Black Youth Suicide: A Public Health Crisis and Call for Support

By: Jasmin R. Brooks

Highlights:

  • Suicide among Black youth and young adults is a national public health crisis. However, limited research has examined contributing and protective factors of suicide among Black youth and young adults (this is especially relevant in light of September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month).
  • Recent research suggests symptoms of depression are associated with greater suicidal ideation for Black young adults, but that self-acceptance may buffer this association. 
  • In this blog, read more about these findings and what you can do to help address the crisis of Black youth suicide.
Source: Canva

Suicide is a major public health concern among all age groups. However, with increases in social media use, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and self-inflicted injuries, suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth and youth adults are of particular concern1,2. Importantly, analysis of the CDC’s national 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveal that suicide among Black youth has increased at an alarming rate, faster than any other racial or ethnic group3. Findings suggest that suicide attempts have risen 73% between 1991 and 2017 for Black adolescents, and injuries from suicide attempts have risen 122% for Black adolescent boys over the same time period3. As a result, research investigating how suicide risk develops, and can be prevented, among Black youth is warranted.

The Role of Depression and Self-Acceptance

Previous research suggests that depression is a robust risk factor for suicide; however, Black Americans remain largely underrepresented in these studies. In our new study, published in the Journal of Black Psychology, we examined the association between symptoms of depression and suicide ideation among Black young adults, as well as the potential buffering role of self-acceptance.

Our study found that elevated symptoms of depression were associated with increased suicide ideation. Potential explanations of the pathway between depression and suicide for Black young adults include exposure to racism-related stressors, hopelessness, diminished psychological functioning, and impaired coping skills4-6. Importantly, we found that for Black young adults who reported higher levels of self-acceptance (i.e., positive and realistic attitudes toward the self), symptoms of depression were not associated with suicidal ideation. This finding suggests that holding positive attitudes towards oneself protects against external influences that may lead to psychological distress. Moreover, this finding suggests that assisting Black young adults in cultivating increased feelings of self-worth may lead to a reduction in risk for suicidal ideation.

How to Support Black Youth

Youth suicide is preventable. Suicide rates for Black youth and young adults can be substantially reduced through the following recommendations:

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide risk. If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately via calling or texting the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741).
  2. Black youth continue to be less likely to receive and complete treatment for depression, compared to White youth. Black youth are also less likely to receive mental health services following a suicide attempt. Seek out mental health treatment, including culturally-responsive services as needed.
  3. For parents, talk and listen to your child. Affirm their feelings and foster an accepting and welcoming environment to discuss mental health and well-being. Keep learning new strategies on how to check in on your child’s mental health.
  4. For teachers, foster supportive, warm, and inclusive classroom environments and maintain positive connections to Black students.
  5. For providers, screen for depression in primary care settings. Furthermore, we can work together to design and implement more race-conscious and culturally responsive suicide interventions targeting specific risk factors among Black youth.
  6. Therapy for Black Kids and Therapy for Black Girls provide free resources, tools, and access to a directory of Black providers in order to promote mental health recovery among Black children, teens, and families.
  7. Help break the stigma that exists surrounding suicidal thoughts and behaviors by: 1) bringing awareness to (and helping to reduce) the use of stigmatizing language surrounding suicide, 2) educate your family, friends, and colleagues about the unique experiences and challenges of mental health within the Black community, and 3) take steps to address our own implicit biases and any assumptions we may have surrounding suicide and mental health.

References

[1] Miron, O., Yu, K. H., Wilf-Miron, R., & Kohane, I. S. (2019). Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA321(23), 2362-2364.

[2] Mercado, M. C., Holland, K., Leemis, R. W., Stone, D. M., & Wang, J. (2017). Trends in emergency department visits for nonfatal self-inflicted injuries among youth aged 10 to 24 years in the United States, 2001-2015. JAMA318(19), 1931-1933.

[3] Lindsey, M. A., Sheftall, A. H., Xiao, Y., & Joe, S. (2019). Trends of suicidal behaviors among high school students in the United States: 1991–2017. Pediatrics144(5).

[4] Nrugham, L., Holen, A., & Sund, A. M. (2012). Suicide attempters and repeaters: Depression and coping a prospective study of early adolescents followed up as young adults. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease200(3), 197-203.

[5] Abramson, L. Y., Alloy, L. B., Hogan, M. E., Whitehouse, W. G., Gibb, B. E., Hankin, B. L., & Cornette, M. M. (2002). The hopelessness theory of suicidality. In Suicide science (pp. 17-32). Springer, Boston, MA.

