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The importance of parental engagement in learning activities for socioemotional development in low-income Black and Latinx youth

New publication by Natasha Cabrera and Jay Fagan uses latent growth curve modeling to investigate trajectories of mothers' and fathers' engagement

In a new article published in Social Development, Faculty Associate Natasha Cabrera and colleague Jay Fagan (Temple University) investigate the relationship between mothers' and fathers' trajectories of engagement with learning activities in early childhood and socioemotional outcomes in later childhood.  

Parental engagement in learning activities (e.g., via play time or reading), is an important factor in youth's cognitive and socioemotional development. Much research has investigated longitudinal shifts in mothers' involvement in these activities, yet the role of fathers' engagement with youth has been far less studied. Mothers' and fathers' engagement with youth is of particular importance in the context of family poverty, as poverty increases the risk of experiencing additional stressors that can impact parental behavior and child outcomes in tandem (e.g., single parenthood, inadequate time available to spend with their children due to work demands). Moreover, emerging research points to differences in Latinx and Black family learning environments, further stressing the importance of exploring these gaps in the literature in a variety of socioeconomic and ethnic contexts.

Thus, the authors examined Black and Latinx mothers’ and fathers’ trajectories of engagement in learning activities from infancy to age 5. Next, they investigated whether those trajectories predicted socioemotional skills at age 9, as well as the predictors and moderators of those trajectories (poverty, mother-father non-residence, temperament, race / ethnicity). Using participants from the Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study, the team performed latent growth curve modeling to investigate these questions.

Fathers' engagement in learning activities were found to decrease steadily from youths' age 1 to 5 at a far steeper rate than mothers' engagement. Family poverty, fathers' non-residence, and youths' difficult temperaments were associated with steeper declines in fathers' engagement. Importantly, steeper declines in fathers' learning activities were associated with lower socioemotional skills at age 9.

The authors point to implications for programs serving low-income families, including addressing barriers to parent learning activities (e.g., mother-father non-residence) and monitoring changes in engagement by both mothers and fathers. 


Fagan, J., & Cabrera, N. (2022). Trajectories of low‐income mothers’ and fathers’ engagement in learning activities and child socioemotional skills in middle childhood. Social Development.