Adolescent Behavior Problems Can Result from Racial Discrimination

Teenagers experience emotional and behavioral changes as they mature. They also experience unique stressors than can cause emotional and behavioral problems during this time. Discrimination is one stressor that is particularly distressing to some adolescents. But how they respond to discrimination can vary.

In a recent study, Laura M. Bogart of the Division of General Pediatrics and the Department of Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts recently led a study examining the different ways in which adolescents respond to perceived racial discrimination. Research has shown that racial discrimination can lead to many negative psychological outcomes, including depression, anxiety, aggression, and externalizing. For her study, Bogart assessed data from over 5,000 fifth grade students and their parents. The participants were black, white, and Latino.

Bogart discovered that perceived racial discrimination directly impacted the behavior of the black and Latino students more than the white students. The students were from three different urban schools, but the results were consistent regardless of which school the students were from. In general, the black students were more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior and externalizing when compared to white students. The Latino students had higher levels of negative coping and negative behavior than whites, but fewer problem behaviors than the black students.

Interestingly, even when the Bogart controlled for sociodemographic differences and similarities, she still found that the Latino and black students were more vulnerable to negative outcomes as a result of perceived discrimination. Also, the more acculturated Latino students reported higher levels of racial discrimination than the Latino students who were had only recently moved to the United States.

This finding suggests that Latino students who have culturally diverse social networks may be more at risk for racial discrimination than those with narrower social circles. Bogart realizes that discrimination cannot be entirely eliminated, but hopes that these findings underscore the importance of working toward minimizing the impact of it. She added, “Interventions should be developed for black and Latino youths that acknowledge the existence of racial/ethnic discrimination, help them explore its implications, and foster greater community, school, and family social supports.

Bogart, Laura M., et al. (2013). Association Between Perceived Discrimination and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Problem Behaviors Among Preadolescent Youths. American Journal of Public Health: June 2013, Vol. 103, No. 6, pp. 1074-1081. ProQuest. Web.

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  • T Gates

    T Gates

    May 29th, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    No point in discriminating against people.remember-no only are you causin them harm but are making things difficult for a while lot of people connecting to you and the victim.and karma will get you!

  • toby


    May 30th, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    I can see how this would affect any kid. You feel put down, bullied, because of your race, because of something that you have no control over, so many of them act out in a way to defend themselves, both physically and emotionally.

    As adults we realize (hopefully) that fighting back doesn’t help you get ahead, but as a kid I think that there are very few who recognize that. This is the instinct, act out, save yourself.

    Unfortunately they are then labeled as behavioral problems which begins the cycle of getting beaten down in the educational system even more.

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