Positive youth development and positive ethnic identity are two important psychological factors for Hispanic boys living in poverty. According to new research from the University of Virginia, negative stereotypes that can cause depression or force youth into criminal activities can be combated with building a positive sense of self and sense of connection to others.
Joanna Williams, assistant professor at the University of Virginias Curry School of Education, headed up a research team to see how the theory of positive youth development impacted Hispanic and non-Hispanic black young males living in poverty.
The researchers indicate in their report these two demographics often experience high rates of depression and criminalization due to a general acceptance they are supposed to fill certain stereotypical roles.
As opposed to spotlighting problem behaviors among Hispanic boys, Williams and her team focused on providing positive youth development and positive ethnic identity for urban males of color. This included building up the youths’ strengths while allowing them to interact with other positive youths in social situations.
Williams explained in a University press release non-Hispanic black and Hispanic urban male youth in low-income families have several factors that can heighten their vulnerability to stress, and these stressors can increase the odds of engaging in anti-social behavior as a means of coping. With factors like strong, supportive school and communities, caring adults, pro-social peers and cultural connections, however, these young men can increase the likelihood of positive and healthy development, she said.
The results of the study found urban males of color positive youth development and cultural connections were linked to lower levels of depressive symptoms and an increased likelihood to engage in positive social behaviors such as joining school activities.
“We are thrilled to see increasing national attention to research that promotes strengths-based messages about black boys and other boys of color, said Williams. This body of work addresses an ongoing, critical need to counter pervasive, negative stereotypes that typically criminalize these youth. In our study, the personal strengths of black and Latino male teens living in urban poverty were associated with engagement in pro-social activities and avoidance of externalizing and criminal behaviors. As a broader research goal, were also working on integrating findings across fields that are often viewed separately, with the recognition that, for example, theories of positive youth development can inform our understanding of theories of ethnic identity development, and vice versa. Ultimately, this can only strengthen our understanding of how to foster positive outcomes for all youth.
The research team adds more research should be done to look at how cultural connections influence depression, as the study’s data suggests this may prove to be an important factor in decreasing negative mental health symptoms in minorities. Cultural assets are important, stated Williams, because minority individuals are often exposed to racial or ethnic discrimination, a stressor that can foster poor mental health outcomes.