happen, because they are more on the street than the girls, because girls are always with us in the house." Another mother discussed this gender difference within the larger context of Latino culture, "In relation to our culture, the woman belongs to the home and the man belongs to the streets."

Parenting in an Urban Environment. Despite acknowledging that boys may enjoy greater autonomy and freedom outside of the home, both Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers were concerned about parenting in a culturally diverse urban environment. Mothers reported that the urban setting and the many potential negative distractions in the neighborhood influenced their communication with, and supervision of, their adolescents. As one mother noted, "But really, when your child leave your home, you have no control. You find your children in the street. That is why you got to talk to them every day." The mothers recognized that the culturally derived family values guiding their parenting practices might not be consistent with those of other families and that, given the ethnic heterogeneity and cultural plurality of New York City and its public school system, adolescents were likely to meet and befriend youngsters from other backgrounds. To counter potential negative influences, mothers employed several different strategies, including meeting the parents of their children's friends: "If they are going to a home, I would like to know the parent. Okay? If they are hanging out with girls, boys, I would like to meet them."

We found that mothers were concerned not only about the distractions and physical risks their adolescents might encounter if adult supervision lapsed, but also about deviations from norms consonant with Latino culture. Those mothers who had experienced life in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic discussed their fear of the comparative abundance of opportunities for involvement in risk behaviors in New York City. Yet mothers of both subgroups expressed confidence that parental monitoring could keep their sons or daughters safe. For some mothers, parental monitoring meant restricting where their adolescent children could spend their free time: "I don't let them hang around downstairs in front of the building because there's a lot, a lot of things going on, a lot of activities." Still another mother advocated for checking up on her adolescents when they left her home: "Go out the door. Peek out. See who they are with. Who they hanging out with that making their attitude change."

Responses from Adolescents

We found the same themes regarding parental control and cultural values in adolescents' responses that we observed in the mothers' focus groups. Like their mothers, the responses from the Dominican and Puerto Rican adolescents in our focus groups supported the cultural values of familismo, respeto, simpatia, and personalismo. The Latino adolescents' expectations were that their responsibilities were to assist, respect, and support their families. For instance, one adolescent participant noted that demonstrations of respeto were necessary to earn parental trust: "Because your mother can give you a time to be in, and if you respect that time, then she trust you. If you don't respect that time, then she is not going to trust you." Youths in our focus groups were quick to recognize the importance of parental control as a force that could help them remain safe and fulfill important goals. Most of the adolescents believed that parental exercise of authority and close monitoring were manifestations of parental love and concern. The adolescents expected parents to exercise authority in carrying out consequences or punishments for wrong behavior. When discussing parental discipline, one youth stated, "I think they should have a long talk. Then if the child does not agree, put him on punishment ... if it has to be months, it has to be months. They can't have no phone calls, no nothing." Most of the teens felt that abdication of parental authority was evidence of lack of parental interest in the adolescent.

Despite the adolescents' expectations and acceptance of parental control and firmness, they also agreed with their mothers that good communication was essential for a mutually warm and supportive relationship. Simpatia and personalismo were consistent themes of the adolescent focus groups. The majority of the adolescents wanted to communicate with their parents frequently, spontaneously, and openly, without fear of parental anger. They believed that, to achieve this, parents needed to take time to talk to them, listen to what they were saying, and make them feel loved. One adolescent elaborated on the importance of effective parent-adolescent communication:
 Like, an example, like, when, when we want to
 speak to her [mother], when we did something
 at school. Something in school, and we want to
 speak to her about ... like, to don't say, "I'm busy"
 and "Go to your room" and "Go over there."
 And then we have to wait until tomorrow, and
 the other tomorrow, and the other tomorrow,
 until the point we want to tell her and then she
 gonna be like, "Why didn't you tell me?" ... She's
 gonna be shocked and say, "Why didn't you tell
 me the other time?"

The adolescents also felt that time constraints impaired the exchange of thoughts and feelings with parents. Like their mothers, the Dominican and Puerto Rican adolescents in our focus groups discussed the barriers presented by their mothers' working schedules. One adolescent recommended exactly what some mothers had suggested: that parents work fewer hours to maximize family time. Several adolescents also indicated that a strained parent-child relationship could be improved, especially if their parents modeled good parent-adolescent communication:
 If you have a bad relationship from the get-go ...
 sometimes it can turn into other ways, but they
 just need to know how to, like, get along. Sit
 down for a minute. Even if you got a half an hour
 with your children, just sit for a half an hour,
 and just talk to them. Ask them how was their
 day, what's wrong, anything. As long as they're
 talking to you. Don't have a silent treatment.

