Parenting practices and the transmission of ethnic identity

Three years after being interviewed, a nonrandom, purposeful subsample of 14 Jewish families from a larger sample of 48 families living in Central New York was reinterviewed. The primary aim of this follow-up study was to develop a descriptive understanding of parenting practices and the transmission of ethnic identity. Semistructured family interviews were conducted and coded using grounded-theon,, techniques, in particular the constant comparative method of analysis. Four main qualitative categories emerged from this study: Individual differences in teenagers, stages of ethnic identity development, parenting practices, and parental role models. Findings suggest that clear expectations, a type of authoritative parenting, could be associated with the positive transmission of Jewish ethnic identity. This type of parenting style was direct as parents expressed clear expectations for participation in Jewish activities both at home and in the community.

Although assertions about how to best promote a positive and strong ethnic identity in families have been made, little research has been done that details how the transmission of ethnic identity to the next generation occurs (Chesire, 2001; Marshall, 1995, Okagaki & Moore, 2000; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Quintana & Vera, 1999). For example, little is known about what types of parenting practices best cultivate and reinforce the transmission of ethnic identity to children and to teenagers. In an earlier multimethod study, we used qualitative and quantitative approaches to explore the ways in which a certain type of ethnic identity, Jewish identity, might affect family dynamics and children’s self esteem. Our findings suggested that there are many ways that Jewish ethnic identity can influence family dynamics, for example parenting styles and communication. The adolescents in this earlier study also stated that they like being Jewish because it makes them feel “special” and unique; it appears to be an important part of their identity (Davey, Stone Fish, & Robila, 2001; Semans & Stone Fish, 2000). Although we learned a great deal about Jewish ethnic identity from this larger sample of families, research questions about parenting practices and the transmission of ethnic identity emerged from our original study (Semans & Stone Fish, 2000).

Three years after the original study was conducted, we reinterviewed a subsample of 14 families (from the original 48 families interviewed) in which at least one of the teenagers had matured to middle or late adolescence (14 and older). We conducted this follow-up study to qualitatively explore how this particular minority ethnic group, White Jewish families, cultivate and transmit ethnic identity to the next generation. Although extant literature has informed some of our thinking and coding of the qualitative data, we conducted the follow-up interviews before reading the extant literature in depth. Our primary goal was not to develop a full grounded theory, but to develop a descriptive understanding of parenting practices and the transmission of ethnic identity, therefore, we used techniques and principles from grounded theory to code the data (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

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