[6] Walker, R. L., Salami, T. K., Carter, S. E., & Flowers, K. (2014). Perceived racism and suicide ideation: Mediating role of depression but moderating role of religiosity among African American adults. Suicide and Life‐Threatening Behavior44(5), 548-559.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Jasmin R. Brooks, M.A. is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston. Her research interests include evaluating how sociocultural risk (e.g., racial discrimination) and protective (e.g., mindfulness, racial identity) factors influence suicidality and mental health for Black populations. She aims to apply her research to the development of clinical interventions that reduce racial stress and promote psychological well-being within Black and other marginalized communities. Jasmin also maintains a strong commitment to being active in her community through mentoring, non-profit work, and creating a podcast, We Had the Talk. If you are interested in learning more about Jasmin’s work you may visit her website at: https://jasminbrooks.com/, follow her on Twitter at: @__JasminBrooks, or email her at jrbrooks4@uh.edu.

Race, Racism, and Relationships: What Matters for Teens’ Mental Health?

By: Jessica Stern

Highlights:

  • Attachment styles have been shown to shape mental health, but almost no research has examined the experiences of Black teens (this is especially important in light of BIPOC Mental Health Month).
  • Our new research reveals that Black teens experience more racism in their neighborhoods, and those experiences of racism are associated with greater attachment avoidance (discomfort with emotional closeness) and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years.
  • We also explore other findings, including how attachment avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms over time, but only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black.
Source: Canva

Think back to your teenage years: Was it a happy time in your life, or did you struggle with feelings of depression? Did you lean on your close friends or family members for support, or did you deal with your feelings by yourself? And did you ever experience racial discrimination in your neighborhood?

We put these questions to teens themselves to uncover how race, racism, and attachment style — or how we feel and behave in close relationships — shape mental health during adolescence. Our new study, published in a special issue of Attachment and Human Development, explored pathways to mental health for teens with different racial-ethnic identities and experiences of discrimination in their neighborhood.

Teens’ Relationship Styles

We focused on two styles of behavior in close relationships:

  • Attachment avoidance – teens’ reluctance to trust others, discomfort with vulnerability, and tendency to deal with emotions alone.
  • Attachment anxiety – teens’ worries about their relationships and fears of abandonment.

Previous studies had shown that both attachment avoidance and anxiety foreshadow increased risk for depression— but these studies overwhelmingly focused on White college students. Almost no studies had examined the unique experiences of Black teens, for whom some aspects of avoidance (like being able to suppress vulnerable emotions when necessary) may be understandable —or even protective— in the context of dealing with racism in their daily lives.

We followed 171 teens from Prince George’s County, MD from age 14 to age 18, focusing on teens who identified as Black or as White. Each year, we asked them to report their attachment style, experiences of racism in their neighborhood, and symptoms of depression. We tested a simple but novel question:

Do the well-established links between attachment and depression differ depending on teens’ racial identity and perceptions of neighborhood racism?

Racial Identity & Racism Findings

When we looked at our sample of teens all together, attachment anxiety and avoidance predicted increasing risk for depressive symptoms— replicating most previous studies. But the story was more complex when considering race.

First, Black teens perceived significantly more racism in their neighborhoods than White teens (unsurprisingly), and those experiences of racism were associated with greater attachment avoidance and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years. Second, avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms from age 14 to 18 only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black. These effects of racial context were unique to avoidance, and not attachment anxiety.

This suggests that Black teens may cope with racism in their communities by adopting avoidant strategies to manage vulnerable emotions.

Rather than assuming that avoidance is universally “bad” for teens, we can see it instead as an understandable strategy for Black youth dealing with racism that may be protective, at least in the short term. Even so, all Black teens need and deserve close relationships in which they feel safe, secure, and supported in expressing their full range of emotion.

The findings reveal how the pathways linking experiences in close relationships to mental health outcomes can vary by racial context— highlighting the importance of considering diversity in adolescent development. Future research is needed to understand how attachment might interact with racial identity to shape other important outcomes, like coping, resilience, critical consciousness, and racial identity development.

How to Support Black Adolescents

As we consider ways to support positive youth development and mental health, it is critical to understand the unique social and emotional experiences of Black youth. Researchers and practitioners can support Black adolescents by:

  1. Advocating for anti-racist policy;
  2. Understanding that moderate levels of avoidance may be a protective strategy for dealing with racism in daily life (that is, not pathologizing teens’ avoidant attachment style); and
  3. Supporting social relationships in which Black youth can safely express their full selves (for instance, relationships with natural mentors).

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Stern is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dept. of Psychology at University of Virginia. Her research focuses on close relationships, child and adolescent development, empathy, and anti-racist scholarship.

LGBTQ+ Youth Need Your Support

By: Lamont Bryant

Highlights:

  • June is Pride month, and as we celebrate our LGBTQ+IA2+ communities, we should also recognize that this current moment is a turning point from a policy perspective.
  • We need to support LGBTQ+ youth socially and recognize the intersection of youths’ race, sexuality, and gender identity.
  • In this blog, read more about what you can do next to support LGBTQ+ youth.
Source: Canva

Happy Pride!