Consistent with the meaning of familismo, the adolescents recognized and respected the effort parents exerted on their behalf. Both Dominican and Puerto Rican adolescents agreed with their mothers that high levels of control and high levels of warmth were essential to the parent-adolescent relationship, particularly within urban settings. Although mothers expressed concern about the dangers of urban streets, the adolescents expressed confidence that their parents could protect them by being appropriately strict. One adolescent stated, "Well, I think that they should be strict. If you let people like your children have freedom, you don't know what they could do in the street." Adolescents recognized the importance of parental control as a force that would help them remain safe and fulfill important life goals, such as completing school: "You don't want your child to drop out of school, so that's why you gotta be strict" Unlike their mothers, however, adolescent focus group participants did not remark on the differential treatment of adolescents by parents based on cultural traditions concerning gender.


Past research has offered a limited and at times inconsistent view of Latino parenting. The current study sought to integrate the uniquely Latino cultural constructs of familismo, respeto, personalismo, simpatia, and gender roles with the parenting domains of demandingness and responsiveness conceptualized by Baumrind. We used this Latino cultural framework in an open but structured focus group format to elicit more authentic insights about how Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers and their adolescents, residing in an urban enclave, identified parental control and warmth in their relationships.

One particularly important shared theme of this study was the extent to which mothers and adolescents deemed high levels of warmth and high levels of control essential to effective parenting. We suggest that, within the context of the urban Dominican and Puerto Rican families participating in this study, the Latino construct of respeto is consistent with the construct of demandingness (that is, control) and that the construct simpatia is consistent with the concept of responsiveness (that is, warmth). Within Latino culture, respeto describes the importance of adhering to authority, be it based on age or social status. Simpatia, in turn, connotes positive, smooth, interpersonal relations and refers to the mutual accord Latinos strive to achieve in their interpersonal relationships. For the mothers in our focus groups, respeto not only encompasses parental authority and the obedience that youths accord to elders, but also stresses proper conduct. Mothers and adolescents noted that a high level of control over adolescents is necessary because adolescents benefit from limits on their behavior, particularly in an urban setting. Mothers unanimously stated that supervision and monitoring on their part, and obedience on the part of their adolescents, were instrumental to the well-being of all family members.

Contrary to stereotypes about Latino parenting as unilateral and authoritarian, mothers in the focus groups insisted that parental control must be rational and consistent. This maternal concern for talking with their adolescents to explain their use of parental authority and instill a sense of responsibility and proper conduct can he viewed as aspects of Latino personalismo, which accords great value to personal character and inner qualities. In social relationships, personalismo is personified by warmth, trust, and respect, which form the foundation for interpersonal connectedness, cooperation, and mutual reciprocity. The warm and responsive relationships connoted by personalismo entail a desire for harmony, closeness, and mutual respect in family relationships. The mothers in our focus groups believed it was important to understand their adolescents and to explain rules and expectations, rather than to simply issue directives. In addition, the mothers recognized the utility of engaging in adolescents' activities, such as games and television viewing, to build a positive parent-adolescent relationship. Moreover, their adolescents recognized that parental monitoring as well as parental responsiveness showed a parent's love and that the absence of parental authority might signify parental disinterest.

A major theme to emerge from the focus groups was the challenge of parenting adolescents in a low-income, urban neighborhood. All of the mothers in the focus groups were aware that the inner-city environs of the south Bronx presented unique risks for their adolescents. However, although mothers expressed concern about the risks posed to their adolescents, the majority expressed confidence in their ability to invoke parenting strategies designed to keep their children safe from harm. Both Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers described how they monitored and supervised their adolescents' whereabouts, behavior, and peers. Most mothers believed that strengthening the parent-adolescent relationship could also help keep their child safe. Adolescents, for their part, seemed less concerned about the risks presented by living in the inner city. However, those adolescents who discussed risks associated with "the street" also expressed confidence that their mothers could enact specific behaviors to keep them safe.

Inattention to the diversity of Latino subgroups and parenting styles could inadvertently perpetuate an incomplete understanding of parent-adolescent relationships in Latino families. Despite the ethnic heterogeneity of Latina mothers and adolescents in the focus groups, the results of the study point to themes shared by the Dominican and Puerto Rican participants rather than to themes unique to each subgroup. Although the cultures of the two groups are different, the Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers and adolescents in our sample had similar views about effective strategies for raising children in a low-income, urban environment. Our research suggests that the participant families face comparable parenting challenges as a function of residing in an urban, resource-poor community and that these shared challenges may obscure some cultural differences that otherwise might appear more prominent between these two groups.

The concurrence of responses regarding parenting practices from mothers and adolescents was noteworthy. The lack of variability in responses may be attributable to several factors. It is possible that younger adolescents are less capable of reflecting objectively on their views of ideal or effective parenting behaviors, and therefore simply describe what they know from their own family experience with parenting practices. It is also possible that the shared environment has led to similar views among mothers and adolescents of effective parenting.


