Parents' discrimination experiences linked to lower well-being among Mexican-American teens

May 25, 2016, Society for Research in Child Development

Mexican-Americans are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the United States, and Mexican-American adolescents who experience ethnic discrimination are more likely to report lower self-esteem and more emotional problems. A new study has found that the teens' psychological adjustment also suffers when their parents face ethnic discrimination. Parents' discussions with their teens about culture, race and ethnicity, and discrimination can play a role in their teens' psychological adjustment, but the content matters.

These findings come from researchers at the California State University, Fullerton, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). They are published in the journal Child Development.

The researchers asked 344 in Los Angeles (ages 14 to 16 and mostly low-income) from primarily second-generation Mexican or Mexican-American families and their parents or primary caregivers (mostly mothers) to complete two surveys across a one-year span.

The youth reported on their , including internalizing problems (e.g., anxiety, depression) and externalizing problems (e.g., aggression), self-esteem, and use of substances. They also reported on their experiences with , and how often their parents talked to them about culture, race and ethnicity, discrimination, being prepared for bias, and mistrusting members of other . The parents and caregivers answered questions about how often they experienced discrimination (e.g., being ignored or excluded because of ethnicity, and being yelled at with a racial slur or racial insult).

Experiences of discrimination among parents and caregivers were related to lower feelings of self-esteem and greater internalizing problems among teens a year later, the researchers found. Parents' experiences with discrimination were not related to externalizing problems and substance use among the adolescents.

Parents' discussions with their teens about their culture and ethnic background, especially efforts to teach about ethnic heritage and history, were related to more positive adjustment in the teens, specifically higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of both internalizing and . But when parents had both experiences of discrimination and talked to their children about culture, race and ethnicity, discrimination, being prepared for bias, and mistrusting members of other ethnic groups, the teens reported lower self-esteem. Self-esteem was lowest when parents had been discriminated against and talked to their youth about mistrusting other ethnic groups (e.g., when parents had done or said things to "keep [teens] from trusting kids from other ethnic groups" or to encourage them to "keep their distance from kids of other ethnicities").

"Incidents of discrimination have implications for the family as a whole, not just the individual who experienced them," according to Guadalupe Espinoza, assistant professor of child and adolescent studies at California State University, Fullerton, who led the study. "Such incidents continue to reverberate even a year later. Parents should be aware that the messages they convey about their own cultural group, but also about other cultural groups, will play a role in shaping their children's reactions to those experiences."

Nancy A. Gonzales Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, the study's coauthor, explains further: "It may be difficult for parents to shield their adolescents from threats to their self-esteem when they themselves have been recent victims of discrimination. Parents' efforts to instill a positive sense of cultural identity are very important, but can be undermined or even sensitize adolescents to feel more threatened when they are aware that their are experiencing discrimination."

Explore further: Stress caused by discrimination linked to mental health issues among Latino teens

Related Stories

Stress caused by discrimination linked to mental health issues among Latino teens

February 11, 2015
Latino adolescents who experience discrimination-related stress are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and issues with sleep, according to research led by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human ...

Does discrimination contribute to lower rates of flu vaccination in racial/ethnic minorities?

May 24, 2016
Yearly flu shots are strongly recommended for adults with certain chronic illnesses, but patients of racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive them. Perceived discrimination may be a contributing factor, but ...

Positive feelings about race, ethnicity tied to stronger development in minority youth

February 3, 2014
The more positively minority youth feel about their ethnicity or race, the fewer symptoms of depression and emotional and behavior problems they have. That's the conclusion of a new meta-analysis summarizing 46 existing studies.

Discrimination associated with mental health woes in black teens

May 3, 2014
The vast majority of African-American and Afro-Caribbean youth face racial discrimination, and these experiences are associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, according to a study to be presented Saturday, ...

Recommended for you

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

New approaches in neuroscience show it's not all in your head

February 16, 2018
Our own unique experiences shape how we view the world and respond to the events in our lives. But experience is highly subjective. What's distressing or joyful to one person may be very different to another.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

Ketamine found to reduce bursting in brain area reducing depression quickly

February 15, 2018
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has found that the drug ketamine reduces neuronal bursting in the lateral habenula (LHb) brain region, reducing symptoms of depression in rodent models. In their paper ...

Evidence shows pets can help people with mental health problems

February 15, 2018
The study of 17 research papers by academics at the Universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool, concludes that pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.