U.S. Mexican Parents’ Use of Harsh Parenting in the Context of Neighborhood Danger

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Family stress model research suggests that parents’ exposure to environmental stressors can disrupt key parenting processes. As family stress model scholarship has expanded to include increasingly diverse populations and a wider range of contexts, studies have documented important nuances. One of these nuances concerns U.S. Mexican parents’ use of harsh parenting. In the current study, we examined the harshness-as-disruption family stress-model hypothesis, which specifies parental emotional distress as a mediator of positive associations between neighborhood danger and parental harshness. We contrasted this perspective with cultural-developmental perspectives suggesting that harsh parenting may be an important parenting adaptation to dangerous neighborhood environments (harshness-as-adaptation). We tested the harshness-as-disruption hypothesis prospectively, in a sample of U.S. Mexican mothers (N = 749) and fathers (n = 579) with children in the late childhood to early adolescent age-range. Both mothers and fathers demonstrated higher levels of depression symptoms in the face of neighborhood danger. Fathers’ harsh parenting, however, was unrelated to neighborhood danger or depressive symptoms. All mothers demonstrated some evidence of the harshness-as-disruption family stress process. For highly familistic mothers, however, harsh parenting may reflect a combination of harshness-as-disruption and harshness-as-adaptation processes. This combined interpretation is consistent with cultural-developmental models highlighting structural inequalities that filter families of color into lower-resourced, more stressful environments, but simultaneously recognizing that families’ and communities’ adapting cultural systems support parenting responses to such circumstances.

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