Background of the Problem
Parenting adolescents is a challenging task in modern American society. The problem is compounded when one is forced to raise such teenagers as a single mother. According to Elliott, Powell, and Brenton (2015), recent statistics show that about half of the African American children are raised by single parents. The study also indicates that 70% of single parents are mothers. Johnsen and Friborg (2015) state that many single mothers are forced to raise their children without the emotional and financial support from male partners who fathered these children. Taking care of the family’s financial needs is challenging, but Williams and Smalls (2015) explain that parenting goes beyond that. It also entails understanding one’s children’s unique needs and addressing them in the best way possible.
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Some children are open with their parents and can express themselves effectively when dealing with issues affecting them at school or home. Others prefer not to express their issues to the parents. It largely depends on the relationship that has been developed between a parent and a child (Cokley, Awosogba, & Taylor, 2014). A parent who spends most of the time working to provide for the family may not have time to monitor their children’s trends and behavioral patterns unless an issue is brought to their attention by a teacher or a neighbor. It means that a child can deviate away from the standard norms and behavior expected by society without the parent’s knowledge. Determining the experience of single mothers of their relationship with their adolescent sons is important in this study.
The relationship that single mothers have when parenting adolescent sons is different from that of adolescent daughters. According to Groh, Fearon, Jzendoorn, Bakermans‐Kranenburg, and Roisman (2017), parenting a boy child is different from parenting a girl child. Leech (2016) also notes that a female parent’s approach to parent an adolescent boy is different from that which is taken when parenting an adolescent girl. As a child develops into an adolescent stage, they experience physiological and emotional developments that may be challenging for them to understand (Benner, Boyle, & Sadler, 2016). They begin to understand their sexuality and struggle to deal with their emotions. At this stage, a teenage boy would need the support of a father who understands this developmental stage based on experience.
Maynard, Salas-Wright, and Vaughn (2015) explain that it is easier for a teenage boy to seek help from an adult male than a female. Unfortunately, the majority of these single parented young boys are cared for by their mothers. In such families, the only adult member of the family is the female parent. Cohn’s (2016) report shows that the majority of these adolescent boys raised by female parents rarely share their experiences with their mothers. They suffer in silence and are easily convinced to join groups that may lead them astray. Parents come to learn about these children’s problems when something serious has happened (Maudry-Beverley, 2014). Others are forced to deal with the financial loss caused by the actions of their children. In extreme cases, it is often too late for the parent to act when these children ultimately lose their lives while engaging in dangerous activities due to peer pressure. The ability of a parent to guide a child depends on the personal relationship between the two.
The experience that these single African American parents go through can only be expressed by the affected group. Barnett and Scaramella (2013) explain that it can be frustrating for a single parent to learn that providing food, shelter, education, healthcare, and other basic needs is not enough for parenting. Others are forced to take two or three jobs to make ends meet, but that is not everything that the family needs. Her attention is equally needed, especially when there is no other adult in the immediate family that can offer guidance to the children (Hirsch, Dierkhising, & Herz, 2018). They have to find ways of balancing their limited time between working several jobs a day and giving their adolescent sons the attention they need. In this paper, the focus was to investigate single African American females’ experience of being mothers to their adolescent sons.
Need for the Study
The chosen topic was relatively new in the field of parenting in American society. Scholars have conducted broad studies on single parenting, as Weinrath, Donatelli, and Murchison (2016) observe. Scholarly attention is yet to be given on the experience of single African American female being mothers to their adolescent sons. This literature gap was addressed in this study. According to Irvine, Drew, and Sainsbury (2013), studies indicate that over 25% of African American females aged 22-44 are single mothers. 9% of white females in the same age bracket are single mothers (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). It means that single parenting is more common among African American females than it is among white females. It is necessary to find ways to improve these parents’ experiences as the problem becomes more prevalent among the targeted group (Cohn, 2016). As evident from the discussion above, this study was not focused on fighting the increasing cases of single parenting, which is a different but important topic.
The investigation looks at the experience of that these female parents have intending to understand the challenges they have to deal with and ways of improving their experience. These parents should not give up despite the psychological trauma they have to endure (Pachankis, Hatzenbuehler, Rendina, Safren, & Parsons, 2015). However, they need some form of support to overcome some of the painful experiences. Through this study, it was possible to bring the attention of the American public to this issue through various forums to find ways of improving the experience. A study conducted by Johnsen and Friborg (2015) shows that most single mothers prefer having girls to boys. They believe that it is more challenging to parent adolescent boys because of their rebellious nature. The negative attitude that some of these parents have can worsen the experience and deny the affected children the affection they need from the parent. They can easily become resentful adults who cannot sustain meaningful relationships or avoid breaking the law (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). Solving such social problems needs the attention of the American community.
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Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this research is to investigate how single African-American mothers experience their relationship with their adolescent sons. According to a study by Slonim (2014), single mothers find it difficult to parent their adolescent sons than to raise adolescent girls. They went through the same stages that their girls are going through to easily relate to the physiological and emotional changes they are going through. It is also easy for female parents to talk about the sexual health and sexuality of their adolescent daughters, a very important topic for adolescents (Williams, Ryan, Davis-Kean, McLoyd, & Schulenberg, 2017).
However, the same cannot be said for single mothers parenting adolescent sons. Snyder (2016) believes that although American society has made significant steps in fighting stereotypes and traditional concepts that made it a taboo for mothers to talk about sex with their sons, it is still not easy for mothers to address sex-related problems with their sons. Sometimes they know the topic is necessary, but they cannot talk about it. This study identified the challenges that single go through and how it affects their ability to care for these adolescents to become responsible and successful adults. Doody and Noonan (2013) explain that society knows the problem exists, but the issue has not been given proper attention, even among scholars. It is evident that promoting public discourse on this issue, especially among scholars, can create avenues through which some of these single mothers can be assisted in the upbringing of their adolescent sons.
Significance of the Study
This research is of significance to American society. According to Wu, Appleman, Salazar, and Ong (2015), when parenting fails, it affects the entire community. In American society today, juvenile delinquency may not be as bad as it was in the 1980s and part of the 1990s (Leech, 2016). However, cases are still reported of adolescents who engage in the smuggling of drugs, burglary, robbery, and other criminal offenses. In most of the cases, the victims of such criminal acts are members of the public. Slonim (2014) argues that some male adolescents engage in criminal acts because they sympathize with their single mothers who have to work several jobs to provide for the family.
