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Interracial dating exposes divide between teens and parents

By Chuck Hadad, CNN
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Thu April 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • White seventh grade boy thinks his parents would not support him if he dated a black girl
  • Black seventh grade boy's parents fear he dislikes his race because he dates white girls
  • AC360° study finds the problem is not racial, it's generational

Tune in to "Anderson Cooper 360°" all week for the surprising results of a groundbreaking new study on children and race at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Luke, a white seventh grader, believes his parents would not be supportive if he dated an African-American girl. "Honestly I don't think my parents would be too happy because ... if you marry a black girl, you're connected to their family now," he said, adding, "and who knows what her family is really like?"

Jimmy, a black seventh grader, recounted that after he had several white girlfriends, his parents seemed to interpret it as an affront to his own race. "They said, 'Why not your own kind?' because all my girls have been white," he said, adding, "it's not like they were like, 'You need to choose a black girl,' it's just they were asking me why I like white girls and I was just like, 'there's no ... specific reason.' "

Their stories highlight a divide not between the races, but between the generations. Both teens participated in an Anderson Cooper 360° study on children and race. Many students reported discouragement of interracial dating from their parents, or those of their friends, with reactions ranging from wariness to outright forbiddance.

The architect of the AC360° study, renowned child psychologist Dr. Melanie Killen, says parents of both white and black kids have a lot of anxiety about the prospect of interracial dating. Killen, who was hired as a consultant for the study, contends the trepidation from parents can have a profound negative effect on their children's friendships and racial attitudes as a whole.

AC360 study: Interracial friendships
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"Parents of young children do often send messages about, 'We can all be friends ... with everybody,' ... but by adolescence, they start getting more nervous about this and they start thinking, 'Well you should be friends with people like you or like us,' " said Killen. She added that parents' ultimate fear is often that their children will marry another race. While interracial couples are a source of conflict for some families, interracial marriage is on the rise in America. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center using the most recent Census data, 8.4% of marriages are interracial compared to just 3.2% in 1980 and in 2010, a full 15.1% of all new marriages were interracial.

Anderson Cooper and Soledad O'Brien interviewed a panel of parents whose children participated in the AC360° study and were vocal about the issue of interracial dating. The father of Luke, the white middle-schooler, said his son might have gotten the wrong impression from a conversation he and his wife had with Luke's older sister.

AC 360° Blog: Full "Kids on Race" coverage

"She informed me she had started going out with an African-American ... young man at her school. A young man that we knew, and that we liked a lot and it wasn't that we didn't so much want them dating because of race per se. We didn't know if she had really thought about some of the cultural differences that there may be and so we talked about it in that respect ... not that it's right or wrong, good or bad, just different," said Luke's father Gary.

He also admitted that the issues facing friends in interracial marriages were at the forefront of his mind. "They have great marriages. They also have shared challenges at times. Challenges in the way the families may relate, challenges that they themselves may have either between themselves or the perception of other people ... we've talked about those kind of things because they're real," said Gary.

Read: A mixed race romance, a family rift

The father of Jimmy, the black teen, said he's supportive of his son dating girls of any race but his son's slew of white girlfriends did get him concerned. "When you see your kid always steering towards a different race, you want to make sure that he doesn't have a problem with his own race ... because we'd never seen him with a black girlfriend," said Jimmy's father, also named Jimmy.

Another black seventh grader who participated in the study, 13-year-old Chantay, admitted she, and others in her extended family, had a double standard regarding interracial dating.

"If I were to date a white guy, a lot of people wouldn't really have a problem with that. But if my brother were to bring home a white girl, there's definitely going to be some you know controversy," she said, adding, "I think its more of a problem for people when a black man brings home a white woman because it's been like that for years."

Chantay's mother Christal says she'd support her children dating any race but thinks her daughter's issue reveals concerns about whether black men view black women as inferior. "I think when she speaks about if her brother were to bring home a white girl, what it says I think to our kids, our black kids, is, 'Are we not good enough for our black brothers? What's wrong with us? What, do you like the silky straight hair? I can press my hair,' " said Christal.

As for the parents who spoke to Cooper and O'Brien, they said hearing their children's thoughts on interracial dating was revelatory and would spark more conversations at home. For Killen, raising these issues in parents' minds is essential because they can have unintended long-term consequences. She says perceived discouragement of interracial dating can, "contribute to more negative messages about being friends with people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds," adding, "then that sets in a whole set of expectations that could be lifelong."

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

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