Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Communication and Information
Mark Harmon, Catherine Luther, Julia Malia
This is an exploratory study of the parent-child interactions in African American families as they are portrayed on television and as they are experienced in real life. The research methods- frame analyses, focus groups, and a parent-child relationship questionnaire- facilitated the exploration of common interactions between parents and their children, such as their verbal communication styles (conversation orientation, conformity orientation), conflict management styles (avoiding, accommodating, confronting, compromising, collaborating) and level of closeness (disengaged, separated, connected, enmeshed).
To examine the parent-child relationships depicted in African American television families, four television shows were included in the analysis: My Wife & Kids, Family Matters, The Cosby Show, and That’s So Raven. Three episodes from each television series with parent-child interactions as the main story line were examined for communication style, conflict management, and closeness.
A parents’ focus group and a children’s focus group was conducted and a Parent-Child Relationship Questionnaire was administered to each group to explore real African American parent-child relationships with regard to communication, conflict management, and closeness. The focus groups consisted of three traditional, two-parent African American families with one child per family ranging in age from 9- to 10-years-old.
In categorizing communication styles, conflict management, and closeness, each dyadic pair (mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter, or father-son) was considered. The findings show more conversation orientation practiced in the real parent-child relations as well as the TV families. In the real African American families, the most recurring conflicts were between the mother and child. The parent-child conflict management styles most often used in the real families were confronting, compromising, and collaborating. Nearly all of the parent-child conflicts in the TV families were resolved using collaboration. A close, connected parent-child relationship was experienced in the real families and the TV families.
When assessing emotional closeness, conflict management, and communication styles, the results indicated that the quality of the African American parent-child relationships appears to be positive both in real life and on television. Additionally, the results indicated that there are more similarities than differences between African American parent-child relationships depicted on television and experienced in real African American families.
Robinson, Syrenthia Johnson, "Scripted vs. Real: An Analysis of Parent-Child Interactions in African American Sitcom Families and Real Life Families. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2006.