In their mind, they believe that engaging in such acts can help reduce the burden on their parents, especially if they can get enough cash that makes it unnecessary to ask for the same (Leech, 2016). The psychological trauma that some of these adolescents go through because of a lack of support from parents can transform them into dangerous criminals in society. In a study by Slonim (2014), most of the serial killers had unstable parenting. They grow up harboring bitterness against a section of the society, believing it was responsible for the pain they went through in their youth. They then try to revenge against these individuals. These are common cases when adolescents go to school with guns and then kill their innocent colleagues. Some of these cases are reported by the American media, while many others are not (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). Failing to nurture these adolescent boys into responsible and law-abiding men is a danger to American society.
Psychologists in institutions of healthcare and guidance and counseling teachers will find this information critical in their fields. Stress-related health complications, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases, are becoming common in the United States (Peleg, Vilchinsky, Fisher, Khaskia, & Mosseri, 2017). The African American females are some of the worst affected group, as Ebert et al. (2015) admit. One of the primary causes of stress among single parents is how to provide for the family while taking care of their children’s social and emotional needs (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). This document will provide important information on how psychologists can handle parents who are faced with such challenges. It will provide ways in which these parents can be supported in their parenting duties. Snyder (2016) explains that families that embrace specific religion may get the support needed from their community members. Instead of bearing the psychological burden alone, a parent can get the support of a church member to help address some of the emotional needs of an adolescent son (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). Guidance and counseling teachers will find the document important when trying to meet the social and emotional needs of the adolescent boys at school. They will understand the factors that influence the relationship between adolescents and adults in a social setting.
The findings of this paper will help conform or dispute the relevance of theories developed by scholars in this field. Theories relating to single parenting and the unique challenges that African Americans go through in this society have been developed by various scholars (Williams & Smalls, 2015). However, it is important to appreciate that as society continues to experience social, economic, political, and technological changes, some of these theories become irrelevant (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). Through this study, it was possible to determine the relevance of the grounded theory, black psychology theory, and family systems theory in explaining the experience that single African American female parents go through and decisions that they sometimes take when faced with different challenges. The outcome of the study will explain the unique experience of single African American mothers of their relationship with adolescent sons.
In this qualitative study, it was important to develop research questions that helped collect data from various sources. The research questions should facilitate investigating the experience of single African American females when parenting their adolescent sons. The following is the primary research question that was based on the aim of the study:
How do single African-American sMother’s experience their relationship with their adolescent sons?
The question was supported by sub-questions that focused on different experiences of these parents when parenting their sons. The following are the supportive questions that were used in collecting data:
- What is it like to be a single African American mother of an adolescent son?
- Describe your relationship with your adolescent son.
- What are the most important aspects of your relationship with your son?
- How has your relationship with your son changed over time?
- Has the relationship changed since your son became an adolescent, or has it remained the same?
- How do you typically communicate with your son?
- What other factors affect your relationship with your son?
- If you could change any aspect of your relationships, what would it be?
- Are there any other comments you wish to add or issues that you believe are important to discuss in relation to this topic?
The most appropriate design for this study was the qualitative research method. When investigating the experience of single African American females of being mothers to their adolescent sons, statistical analysis may be irrelevant (Ehde, Dillworth, & Turner, 2014). The experience of some parents may be so unique that it may not be possible to generalize through inferential statistics. Allowing them to explain these experiences and how they try to cope enabled the researcher to understand the pattern of the problem and how different stakeholders try to address it. Qualitative research design facilitated a comprehensive investigation of why the problem exists in this society and what can be done to address it (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). It proposed how single African American mothers can parent their adolescent sons, with the help of teachers, religious leaders, and members of their community, in a way that minimizes the negative experiences. Qualitative data collected and analyzed identified areas of improvement needed to protect by members of the society to ensure that parenting of the adolescents becomes a communal responsibility other than being viewed as the sole responsibility of the parent (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). The chosen design should enable the researcher to achieve the objectives of the study.
Assumptions and Limitations
According to Haefner (2014), it is necessary to define the assumptions and limitations encountered when conducting research. One can easily understand the relevance of the study in case it is necessary to apply it in a given context. The following were the assumptions, limitations, and delimitations in this study:
Leech (2016) explains that different people have different experiences in parenting because of socioeconomic factors. However, the study assumed that most single African American females share the same experience when parenting their sons. Some of these single mothers also get direct financial and emotional support from their partners, family members, and fathers of their children (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). However, the study assumed that these parents are not getting any form of emotional or financial support from their partners. The paper also assumes that American society still embraces race, gender, academic qualifications, and social status as defining factors. The paper presupposes that all the subjects of the study (single African American mothers) face the same problem of upbringing as a teenager. As Brown (2016a) observes, some teenagers are rebellious and very hostile, making the process of parenting more difficult. On the other hand, some teenagers are disciplined, intelligent, and understanding, making the experience of single mothers less painful. However, the paper assumes that all the teenage sons have a standard behavior.
The research had limitations that should be discussed in this stage of the report. One of the main limitations was the time available for the study. America is a diverse country, even for people of color (Williams & Smalls, 2015). The experiences that a single African American mother has when parenting an adolescent son cannot be similar to that of a neighbor in the same city who faces the same predicament. It would be appropriate to conduct separate studies, classifying these single parents into different social classes to understand how their experiences vary. However, the limited time made it impossible to narrow down the study further. Another major limitation was finding the right people to help in collecting primary data. Convincing some of the parents to take part in the study was a challenge. As Leech (2016) explains, sometimes the experience of single parenting can be so painful that one finds it difficult to discuss it. Others are not proud of such status and do not easily admit that they are single mothers.
It was necessary to find a way of dealing with these challenges. As explained in the assumption section above, although socioeconomic status may make the experience of some single parents different, there are shared factors that make these single mothers face similar challenges in the upbringing of their adolescent sons (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). As such, it was not necessary to classify them further based on social status. The researcher worked closely with different schools to identify single African American mothers. It was easy to replace those who felt uncomfortable taking part in the study.
