A new study finds African American children who experience racial discrimination can be at increased risk for developing depression and behavior problems in adolescence. However, teens that have had close relationships with their parents, friendships focused on positive pursuits and good schooling experiences are less likely to experience these negative effects.
That finding comes from a study published in the September/October issue of the journal Child Development.
Researchers from the University of Georgia in Athens, the University of California-Davis and Iowa State University in Ames set out to evaluate the psychological adjustment of 714 African-American children. The children and their primary caregivers, usually the mothers, were personally interviewed in the home three times over a five-year period, beginning when the children were 10 to 12 years old.
The study is part of a larger, ongoing joint project, the Family and Community Health Study, conducted with support from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The children were interviewed about any racial discrimination they saw directed towards themselves and those close to them, feelings of depression, engagement in antisocial behavior and extent to which their friends expected and encouraged positive behavior. The children and their mothers were also interviewed about the mothers’ parenting practices and the children’s school experiences.
The researchers found that children whose experience with racially based insults, name calling and distrust increased as they moved into adolescence were more likely to report symptoms of depression, such as feeling irritable, having difficulty sleeping and having trouble concentrating in school. Boys were also more likely to become involved in antisocial behavior such as fighting and shoplifting.
“The outlook was brighter, though, for children whose homes, friends, and schools protected them from discrimination’s negative influences,” said lead researcher Gene H. Brody, PhD, Regents’ Professor and Director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia.
“Children whose parents stayed involved in their lives, kept track of their whereabouts, treated them with warm affection and communicated clearly with them were less likely to develop problems due to their experiences with discrimination.”
He and his colleagues found similar outcomes for children whose friends encouraged them to take part in positive pursuits, such as helping out at home and becoming involved with community activities, and for those who performed well at school and had good relationships with their teachers.