Study Finds African-American “Helicopter Parents” Are Concerned for Their Sons’ Safety

According to a new study led by scholars at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, African American mothers share many traits with “helicopter parents” when it comes to being overprotective and hyper-vigilant about their children’s lives. The study found that African American mothers live in fear that their sons will be stopped by authority figures and could potentially be killed. This anxiety leads to physical symptoms and impacts the way these women parent their sons.

“We’ve been hearing from mothers about these fears throughout our professional careers,” says Ann Shillingford, an associate professor of counseling at the University of Central Florida and one of the study’s authors. “We decided to look at the data and we heard similar stories over and over again. This is a collective experience that had not been documented, until now.”

For their study, the researchers interviewed African-American women from across the country who had at least one male child of varying ages. The interviews lasted from 40 to 90 minutes and discussed the woman’s experience with raising a Black son in the United States.

Through these interviews, the researchers found that many of the participants talked about coaching their sons on how to act when they are stopped to enhance their chances of survival. The mothers offered different pieces of advice on how to act, but the general conclusion of these “talks” was to just “come home alive.”

“They have a baseline of fear for their sons, which causes them to be a bit overbearing. They reported wanting to control their sons’ movements and they give them ‘the talk’ in hopes that it will protect them outside the home,” said  lead author J. Richelle Joe. “This is a kind of helicopter parenting, but not for academic success. It is to ensure survival.”

Additionally, the mothers who participated in this study stated that raising young Black men is isolating, and that they don’t feel comfortable talking about their concerns at work or with other people who aren’t going through the same experience. As a result, the women shared that they tend to seek out other Black women in an effort to create a support network and reassure each other they are not alone.

In the future, the authors plan to continue interviewing more African American mothers, and examine what coping techniques they use and the effectiveness of these coping mechanisms.

“We have a duty to provide culturally sensitive services to support this population so that they can take off their masks and experience the empathy that is lacking in many aspects of their lives,” said Dr. Joe. “Additionally, this duty extends beyond the counseling room as counselors serve as social justice advocates in order to address the systemic barriers to mental health and wellness for members of the African-American community.”

The full study, “The Experiences of African American Mothers Raising Sons in the Context of #BlackLivesMatter,” was published in the journal The Professional Counselor. It may be accessed here.

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