Chapter 1 provides a detailed discussion of the research background and the problem that the study seeks to address. It has eight sections. The first section provides a background of the problem and the need for the study. The next section discusses the need and purpose of the study. The significance of the research is also discussed to justify the project. Research questions and design are outlined. Assumptions, limitations, and definitions of terms are also provided in this chapter. The dissertation has five chapters. Chapter 1 provides the background of the study and the goal that should be achieved. Chapter 2 is a detailed review of the literature. Chapter 3 discusses the method used to collect and analyze data, while chapter 4 analyzes data collected from the respondents. Chapter 5 concludes the paper and provides recommendations.
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In this chapter, the focus is to provide a detailed review of the existing literature. The chapter starts with an explanation of the methods of research used to obtained secondary data sources. The chapter then provides a detailed review of existing theories. Black Psychology Theory and Family Systems Theory were found to be relevant in this paper. Factors that influence parenting of adolescents such as culture, social status, gender, level of discipline and academic excellence of a child, religious support, government support, personal relationship between mother and child are also discussed. The chapter provides a synthesis of research findings and a critique of previous research methods. It ends with a summary.
Methods of Searching
The literature review formed a critical part of the study. According to Benner et al. (2016), it is important to review findings made by other scholars when conducting research. The process not only provides background information but also identifies gaps in the existing knowledge. Sources used in this chapter were obtained from different books are reliable articles. The school library helped in finding the needed books and some journal articles. An online search also made it possible to find current articles on the research topic. Key-words such as ‘single parenting,’ ‘African American mothers’, and ‘parenting adolescents,’ among others, made it possible for the researcher to find useful materials for the study. Some of the databases that proved useful include Google Scholar, Journal Store (Jstor), Academic Search, Pro-Quest, and EBSCO Information Services. They provided books and journals recently published about single parenting, especially among African American women. Information obtained from these sources and findings obtained through the analysis of primary data informed the conclusion and recommendations made in the study.
Theoretical Orientation for the Study
It is necessary to analyze specific theories relevant to this research. According to Brody et al. (2014), theoretical orientation for the study offers a researcher a basis upon which ideas should be developed. Single African American females’ experience of being mothers to their adolescent sons can effectively be captured by different theories and concepts (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). Two theoretical concepts were found to be relevant to the research topic. They include Black Psychology Theory and Family Systems Theory. Each of them was analyzed and effectively applied to the context of the study.
Black Psychology Theory
One of the emerging theories that concepts have used to describe the American social setting is the Black Psychology Theory. According to Elliott et al. (2015), it explains the beliefs, behavior, attitude, interactions, and feelings of African Americans (Ford & Moore, 2013). It has developed over time, and as Barnett and Scaramella (2013) observe currently is based on the Black Americans’ social environment. It is the desire of every American of goodwill to champion a united society and committed to a common goal, as was defined by the founding fathers (Jarvis, George, & Holland, 2013). Every person always desires to act in a way that would bring the society together irrespective of the demographical differences that we have. However, it is unfortunate that having such a perfect society is impossible (Pierre & Jackson, 2014). People tend to identify with their gender, race, religion, and other demographical factors. Haefner (2014) believes that every time people narrow down on their principles to specific factors such as race, they cease to be patriotic Americans committed to promoting a unified society where everyone is treated with respect. As Cooper (2013) notes, the theory offers a perfect explanation, why African Americans are disadvantaged compared with other races in the country.
African Americans often find themselves on the defensive whenever the issue of racism emerges. According to Brannon, Markus, and Taylor (2015), American society is still divided along the racial line, with Blacks considered inferior to whites. It emerges from the history of Africans in America. Most of them came to the United States during the colonial era as slaves (Emmen et al., 2013). The society highly cherished the caste system by that time, and it meant that they could not climb the social ladder through any means basically because of their skin pigmentation. When the country gained independence, slavery was abolished, but the perception towards Black Americans never changed (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). It took several decades for African American men to gain the right to vote in this country. However, that did not help counter the negative perception that whites had towards them (Duffy, Blustein, Diemer, & Autin, 2016). Blacks who emigrated from Africa to the United States since independence did little to change the perceptions that the society had towards them (Percy, Kostere, & Kostere, 2015). Most of them were job seekers willing to do anything at the least possible pay. It strengthened the narrative that these people can only be servants (Pauker, Apfelbaum, & Spitzer, 2015). Fast forward to the 20th century, American society is still segregated along the racial lines.
Family Systems Theory
When investigating single African American females’ experience of being mothers to their adolescent sons, one of the important concepts that cannot be ignored is the Bowen’s Family System Theory. It holds that people cannot be understood in isolation, but rather as part of a family (Wang & Kenny, 2014). There is a close interdependent and interconnectedness of individuals. Events that affect one individual also affect other individuals during the interaction. When a mother had a bad experience at work, the emotional instability may affect how she interacts with family members at home. The theory also explains the role of family members and expectations (Zimmerman et al., 2013). Parents are expected to provide for the family and offer protection and guidance. In a family with a single mother, the role of providing, protecting, and guiding falls on her. Working different jobs to provide for the family is not enough. Such a parent must also provide the emotional support that children need.
The experience of single female parents depends on the relationships developed with the child. When there is a close relationship between a mother and an adolescent son, it is easy for the parent to explain the difficulties the family is going through and ways in which she is trying to deal with them (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). The son will also explain the socioeconomic challenges he is facing at school and home. The Family System Theory holds that when a positive relationship is inculcated, there will be minimal disagreement. Each party will understand the challenges of the other, and there will be a genuine effort to make the experience less painful. On the other hand, when there is a poor relationship between a mother and an adolescent son, cases of rebellion and disagreements become common. The theory is appropriate for this study.
Review of the Literature
Parenting is a widely researched topic, and other scholars have addressed some of the concepts that were investigated in this project. Barnett and Scaramella (2013) explain that socioeconomic and political changes in society mean that some realities have changed. According to Varner and Mandara (2013), a century ago, women in the United States were not allowed to vote, and only a few of them were active in the corporate world. However, that has changed. It means that the experiences that a single African American woman had when raising a son in 1930 is different from that in 2018 (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Although the study has been explored, these changes mean that revisiting the topic is important to understand the positive steps that have been made and areas that still need society’s attention (Pachankis et al., 2015). This section reviews findings made by other scholars who investigated related topics.