Watching gravity-defying drag-queens perform acrobats in 6 ½ inch stilettos or stunning ballroom legends voguing as they battle on the dancefloor are some of my favorite moments during Pride. However, every year I spot a group of LGBTQ+ youth sporting their colorful Pride flags like superhero caps, which stirs unfadable joy and the flutter of hope. They are superheroes for daring to live and be their most authentic selves in their own right.

The fact of the matter is, LGBTQ+ youth don’t need another hero, but they need the support to thrive. Their presence is an essential reminder that Pride is not a parade, but a brave protest to proclaim equity and freedom from the normative limits of gender and sexuality at the intersection of infinite social identities. Every year we celebrate Pride during the month of June as an important reminder of resistance against the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and other sexual diverse and gender minoritized individuals (LGBTQ+IA2+).

Turning Point

This year, over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ state legislative bills will loom over Pride. More importantly, is the fact that this historic surge of anti-LGBTQ+ bills is made up of 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that adversely affect LGBTQ+ youth. While a quarter of these bills aim to criminalize lifesaving medical care for transgender youth, approximately 75% of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills enable the discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender youth. [1]

We stand at a curious junction. The introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ school policies threatens decades of youth advocacy and work within the educational system to increase greater protections for LGBTQ+ youth. As such, schools with LGBTQ+ affirming policies have become a refuge of acceptance and empowerment for many LGBTQ+ youth who may face rejection at home or within their community. By and large, most LGBTQ+ youth identify schools as LGBTQ+ affirming (55%) and gender-affirming (51%) spaces in stark comparison to affirming homes (37% and 32%, respectively). [2]

The Importance of Social Support for LGBTQ+ Youth

By addressing the systemic oppression of LGBTQ+ youth, schools can become grounds for fostering social support networks and relationships. Research has found that creating affirming environments through Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) school groups and LGBTQ+-focused school policies impede peer bullying and foster higher levels of support from classmates and teachers. [3]

The association of LGBTQ+ affirming schools with lower rates of attempted suicide is important to preserve, given that 45% of LGBTQ+ considered suicide within the past year.

While student organizations like GSA’s do not guarantee psychological wellbeing, efforts to support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth are interrelated to feeling connected to their school.

Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in schools will threaten the viable connection LGBTQ+ youth have with their schools. Anti-LGBTQ+ school policies isolate youth by prohibiting transgender youth from competing in student athletics, limiting age-appropriate discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and denying youth access to school facilities that align with their gender identity. Furthermore, many of the anti-LGBTQ+ youth initiatives also include language that will criminalize the discussion of racism within schools. However, discourse around LGBTQ+ youth and school and social support often neglects meaningful discussion at the intersection of race.

The Importance LGBTQ+ Youth at Their Intersections

Let me spill some real tea that may be obvious to many Black folx in the LGBTQ+ community; It is simply impossible to discuss any LGBTQ+ issue without addressing race. Period. However, the discussion of Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults often occurs within the context of sexual-transmitted infections, HIV, and PrEP adherence. It is important that we continue to discuss how systemic barriers to health that target sexual and gender minoritized youth disproportionately affect Black LGBTQ+ youth and youth adults. However, I cannot help but wonder how the historical hyper-sexualization of the Black body may exclude Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults from conversations about social well-being, connectivity, and other forms of positive interpersonal engagement. 

The Intersectional Pride flag was introduced by Danial Quasar in 2018 to underscore the importance of greater inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community. A black and brown chevron was added to the LGBT Rainbow Pride flag to represent racially marginalized LGBTQ+ community members, and the colors pink, light blue, and white-colored chevrons were borrowed from the Transgender Pride Flag. Source: Canva

Black LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination at the intersection of their race, sexuality, and gender identity both at school and at home. I find the complexity of Black LGBTQ+ social support interesting because seeking support from both inside and outside their families can be both beneficial and potentially harmful. For instance, there is a link between LGBTQ+ affirming schools and reduced attempted suicide [4]; however, Black LGBTQ+ students attending majority Black schools were least likely to have a gender and sexuality alliance support group. [5]

In conjunction, Black young adults place great importance in connecting with their family compared to other racial groups; however, Black LGBTQ+ youth continued to experience greater rejection from their family and Black peers. [6] However, dialogue about the social support from their family of origin and close friends (i.e., chosen family, fictive kin) often assumes that these support systems operate independently.

As systemic changes propose a threat to make schools less affirming spaces, it will be increasingly important to understand how to aid Black families in their efforts to support their Black LGBTQ+ youth. My current research seeks to understand the role of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support networks play as they navigate oppression that targets their racialized sexual and gender identity. Furthermore, I hope to shed more light on the interconnectedness of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support network.

What Can We Do Now?

