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Racial Discrimination and Mexican American Adolescents’ Well-being: The Moderating Role of Mothers’ Perceived Discrimination

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Racial discrimination is a stressor in the lives of Mexican American adolescents and often negatively influences adolescents’ adjustment (Garcia Coll et al., 1996). Parents of Mexican American adolescents also face the stress of dealing with discrimination. According to family system theory (Cox & Paley, 2003), family is an interdependent system and family members’ experiences of discrimination may synergistically influence adolescents’ development. It is possible that parents’ experiences of discrimination may serve a buffering role in ameliorating the negative effects of discrimination. Parents who have similar encounters of discriminatory expereinces may engage more in racial socialization practices to prepare their children to deal with discrimination. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine the buffering role of mothers’ perceived discrimination in the negative association between adolescents’ perceived discrimination and adolescents’ psychological (i.e., life meaning and resilience) and academic outcomes (i.e., school engagement). We hypothesized that adolescents with mothers perceiving high levels of discrimination would have better psychological and academic adjustments in the face of discrimination compared to those with mothers perceiving low levels of discrimination.

Data were drawn from a two-wave longitudinal study of 604 Mexican American adolescents from and around a metropolitan city in central Texas (54% female; Mage = 12.5; 75% born in the U.S.). The data was collected about one year apart. Adolescents and mothers self-reported their own discriminatory experiences at Wave 1. Adolescents reported their sense of life meaning, resilience and school engagement at both Wave 1 and 2. Covariates included adolescent age, gender, and nativity and mother educational level and income as well as the same adolescent outcomes at Wave 1.

The results showed significant main effects of adolescent perceived discrimination on their sense of life meaning, resilience and school engagement at Wave 2. The 2-way interaction results showed that mothers’ perceived discrimination moderated the effects of adolescents’ perceived discrimination on both socioemotional and academic outcomes. As seen in Figure 1a, the link between adolescents’ perception of discrimination and adolescents’ sense of life meaning was unrelated for those whose mother reported high levels of discrimination (b = -.12, p = .25). In contrast, we observed a strong, negative relation between adolescents’ perception of discrimination and adolescents’ sense of life meaning for those whose mother experienced little discrimination (b = -.49, p < .001). The exact same pattern was observed for resilience and school engagement (Figure 1b and 1c). Specifically, for adolescents with mothers experiencing high levels of discrimination, adolescents’ perceived discrimination was not related to resilience (b = -.13, p = .12) or school engagement (b = -.12, p = .13). However, for adolescents with mothers experiencing little discrimination, adolescents’ perceived discrimination was negatively related to resilience (b = -.35, p < .001) and school engagement (b = -.40, p < .001).

The results suggest that adolescents whose mother perceived high levels of discrimination were protected from the negative effects of personally experienced discrimination. Our findings also highlight the importance of considering the family as an interrelated system and include multiple family members in examining adolescent development.

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