Single Parenting in the United States
According to recent statistics, single parenting is becoming a common phenomenon in the United States. Williams and Smalls (2015) argue that single parenting may be caused by divorce, separation, incarceration of one partner, or death of a partner. According to Irvine et al. (2013), the primary causes of single parenting in the country are divorce and separation of the partners. Barnett and Scaramella (2013) argue that now more than ever, many marriages end up in divorce before their fifth year. The phenomenon is not unique, but the rate at which American marriages are ending in divorce or separation is worrying, as Barnett and Scaramella (2013) observe. Figure 1 below shows the statistics of the changing American families and how different groups are affected. The statistics show that the number of children living with an unmarried mother is consistently rising since the 1960s. In 1960, less than 10% of children were raised with unmarried mothers. The number has significantly increased to 24% in 2010 (Blankstein, Noguera, Kelly, & Tutu, 2016). The whites are the least affected group, although the problem is also becoming prevalent amongst them. In 1960, about 9% of white children were raised by unmarried mothers, as shown in the statistics below. The number has more than doubled to 19% in 2010 (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). Hispanics are also experiencing a similar problem. In 1978, about 18 Hispanic children were raised by single mothers. The number is expected to increase as cases of divorce are on the rise.
The social problem of single parenting affects African American mothers than any other population in the United States. Since the 1960s, the number of African American children raised by single mothers has been more than twice the country’s average (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). The statistics in figure 1 below shows that the trend is not changing. In 1960, less than 10% of all American children were raised by single mothers. At that time, 20% of African American children were under the care of single mothers (Atzaba-Poria, Deater-Deckard, & Bell, 2014). In 1990, 54% of African American minors were parented by single mothers. At that time, the country’s average was 22%. As Leech (2016) explains, the problem is not as prevalent today as in the 1990s, but the Blacks are still the worst affected group. In 2010, 50% of African American children were parented by single mothers, while the country’s average was 24% (Benner et al., 2016). The prevalence of this problem among African Americans made it necessary to narrow down the study to this group because it is the worst affected.
Studies show that one of the leading causes of divorce and separation in the country is infidelity. According to Stinson (2013), modern technologies, especially the growing popularity of smartphones and other communication gadgets and software, have made it easy for couples to trace activities and determine if one is unfaithful. The rate at which men are cheating on their wives has not changed much, according to a study conducted by Nobles (2013). However, it is easier than ever for wives to determine if they are cheating. On the other hand, the rate at which women are cheating on their spouses has increased significantly in the modern society compared with the case a century ago (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). The trend is attributed to the empowerment of women, especially those in the corporate world. They spend a lot of time at work and mingle with so many people, making it easy for them to get into illicit affairs (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Still, it does not mean that women are more promiscuous than men. The statistics only show that women empowerment has created platforms where women can easily cheat on their partners.
The emergence of social media platforms is another factor that is straining relationships. According to a report by Brown (2016b), social media can be very addictive. Some people cannot spend more than 30 minutes of their free time without visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatsApp. They are so addicted to social media that they no longer have time for their families (Jeynes, 2015). Traditionally, couples were expected to have family times together after work to discuss fundamental issues such as the academic progress of children, financial status of the family challenges that the couple face, and such related topics (Wang & Kenny, 2014). However, that is no longer the case. After work, many couples spend time on social media sharing with friends and family members. The two may be physically close, but there is no connection because they spend chatting with others miles away. One partner may need the attention of the other, but it may not be easy to get it because of the obsession with Facebook and WhatsApp. Leech (2016) explains that in such instances, a rift will emerge between the couples, and they will find it difficult to stay together. The outcome of such undesirable situations is a separation or divorce.
Social networking sites not only distract couples from giving their partners the attention they need but also promote vices dangerous to the unity of a family. According to Haefner (2014), it is easier for one to make sexual advances on a colleague after work than when having a face-to-face meeting. Those who are shy find social media a perfect platform for seduction (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). When a partner finds such compromising messages on the Facebook account of a colleague, the relationship will be strained. In other cases, a partner may fall into the charms of the colleague who reaches out to them through social media. Such cases are common when the romance and attention are lacking in the family. When such individuals realize that there is someone willing to give them the attention they need, they can easily backtrack on their marriage vows (Doody & Noonan, 2013). When infidelity sets in, the fate of such a family is left on luck. The emergence of hook-up sites seeking to connect men and women seeking love or casual relationships has worsened the problem. Ashley Madison, Adult Friend Finder, and Fling.com are some of the popular sites that people couples visit when they realize that the romance they need is lacking at home (Hajar, 2016). When a partner starts seeking love and attention from outside the family, the chances are high that the relationship will soon end.
The increasing incidence of single parenting is often blamed on the empowerment of women. In the past, women were forced to endure physical, emotional, and verbal abuse from their husbands (Stinson, 2013). They had to depend solely on their husbands to provide for their families. The love for their children and the fear of the unknown would make them withstand all the abuses for the sake of having a stable family (Doody & Noonan, 2013). However, that is no longer the case. Women can now afford to lead independent lives without the financial support of their husbands. They are academically empowered and understand their rights in a family setting (Harris, Sutherland, & Hutchinson, 2013). As such, whenever they feel that their dignity is compromised and their love is taken for granted, they do not hesitate to move out of the relationship (Ledgerton, 2013). With the current favorable laws that compel men to provide financial support to their children after separation or divorce, the fear of the unknown is always addressed. It means that women no longer fear leading single lives.
The increasing relevance of education and the need for economic empowerment in American society is making some people disregard the need to have life-long partners. The problem is majorly affecting the middle-class (Leech, 2016). These people spend a lot of time at school, seeking to gain relevant skills that would enable them to achieve success in the corporate world (Doody & Noonan, 2013). Once they start working, they have a focus on achieving career success. They spend most of their time working and amassing wealth. When they are in early or mid-thirties, they realize that they need to have families. At this stage, different people take different approaches to achieve the goal that they desire. Some make the deliberate choice to have children and lead the life of a single mother (Hess & Henig, 2015). They feel that with their financial might, they can support their families without having a male partner. Such individuals believe that being committed to a partner may limit their ability to advance their careers (Ebert et al., 2015). They do not want to be controlled by a partner who will demand to know what she is doing at every instance. Another group, as Brown (2016b) explains, opts to get married and settle down with a chosen partner. However, along the way, they realize that they cannot withstand a life where every action they take is subject to scrutiny. Such individuals quickly find their ways out of their relationships, opting to care for their children as single mothers.
