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  • Writer's pictureLynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH

What are Other Families Doing to Support their Kids’ Multiracial Identity Development?

One of the challenges that we face as Multiracial families is the difficulty to connect with other multiracial families to learn about what they are doing to support their kids and to dig into the details. Of course, some of us out there are very social and have a wide network to lean on, while others are a bit more isolated and perhaps weary to broach the subject, especially when our relationships are not as intimate.

Fortunately, we can learn from formal research on the subject which offers personal and in-depth insight into strategies and approaches (or lack thereof) that others parents take.

This study learned from 10 couples where one parent identified as East Asian and the other as White. The team wanted to understand how these parents viewed supporting racial identity formation (often call racial socialization in academic writing) for their kids.

The first take-away is that many of the families don’t ever talk about racial identity development before the birth of their children, and as one mother said “We didn’t think it was going to be a concern”. Two families in the study did talk about racial socialization before their children were born, especially as related to languages and cultures and the desire to ensure that future children would be exposed to cultural practices. This was the exception, not the rule, among participating parents.

When it comes to supporting identity development, the authors share that it is discussed as a spectrum ranging from a ‘color-blind’ approach where race is intentionally not seen/discussed to active practices. Parents in this study ranged the whole spectrum, and parents of teenagers tended to be more aligned with active practices where parents emphasize discussions around race, social justice, and race-based discrimination.

Several parents shared stories of when their children were treated differently based on their physical appearances and also by the environment they were in. One example a parent shared was when their son was in a daycare primarily surrounded by Black and Hispanic peers their son was seen as White, but when they were in a different daycare surrounded by White peers he was seen as Asian. We know that the environment influences how multiracial individuals identify and how others identify them.

What should I take away from this?

This study seeks to understand, but doesn’t provide the reader with much actionable and meaningfully guidance. However, if you are a parent of Multiracial kids, know that you are not alone trying to figure this all out.

Evidence does show that frequent and positive communication about race between multiracial children and their parents is associated with multiracial children’s stronger sense of self-esteem, higher rates of academic achievement, and lower rates of disciplinary problems.*

The authors conclude:

“Greater awareness of the importance of intentional socialization practices is needed to ensure a healthy developmental trajectory for this growing population of Asian-White biracial children.”

Should I trust this?

Like all research, there are several limitations to this study. All of the parent couples identified as East Asian/White pairings, so it is unlikely that the findings described would also be true for couples with different racial identities, or even other Asian backgrounds as the Asian continent is vast and diverse. Further, the unit of analysis for the paper is the total number of couples (10) while there were 20 people total in the study. This is a small sample size. Last, parents had children of varying ages, so their children are at different developmental stages. Studies that learn from parents of similarly aged children to better understand what parenting styles and approaches to racial socialization work best for different age ranges are more actionable.

Article (Unfortunately this is behind a paywall, but the author’s academic website can be found here.)

Citation: Kim-Breunig, H., & Vittrup, B. (2022). Racial/Ethnic Socialization Practices of Biracial Asian Children in the United States. Journal of Family Issues, 0192513X221134656.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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