Hopelessness describes an individual’s feelings related to expected failures or negative outcomes. Many studies have examined how a mother’s psychological state affects the mental well-being of her child, but few of them have focused specifically on hopelessness. For socially disadvantaged children, and in particular, African American children from single-mother households, hopelessness may be more pervasive than for other children. Crime, violence, and substance use may be more prevalent in poorer neighborhoods and can shape the way in which children envision their futures. There is evidence that negative neighborhood conditions increase externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Children raised in adverse environments are more likely to develop anxiety and depression than other children and are also more likely to take risks and be dismissive of rules and regulations.
Single African American mothers who live in socially at-risk communities may do so not due to financial limitation but rather to maintain ties with their communities and family members. Having to overcome prejudice and discrimination that may exist in other neighborhoods can dissuade high-income families from leaving their neighborhoods of origin. Regardless of the crime or danger that occurs, the sense of connection to their peers may provide a buffer from hopelessness that might otherwise develop in these mothers. Michelle Gonzalez of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to find out how perceptions of hopelessness in single African American mothers affected the hopelessness of their children and how community orientation influenced those perceptions. She said, “Mothers, particularly single mothers, are the primary familial influences on adolescent children.”
Gonzalez evaluated 171 African American teens who were being raised by single mothers. The teens, all from various types of neighborhoods; ranged in age from 11 to 16 years old. Gonzales discovered that the participants with the highest levels of both externalizing and internalizing behaviors were the ones with mothers who perceived high rates of community violence and crime. Surprisingly, although internalizing behaviors were elevated slightly, the externalizing behaviors were more extreme in the children whose mothers had high levels of hopelessness. This suggests that the teens from disadvantaged neighborhoods may believe that symptoms of depression and anxiety would be less tolerated by their peers than externalizing behaviors such as risk taking and rule breaking. These findings underscore the importance of evaluating the mental state of a mother when dealing with maladaptive coping behaviors in teens who express feelings of hopelessness.
Gonzalez, M., Jones, D. J., Kincaid, C. Y., Cuellar, J. (2012). Neighborhood context and adjustment in African American youths from single mother homes: The intervening role of hopelessness. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 18.2, 109-117.
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