The law is clear about the need for men to support their children after divorce. According to Wang and Kenny (2014), a woman raising a son as a single mother should get regular financial support from the father’s child to meet the necessary needs. The problem is that sometimes implementing the law is not easy. Brown (2016a) explains that cases have been witnessed where some men disappear, never to be seen again after their divorce. Others consider resigning from their formal jobs to take manual tasks where it would be difficult to track down their earnings (Milkie, Nomaguchi, & Denny, 2015). Many succeed in avoiding the financial responsibility of caring for their children, especially if the mother is given full custody. In such cases, the responsibility of providing for the children falls in the hand of the mother. They suddenly realize that the law they expected to protect them is not very effective in doing so (Katz, 2015). They have to budget for the little resources they have to ensure that the needs are met. However, the American system is not favorable to women as it is to men. Similarly, when the woman is an African American, the experience is worse. In the next section, the focus is to review challenges that single African American mothers have to deal with when parenting their adolescent sons because of their demographical class.
Demographical Differences and Consequences
Single African American mothers go through a lot as they struggle to raise their adolescent sons. According to Barnett and Scaramella (2013), American society still treats people of different gender and race differently. Women are becoming successful in the corporate world, and many are now holding senior positions in large companies across the country. However, they are still trailing men in terms of the ease with which they can be employed and the salaries earned (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). According to Stinson (2013), most employers prefer working with men to women because of various stereotypical reasons. It is easier for an American man with the same qualifications as a woman to get employment in the country. The salary scale also favors men. According to Brown (2016a), “Today, on average, a woman earns 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, and women’s median annual earnings are $10,086 less than men’s” (p. 340). It means that economically, it is more difficult for a single mother to raise an adolescent son than a single father. Brown (2016a) also observes that single mothers are more vulnerable to economic exploitation. They highly value economic stability, even if they are exploited. These parents know that getting a decent job in the country may take a while when they shift from one job to another. Given that they lack any other support, they prefer staying at their current jobs even if their salary is lower than their male colleagues.
The problems that women face in society as single mothers are worse if they are African Americans. A study by Jeynes (2015) shows that African American is less likely to get to the best colleges in the country compared with their white colleagues who score a final grade in their final year of college. Institutions of learning in the country are still structured to favor whites at the expense of African Americans. In the job market, the same trend is witnessed. Williams, Priest, and Anderson (2016) reports that “in 2015, the hourly pay gap between blacks and whites widened to 26.7%, with whites making an average of $25.22 an hour compared to $18.49 for blacks” (p. 410). It is worrying that the more the society is trying to fight racism and its negative consequences, the more things seem not to change (Fraga, 2016). The statistics show that the situation is getting even worse.
The current wage gap was bigger in the past than it is currently. Wilson, Henriksen, Bustamante, and Irby (2016) reiterate that “almost 40 years ago, in 1979, the wage gap between blacks and whites was 18.1%, with whites earning an inflation-adjusted average of $19.62 an hour and blacks were earning $16.07 an hour” (p. 198). About 100 years ago, the justification for the wage gap was that African Americans were less educated compared to the whites. However, that is no longer the case. Brown (2016b) says that discrimination has been one of the leading reasons for the wage gap. The American system highly favors whites, not just because of their numerical strength in the country but also the belief that they are superior (Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013). A research conducted by Brown (2016b) found that African Americans do not hesitate to employ whites. On the other hand, some whites still consider giving blacks the last priority when hiring or promoting employees. The most unfortunate thing, as explained in the Black Psychology Theory, is that some blacks have resigned to their fate and have come to believe that whites are superior (Doody & Noonan, 2013). For a single African American female raising an adolescent son in this society, all odds are against her, and the experience can be frustrating.
Parenting an adolescent is a challenging task. According to Leech (2016), “Raising adolescents is one long, often agonizing, exercise in the hardest part of parenting” (p. 425). It is at this stage of parenting that one has to embrace the need for negotiation when instructing children. Teenagers tend to be rebellious at this stage of development. The physiological and psychological changes they go through are often confusing (Doody & Noonan, 2013). They need adult support to understand how to cope with these changes while at the same time, they need their space to make independent decisions. It means that a parent must learn how to guide their children through this complex phase of development in a way that offers them an ability to make independent decisions (Jackson, 2013). During the early stages of development, children tend to view their parents and teachers as their role model. At the adolescent stage, such a child is mature enough to understand the struggles and successes of the parent (Williams & Smalls, 2015). They will admire or resent the lifestyle of a parent based on the values and beliefs they get to embrace. One has to cope and manage a child’s attitude to guide them properly.
When they realize that their parents do not fit into the perfect person they want to become, they start looking for other role models, and that is always the beginning of the rebellion. Brown (2016a) explains that once an adolescent realizes that they do not want to lead a life similar to that their parents’ he or she may develop a feeling that the parent has no capacity to advise them on how to work towards success. Peer-pressure is another serious challenge at this stage, as Leech (2016) states. The moment a teenager fails to find a role model at home, they become susceptible to influences by friends. The need to gain acceptance may force them to act in ways that may put their lives, lives of their loved ones, or their future in danger. Most of those who are abusing drugs start their habit as an adolescent. They experiment with their lives a lot, and that may be a major problem for them and their families (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Such rebellious children may easily become delinquents and can be sent to prison at tender ages.
Parenting an adolescent son poses unique challenges for a single mother. As explained above, children often look at their parents as their role models. Normally, a son will grow up wanting to be like the father (Doody & Noonan, 2013). In this case, the child will be raised by a single mother, who they cannot emulate. Haefner (2014) explains the challenges that an adolescent son needs the attention of the father to overcome some of the challenges encountered at this stage of development. Most importantly, such a child grows up knowing that they have to find a role model who is not the parent. A single mother may struggle to guide such a child once the perception develops in his mind that he needs a different person to offer the guidance they need. Brown (2016b) argues that such adolescents can easily be misled by male members of the society, especially those that they view as potential role models. The desire to learn what it takes to be a man will make them trust the wrong people within their immediate community. Such an experience can be traumatizing, especially if the child takes a wrong path against the advice offered by the mother.
