African-American youth have proven they can bounce back after facing hardship and adversity, yet the majority of studies on this population still focus on the negative outcomes of risk factors, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.
A new report from APA’s Task Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents calls for reframing research to better understand “how certain factors traditionally considered risk factors can be reconceptualized as adaptive or protective processes.”
The seven-member task force reviewed 450 studies and surveys of African-American youth age 5 to 21 across all socioeconomic conditions and geographical areas to understand how factors such as racial identity, racial socialization, emotional regulation and expression, religiosity, and school and family support can prepare African-American children and adolescents to thrive in spite of various societal challenges.
The task force concluded that positive attitudes and behaviors that contribute to the strengths of these young people were de-emphasized in research and the current conceptions of African-American youth don’t address healthy coping, adjustment and overall functioning.
There is no clear template for how to ensure that African American children reach their full potential — but there is hope, according to the task force.
It called for future research to consider the complexities of racial, ethnic, and cultural factors as well as positive family environments and social support as key variables in identifying the “protective mechanisms” that are so important in promoting strength and resilience among African-American youth.
“Institutional racism and societal prejudice place all African-American youth, including well-resourced youth, at some degree of risk,” said Stephanie Irby Coard, PhD, chair of the APA task force. “Understanding what makes them strong requires acknowledging their experience here in the United States and how discrimination affects their daily lives. The study of success is just as important as the study of failure.”
Research has shown that diverse cultural groups have different ways of enhancing positive outcomes for their children.
African-American family life often encompasses racial identity, spirituality, and a set of shared values that are crucial for children’s resilience.
The report offered a portrait of thriving or optimal functioning for African American youth which encompasses four themes; active engagement, flexibility, communalism, and critical-mindedness.
The report explored how these themes cut across five widely accepted developmental domains of functioning with the intent of providing researchers, policymakers, educators, practitioners, and the public with a useful lens through which to view African American youth:
Identity Development: Positive racial identity is essential to the well-being of African-American youth and they must be encouraged to develop a positive sense of self in a society that often devalues them through negative stereotypes.
Emotional Development: Coping with emotions effectively is directly related to self-esteem and better mental health. African-American youth need to be made aware of how their emotional expressions resonate across all situations and circumstances.
Social Development: Family and community interaction is crucial to these young people’s social development, as is having access to high-quality child care, afterschool programs and religious institutions.
Cognitive Development: African-American youth must believe in their abilities in the classroom. Parents should avoid harsh parenting styles and schools should continue to look at ways to infuse culturally relevant themes into the classroom as a way to improve academic performance.
Physical Health and Development: A wide range of health conditions disproportionately affect African-American youth, including obesity, poor oral health, asthma, violent injury, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. Research has proven that improved physical health is more likely to lead to improved mental health as well.