The results presented here provide a rich description of the parenting practices of Dominican and Puerto Rican families in a northeastern urban setting. The reader is advised to cautiously apply these findings to Latino families residing in different parts of the country. Given the study's focus on mothers and adolescents, the role of fathers was not explicitly considered. We recognize the possibility that fathers in traditional Latino households may assume very different parenting roles than mothers, which this study was not able to capture. Our mother-adolescent pairs were recruited from the same middle school in the south Bronx, New York. All participants lived in economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, which may not be applicable to other Latino families residing throughout the United States. Our findings did not suggest major Latino subgroup differences. Dominican and Puerto Rican mother-adolescent pairs exhibited more similarities than differences, and families placed greater emphasis on potential risks associated with parenting in the context of their community. Future research should continue to evaluate potential ethnic variation and explore whether true differences exist between parenting preferences of Dominican and Puerto Rican mothers and their adolescent children and continue to examine a broader range of Dominican and Puerto Rican families in terms of acculturation, socioeconomic, and social contexts. We know of few studies that have carefully evaluated the parenting activities of these two groups.


The results of our study suggest several new directions for social work practice, research, and the development and evaluation of parent-based intervention programs. Our findings highlight the importance of integrating Latino cultural constructs into formal models of parenting to depict more accurately the parenting behavior of Latino families. We suggest framing the parenting dimensions of demandingness and responsiveness in terms of the Latino concepts of familismo, respeto, personalismo, simpatia, and the gender role differentiations of machismo and marianismo. Such integration allows previously misclassified Latino parenting practices to be better understood within broader parenting style frameworks. Social workers working with Latino families or developing family-based interventions for Latino parents can appeal to the classic dimensions of demandingness and responsiveness, but they will be more successful by grounding such interventions in these core constructs. For example, traditional parent-based interventions to prevent adolescent risk behaviors such as premature sexual intercourse often focus on the negative consequences of enacting the behavior at the individual level (for example, parents should communicate messages about the negative consequences of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases). In contrast, a parent-based sexual risk behavior intervention grounded in the cultural constructs of familismo could also incorporate messages on how adolescent participation in risk behaviors can have negative consequences not only for the adolescent, but also for the larger family system.

Culturally competent social workers should understand the importance of family and the caregiving role for many Latina mothers. In Latino families, the cultural constructs of familismo and marianismo assign significant meaning and value to the female caregiving role. However, certain aspects of the female caregiving role may be undermined by the economic and social constraints of residing in an urban environment. The economic challenges faced by many urban Latino families necessitate that mothers work outside of the home. Our findings suggest mothers in the focus groups are concerned about not being able to spend more time with their adolescents. Social workers can assist Latina mothers in identifying ways to spend quality time together. As the mothers and adolescents in our focus groups indicated, the quality of time spent together may be more important than the quantity. This is an important message to convey to families. Helping mothers and adolescents find ways to spend mutually rewarding time together can not only improve the parent-adolescent relationship, but can also help alleviate any concerns mothers may have about not being able to spend more time with their adolescent children.

For their part, Latino adolescents are aware of the time constraints their mothers face and how this impacts the temporal and emotional aspects of the parent-adolescent relationship. Our data show that Latino adolescents believe that parent-adolescent communication suffers from these time constraints and that Latino adolescents need their mothers to be responsive in a timely fashion. This is particularly important when adolescents approach their mothers to communicate about important and sensitive topics, as this may present a specific window of opportunity mothers have to reach their child. Social workers should assist Latina mothers in accurately identifying critical moments when their adolescent child may need greater parental accessibility to communicate about an important issue.

Our data also suggest that Latina mothers are invested in transmitting cultural values to their adolescent children and that they worry about the effect of American culture on their adolescents. Many Latina mothers may view American culture as being more permissive than Latino culture and, as such, a threat to their own vigilance as parents. In these cases, many families may encounter intergenerational conflict around cultural differences. Social workers can help parents and adolescents mediate intergenerational conflict that may arise from adolescents growing up in a markedly different culture than that of their parents or caregivers.

In sum, greater accuracy in depicting the parenting practices of Latino families can ultimately lead to the identification of practices most frequently used, most amenable to change, and most difficult to influence. Identifying such practices will be useful for developing intervention messages that resonate with Latino parents and produce positive, lasting changes in their parenting behaviors. Research supports the idea that population-specific interventions are accepted more readily and result in greater efficacy when cultural norms of the targeted group are considered and reflected in the intervention strategies (Shedlin & Deren, 2002; Vega & Lopez, 2001). Our data highlight the importance of incorporating Latino cultural constructs into the development of parenting interventions. This is the approach being taken in the Linking Lives Health Education Project, in which culturally specific messages are being developed for Latino parents as part of a broader effort to help parents communicate with their adolescents about risk behaviors.

Original manuscript received August 19, 2004

Final revision received September 13, 2005

Accepted April 18, 2006


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Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, is associate professor, Columbia University School of Social Work, 1255 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027; e-mail: Patricia Dittus, PhD, is health scientist, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. James Jaccard, PhD, is professor, Department of Psychology, Florida International University, Miami. Margaret Johansson, PhD, is research associate and Alida Bouris, MSW,, is project coordinator, Columbia University School of Social Work. Neifi Acosta, MA, works in the New York City Department of Education. This research was supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cooperative Agreement No. U87/CCU220155-3-0.
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Date:Jan 1, 2007
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