Factors That Define Parenting Experience
According to Ford and Moore (2013), different factors define the experience that a single African American female goes through when parenting adolescent sons. It is challenging for a single mother to care for an adolescent son alone, even if she is financially empowered. However, it is important to appreciate that some of them go through more traumatizing experiences than others. In this section, it was necessary to identify specific factors that define the experience of these single parents.
Culture is one of the most important factors that define the approach of parenting. As Haefner (2014) explains, the United States is one of the most demographically diversified countries in the world. Technology, school, workplace environment, and media have tried to break the cultural barrier (Wang & Kenny, 2014). However, Stinson (2013) notes that different social groups have different practices based on their backgrounds. Culture is a major concern when raising an adolescent son. Most of the African cultures limit the ability of a son to discuss sex-related issues with the mother. In fact, to some, it is a taboo for the two to engage in such debates (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Although civilization that is motivated by education in eradicating such beliefs, it is still not common to find an African American son sharing sex-related problems with their mothers. It means that when such a child will have to find an alternative way of solving their problems.
The best alternative in the absence of a trusted male adult would-be colleagues at school. The problem is that these colleagues also have no idea how the problem should be addressed (Doody & Noonan, 2013). However, that does not stop them from proposing solutions, some of which may have serious consequences. When the child comes in harm’s way, the mother will be subjected to the trauma of finding a solution to the problem (Tayler & Price, 2016). It is even more frustrating when these parents realize that the problem that their children go through is that which the culture limits them from discussing (Jeynes, 2015). Some are forced to find trusted male adults to address the problem. Knowing the problem that one’s child is going through but lacking the capacity to address it because of cultural limitations is irritating.
Social status is one of the crucial factors that define the parenting experience of single African American mothers caring for their adolescent sons. In American society, the ability of an individual to provide for the family is important (Ford & Moore, 2013). The problem is worsened for urban dwellers where the cost of living is very high. The rich live in safe neighborhoods where there are social facilities that can support parenting (Wang & Kenny, 2014). Single mothers who are financially empowered can meet most of the needs of their children. Whenever they realize that their adolescent sons need a mentor, they can easily make arrangements to ensure that they can meet the right people who can guide them through life. Such children, although they lack the direct emotional support of a father, lead a relatively normal life. They feel that their single mother is capable of parenting them, and there is always a sense of admiration. As Stinson (2013) observes, it does not mean all children raised in rich neighborhoods are disciplined and successful in their academics. However, they are offered a better platform to facilitate their success. The single mother may have occasional emotional pain of having to raise the son alone (Spores, 2013). Nevertheless, there is always a sense of pride and satisfaction when they realize that they are succeeding in caring for their children without any support. It gives them a sense of overcoming challenges associated with single parenting.
The experience of poor single mothers is completely different from that of the rich. Most of them have to take several jobs a day to make ends meet (Doody & Noonan, 2013). They leave early in the morning and come back late at night to ensure that basic needs are met. Snyder (2016) explains that such parents rarely have time to spend with their children. They believe that providing for their families is the fundamental goal they have to realize, hoping that teachers will help in offering emotional support to their children. In most of the cases, it is impossible for teachers to offer personal attention to their students, especially in public schools where the population is relatively high, and the pay is poor (Jeynes, 2015). The neighborhood within which such families stay also exposes these children to all manner of dangers. Drug trafficking and abuse, trade-in contraband goods, robbery, burglary, and gang-related activities are common in such areas. Adolescent boys are always the worst affected groups by such gang-related crime.
When they lack the fatherly guidance they need and are constantly strained financially, they find solace in gangs. They start abusing and smuggling drugs without the knowledge of their parents (Elish-Piper, 2013). If the trend is not arrested in time, they can join dangerous criminal gangs committing felonies within the neighborhood (Williams & Smalls, 2015). It is disheartening for a single mother, working for over 13 hours a day to provide for the family, to realize that the son she cares for so much is now engaged in criminal activities. The problem is that some gangs prohibit their members from leaving or betraying the group. It means that once such a child becomes a member, his life, and that of the loved ones depend on his commitment to the gang (Wang & Kenny, 2014). They cannot leave the group till such a time he will be arrested for crimes committed if he wants to avoid the wrath of the gang. African Americans are the worst affected by the problem of poverty.
Leech (2016) argues that the history of the United States has always put them at a position of disadvantage. Even after the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, African Americans have never enjoyed socio-economic and political freedom (Price & Tayler, 2015). Some of the best educational institutions in the United States give priority to whites over any other race. Some are now using a new strategy of high school fees to ensure that the advantaged continue to get the best education while the poor are left to suffer. According to Brown (2016b), the level and quality of education that a child gets define the ability to succeed in life. The poor continue to suffer because of the system that glorifies the rich and whites. Employers in some of the Silicon Valley companies highly value the college where one graduated (Hutchin, 2013). Some of the top law firms in New York only hire law graduates from Harvard School of Law, Cambridge University, University of Manchester, and other Ivy League colleges. Even after struggling to go through high school and college education, the poor still find it difficult to find stable jobs in the country. Table 1 below shows the employment status in the United States from 2001 to 2010 based on race.
The statistics in the table above shows the employment status of people from three different races. It is evident that full-time employment has dropped for the majority of Americans from 2001 to 2010. Whites experienced a drop from 60.7% in 2001 to 54.5%. For African Americans, it dropped from 55.8% to 50.4% within the same period (Damaske et al., 2017). The Asians had a consistent increase in the number of those in full employment, from 54.8% in 2001 to 58.3%. The table also shows a worrying statistics about unemployment of Blacks in the country (Howard & McInnes, 2013). Unemployment among African Americans increased from 9.7% in 2001 to 13.2 in 2010. It is important to note that they are the worst affected group as per the statistics presented above. Leech (2016) explains that the trend is caused by multiple factors. Juvenile delinquency, inability to acquire a college education and racial discrimination are some of the leading factors that cause unemployment. Figure 2 below shows how different groups in the country are at risk of poverty based on their race.
