Simone Ispa-Landa’s Study Shows Urban Teens Affirming Their Parents’ Rules

Simone Ispa-Landa’s Study Shows Urban Teens Affirming Their Parents’ Rules

Simone Ispa-Landa

In a study of parental monitoring, assistant professor Simone Ispa-Landa interviewed urban African American teenagers to learn how they make sense of their parents’ rules. In contrast to earlier studies of adolescents, the teenagers in her study affirmed their parents’ rules as reasonable. 

“Parents’ rules are a great window into their own and their parents’ conceptions of who adolescents are and should become. Black adolescents’ interpretations are of special interest,” Ispa-Landa told a group of SESP graduate students and faculty members at a Human Development and Social Policy talk in February. Ispa-Landa studies inequality and how people understand their social position vis-à-vis others.

The subjects of Ispa-Landa’s study were black adolescents in grades 8 to 10 whose parents had signed them up for a racial integration program that buses adolescents to mostly white suburban schools. Primarily, the families were poor to working-class or middle class. The make-up of the study’s sample helps to explain the results.

The adolescents in her study saw their parents’ monitoring as appropriate to the risks they faced in their neighborhoods. “Parents’ rules are viewed as a rational response to the environment,” Ispa-Landa says.

The teens also view their parents as helping them to navigate toward a better future. “Sharing parents’ goals for future upward mobility allows urban adolescents to legitimize their parents’ rules,” she says.

Her overall finding that the adolescents legitimized their parents’ rules contrasts with the findings of previous studies about white middle-class adolescents. In earlier studies, the teenagers did not agree with the rationale behind their parents’ rules.

In Ispa-Landa’s study, 75 percent of the adolescents share a vision of the future with their parents. In relation to monitoring, 64 percent say their parents’ rules are aimed at keeping them safe. They have a “shared perception of dangerous neighborhood,” says Ispa-Landa. She concludes that the students saw risks in their neighborhood and understood their own social position.

The accepted portrayal of teenagers is that they rebel against the way parents want them to dress, act or speak. However, 72 percent of the girls in Ispa-Landa’s study legitimized their parents’ rules as “rightfully regulating styles of self-presentation.” They understood and validated their parents’ concern that they have a respectable reputation, says Ispa-Landa, who also emphasized that these findings mesh well with what is known about the Black community’s efforts — both historically and today — to develop in girls particular kinds of class-based respectability.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/1/13