Adolescents often struggle to develop an appropriate level of self-esteem. But among ethnic minority groups, the problem may be significantly compounded as youth are challenged by issues unique to their ethnic group, such as dealing with social stigma.
However, a new study shows that a rise in young people’s ethnic pride can positively affect their mental health.
The study, carried out by researchers at Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, and Walden University, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.
The researchers studied more than 250 African American youths from urban, low-income families in an effort to assess the unique effects of racial identity and self-esteem on mental health.
They found that when young people’s feelings of ethnic pride rose between 7th and 8th grades, their mental health also improved over that period, regardless of their self-esteem.
Even for those with low self-esteem, the investigators found, a sense of pride in their ethnic group served as a buffer to some mental health problems. Racial identity was a stronger buffer against symptoms of depression for boys than for girls.
“These findings imply that ethnic pride is important to African American adolescents’ mental health for other reasons than it simply makes them feel better about themselves as individuals,” according to Jelani Mandara, associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, who was the study’s lead author.
“The findings also imply that ethnic pride may be as important as self-esteem to the mental health of African American adolescents. Parents, schools, and therapists should expose young people to material and environments that help foster a sense of ethnic pride.”