Poverty is a major factor that defines a parent’s experience of the relationship with an adolescent son. Leech (2016) explains that factors such as limited education, lack of entrepreneurial skill, and the existence of systems that disfavors a section of the society may be lead to poverty. As shown in the figure above, whites and Asians are the least affected groups. Whites have a better education than blacks and do not suffer from any form of prejudice. On the other hand, a significant number of Asians are experts in the field of technology, making it easy for them to find employment in the country (Williams & Smalls, 2015). They are less affected by racism compared to blacks. From the data above, African Americans are some of the worst affected group. Unlike other groups, the number of black single mothers at risk of unemployment has been on the rise from 2001 to 2010. Brown (2016a) explains that some people are out of employment because of personal reasons, and that does not mean they are at risk of becoming poor. However, many single African American mothers depend on their jobs to earn a living. Table 2 below shows the level of poverty among single mothers of different races.
The statistics above show that what poverty rates major affects American minority groups. In 2001, white females were the least affected group. Only 28.5% of the whites were affected (Damaske et al., 2017). However, the number of poor single white females has been on the rise consistently since then to 33.7%. However, their problem is not worse than female African American single mothers. In 2001, 42.4% of them were considered poor. The number increased significantly to 46.2% in 2010. Snyder (2016) explains that almost half of the single African American mothers struggle to provide their families with basic needs. As the population of single mothers continues to increase, the problem continues to get worse. Single female Asian Americans have registered improved performance. Those considered poor dropped from 30.7% to 27.7% in 2010. The findings show that the rate of absolute poverty in the United States is dropping.
The experience of single parenting can also be defined by gender. According to Ford and Moore (2013), it is more difficult for a single African American woman with an adolescent son to get a committed partner than it is for a male of the same race and in a similar situation to remarry. The problem is that American society still embraces the belief that a man should be the provider for the family (Doody & Noonan, 2013). It means that for most men, they view a woman with an adolescent son as a double responsibility. On the other hand, a woman would not have a problem marrying a man with an adolescent son because she knows the man will provide for the family.
These single mothers not only suffer from the huge financial burden they have to bear meeting the needs of the family but also have to deal with complex love life (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015). Some of them are not looking for people to offer them financial support but someone they can share their issues with a plan for the future (Wang & Kenny, 2014). However, that has to be sacrificed because of being mothers to adolescent sons. Leech (2016) explains that some men find it comfortable marrying women with infants so that they can still r the right virtues into them. However, that is not possible for an adolescent. The fear that such teenagers will not grant them the respect they deserve as the fatherly figure often drive many men away from such mothers. Snyder (2016) notes that out of frustration, some single mothers resort to marrying men twice their age not because they are in love but because of the desire to have some sort of support. Some of these challenges may strain the relationship between a mother and an adolescent son.
Level of discipline and academic excellence
The behavior of a child and academic performance also has an impact on the experience of a parent. Slonim (2014) explains that although it is challenging to care for an adolescent son, parents get motivated when they have disciplined and academically sharp sons. When an adolescent son follows instructions given in school and at home, and avoids all forms of trouble, the mother will not be troubled with the thought of them being in the problem. An adolescent who is a performer also gives hope to the parent (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Although the trend is changing among the rich, many poor Americans still believe that they can come out of poverty through their children. They believe that when their children succeed in school and get stable, well-paying jobs, they can provide them with a better lifestyle than the one they had before (Jeynes, 2015). As such, the experience that a mother of an intelligent son would have is different from that with a poor performing son. Many families in this country still believe that success can only be achieved through education. When a son is an academic dwarf, there is always the feeling that he will lead the same desperate lifestyle as the poor parents (Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013). The single mother loses the hope that is needed to single-parent a child at such a delicate stage of development.
Religious beliefs sometimes offer much-needed emotional support to women. According to Slonim (2014), the number of women who regularly go to church in the United States is almost twice that of men. When parenting an adolescent son, a single mother may have problems offering them the guidance they need to become responsible men (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). They may also lack the capacity to understand what these teenagers are going through at this stage of development (Doody & Noonan, 2013). However, church and other religious institutions can be of great help in many ways. Among members of the congregation, such a son can find a role model who can guide him as would be necessary. Many churches offer guidance and counseling to their members (Hojjat & Moyer, 2017). It means that an adolescent son can visit the pastor and share with him issues affecting his life at school or at home.
The single mother can also get guidance on how to achieve success as a lone parent. Youth groups in churches are often guided by the principles and practices of Christianity (Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013). Negative influence and peer pressure do not have a serious impact on them because of the close guidance they get from church. A study by Barnett and Scaramella (2013) found out that women who go to church regularly have a better experience when parenting their teenage sons than those who do not go to church. Other than the emotional support and guidance that they get from the congregation and church leaders, there is also a sense of hope that they get. They are reminded that their hard work may not be paid on earth, but God in heaven will surely reward them (Williams & Smalls, 2015). Although that may not make sense to non-believers, such assurances work magic among Christians. It makes them believe that there is a reason why they should continue with their struggle, however painful it may seem. Without such emotional support, one cannot easily overcome the numerous challenges of parenting an adolescent son.
The cost of living in some of the leading cities in the United States is prohibitive. For a poor single African American mother, the financial burden may be too great to bear (Wang & Kenny, 2014). Government-sponsored social support may help ease the pain of parenting a son in such demanding conditions. Public housing is one of the most important social supports that these parents need. The fact that these houses are subsidized means that these parents will pay less rent. They can spend their hard-earned income on other equally important needs. The government has also introduced universal care for all Americans. Snyder (2016) explains that the cost of quality healthcare services in the country is very high. Before the introduction of the universal healthcare plan, many low-income families were struggling to access these services. However, the plan has been of help to many (Doody & Noonan, 2013). Single African American females parenting their adolescent sons in the country go through a lot if they do not qualify for these social support services, yet they are poor (Slonim, 2014). Studies show that those who immigrate into the country illegally are the worst affected group.
Personal relationship between mother and child
The experience of a single mother can sometimes be defined by the relationship they have with their sons. Snyder (2016) explains that some parents are able to inculcate a close relationship with their sons based on trust and love. At the adolescent stage, a son will be able to understand some of the challenges that the parent goes through to make ends meet. It means that they can both offer emotional support to one another. The emotional pain of the mother is lessened by the understanding of the son. On the other hand, when the relationship is strained, the experience can be frustrating (Dickins, 2014). Having to work hard to provide for a son who does not understand and appreciate the effort that the single mother is putting in place to meet family needs can be annoying. Others have to deal with the problem of having sons capable of stealing from them. Such problems often strain the relationship between a single mother and an adolescent son.
Synthesis of Research Findings
The review of the literature points out the experience that single mothers go through when parenting their sons. One of the major themes that have been brought out in the literature is the impact of social status on parenting (Wang & Kenny, 2014). The study shows that financially empowered single mothers find it less stressful to care for their adolescent sons (Drifte, 2014). Their ability to provide most of the needs of these teenagers makes the experience memorable. However, poor single mothers strain a lot to care for their teenage sons. Another major theme brought out is racism and its impact on parenting adolescent sons. According to Slonim (2014), the United States has made significant steps in fighting racism in all its forms. However, it is still a major problem in the country. It affects the education sector, workplace environment, and other social forums.
The review reveals that African Americans still find it more difficult to get employment than their white colleagues who have similar qualifications. Gender is another theme presented in the review (June & Mathis, 2013). The experience of single mothers when parenting adolescent sons is worse than that of single fathers. A single mother will find it more difficult getting a good job in this country than a male colleague in the same situation. It is also not easy for them to have a successful relationship because many men far the burden of caring for such sons (Styron & Styron, 2017). It is important to note that although the researcher identified and reviewed numerous journal articles and books, a detailed study of the experience of single African American females parenting their adolescent sons was missing (Brock, Dodds, Jarvis, & Olusoga, 2013). It was an indication that further investigation was necessary for this field.
The researcher reviewed various theories to determine how they can help in understanding the experience of African American female parents in the country. The Black Psychology theory was important in explaining the beliefs and attitudes of American society towards blacks (Devarakonda, 2013). Its main strength was the ability to explain why it is still difficult for African Americans to achieve success in society despite the effort put in place to fight racism. The Family system theory explained the connection that people have in the family and the pain experienced when one member of the family is affected by a specific problem (Hines & Holcomb‐McCoy, 2013). It helped in explaining why it is easy for an adolescent son to join gang groups to earn money when he realizes that the mother is struggling to meet the basic needs of the family. However, the main weakness of this theory is that it does not provide specific information on the challenges that single African American females go through. It looks at the experience from a broad perspective (Williams et al., 2017). The two theories provided an understanding of the diversity of American society and its relevance in defining the relationship between parents and siblings.
The review of the literature provides a picture of the experience that single mothers go through in this country. It is evident that their experience is more challenging than that of fathers who have to raise their adolescent children (Hallet, 2016). It starts from the difficulty in meeting the financial needs to having problems getting committed long-term partners. The review of the literature also shows that African Americans are a disadvantaged minority group because of the social setting of the country. Racism puts them at a position of disadvantage (Doody & Noonan, 2013). It is also clear from the information gathered in this chapter that the experience that single mothers are finding it difficult parenting adolescent sons than adolescent daughters. In fact, a study by Brown (2016a) revealed that single mothers prefer having girls to boys. Some even resent having to raise boys on their own. Although getting literature that accurately discusses the topic comprehensively was challenging, it was possible to gather information from different angles to have a clear picture of their experience.
Critique of Previous Research Methods
The experience of single African American females of being parents to their adolescent sons is a very sensitive topic that needs accurate information. According to Ford and Moore (2013), some parents end up committing suicide because of the depression from such experience. As such, care was taken when selecting resources for the study. Most of the books used were authored by reputable scholars who had spent time investigating the problem of single parenting, the impact of racism, and income inequalities in the United States for years. Dr. Maudry-Beverley Lashley is an accomplished author who has spent many years investigating the experience of black single mothers and the perception that society has towards them. As Barnett and Scaramella (2013) note, the validity and reliability of secondary sources of data often depend on the knowledge and experience of the author. That is why the researcher trusted studies conducted by such accomplished scholars. It was also necessary to take into account the rigor of design, sampling techniques and sample sizes, quality of the instruments of research, the relevance of the statistical procedure, and other related quality factors of the articles before using them in the study (Flavell, 2014). Most of the articles used had a large sample size that informed the conclusion made.
Having the right sample size makes it possible to have accurate data. Slonim (2014) explains that a large sample size makes the study more trusting. Given that this is qualitative research, it was necessary to review quantitative reports at this stage of the literature review. Some of the articles used in this chapter were based on quantitative research (Wu et al., 2015). It explains why statistical graphs and tables were present in this chapter. It helps in providing a comprehensive investigation in this report. Although some of their investigations were conducted over 14 years ago, they are still relevant in the present context. Snyder (2016) warns that failure to review the relevance and reliability of sources can lead to the collection of misleading information. The scholar also warns against using few sources when conducting research on a highly sensitive issue, such as the one being focused on in this paper (Hooper, 2013). Getting views from different experts expands the knowledge and helps in identifying possible conflicts in the body of knowledge. It is the reason why numerous sources were used in this chapter.
Single parenting is becoming a common problem in the United States. Many scholars classify it as a problem because not many people get into marriage with the goal of having children and then parting ways. It is also a problem because raising a child as a single parent is more challenging than when partners do it together. Infidelity is considered one of the leading reasons why many families are breaking in the United States. Women empowerment, intolerance, heavy use of social media, and the desire to commitment towards achieving career success are some of the reasons why single parenting is becoming common. The review of the literature shows that many women suffer from caring for their adolescent sons. Other than the financial strain, they find it difficult to identifying and openly discussing challenges that they face in life. Culture limits what they can discuss with their sons.
The theoretical concept helps in understanding the unique situation that single African American mothers find themselves in when caring for their adolescent sons. Black Psychology Theory explains the position of disadvantage that black single mothers find themselves in within the society. Systems and structures are designed in a way that is unfavorable to women and people of color. It means that being a black female is double jeopardy in the country. Society is changing, and some of the experiences that women went through in the past may not be the same as what it is today. It is important to collect primary data to determine the nature of the problem at the moment. The next chapter explains the methods used to collect, analyze, and interpret primary data.
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