  • For most LGBTQ+  youth, the best way for parents and caregivers to demonstrate their support is by accepting and welcoming their LGBTQ+ friends or partner(s).
  • When LGBTQ+ youth choose a name that better reflects their gender identity, avoid “deadnaming” (the name given at birth).
  • Pronouns are essential tools that validate LGBTQ+ youth and young adults’ gender identity. When in doubt, use their name and ask about their pronouns.
  • We all make mistakes. If you misgender a person, it is important to acknowledge your error and apologize without making it about you.
  • LGBTQ+ youth of color may be more reluctant to report harm or harassment, so be proactive by offering your support while also bolstering their autonomy.
  • Listen, reflect, and talk respectfully with LGBTQ+ youth about their identity. Supporting LGBTQ+ youth may mean finding help and resources to process your personal feelings, expectations you developed as a parent, prejudices (we all have them), and identifying areas of growth with other adults.
  • Keep learning! The GLSEN national network provides resources for students and educators, including research and educational webinars. Also, the LGBT Family Acceptance Project is a great resource for research, training and readings.
  • Race and ethnicity are important to understanding sexual and gender identity. The National Black Justice Coalition provides great resources including a terminology workbook, a gender justice toolkit, and culturally informed dialogue and reports.
  • The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ young people can access free confidential crisis counseling via chat, phone, and text through The Trevor Project.

References

[1] Freedom for all Americans

[2] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[3] Day, J. K., Fish, J. N., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Gay‐straight alliances, inclusive policy, and school climate: LGBTQ+ youths’ experiences of social support and bullying. Journal of Research on Adolescence30, 418-430.

[4] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[5] Truong, N. L., Zongrone, A. D., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Black LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools. New York: GLSEN.

[6] Hailey, J., Burton, W., & Arscott, J. (2020). We are family: Chosen and created families as a protective factor against racialized trauma and anti-LGBTQ oppression among African American sexual and gender minority youth. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 16(2), 176-191.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Lamont Bryant (they/them) is a community psychology doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Inspired by Black feminist and queer/quare theory, Lamont seeks to understand the development of psychosocial-informed protective practices. Specifically, their research examines Black women, and sexual and gender minorities’ formation and utility of social support, both in-person and online. Lamont is a first-generation student and the recipient of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department Diversity Recruitment Award and the Dean’s Doctoral Fellowship. Before attending UVA, they lectured for several years at the University of Baltimore and Towson University’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. At the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, they coordinated specialty health educational assistance and professional development for youth and LGBTQ-serving organizations and providers. Additionally, Lamont mentored a team of Black LGBTQ+ young adults through an empowerment framework and utilized community-based participatory research methodologies and systematic tools to gather community input for targeted interventions created for and with LGBTQ+ youth of color.

Vlog: Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the second in a series. View the first blog entitled “Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog and for Mental Health Awareness month, I share more about mental health changes I’ve seen in the pandemic and how we can support youth going forward.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

We have to come to terms with the idea that our mental health needs have changed and will continue to be a large part of the conversation going forward. We as humans were not built to live in isolation, without community and fellowship, or going outside with sunshine. We aren’t built for how we’ve been living the last two years during the pandemic.

The renewed focus on mental health is something that is going to fundamentally change who we are, how we navigate throughout the world, the things we take for granted, what we are looking forward to and more. All these things are changing because we have to come to terms with the idea that what we were doing before was not sustainable. For many, not addressing our mental health and the issues we were facing with our families and in the workforce was really toxic.

There are so many opportunities right now to reshape our culture and that has to start with mental health.

What are we doing to take care of ourselves and our families? How will that permeate throughout the rest of our society?

Youth & Mental Health

For the youth I work with, they are no longer afraid to ask for help. More so in last two years I’ve noticed youth have the ability to:

  1. Understand what is going on with themselves or doing a self-analysis,
  2. Naming what that self-analysis comes up with, and
  3. Being able to act upon it or ask for help.

Youth are not afraid to say “this is an issue I’d like adults to work with me on.” It’s become a part of their culture, in a really healthy way. Oftentimes youth know when something needs to happen for them – they know if they need to ask for medication, talk with someone, work with their friends, or ask someone for help – and that is a really good thing for mental health.

What Adults Can Do

Adults should not dismiss feelings or actions from youth about their mental health. Avoid saying things like “back in my day, this wasn’t an issue or we didn’t have depression or anxiety.” That is just not true. There were these similar issues but there may not have been words to describe or label them. Hopefully now we are starting to share these experiences and in ways that minimize how it affects others in the future.

Be vulnerable youth and share whatever is appropriate with your own experiences around mental health too. Allow them to see you. Once youth see the genuine and authentic you, then they will connect more. Breakdown “I am the teacher, mentor, adult in charge” and “you are the small person that only has the ability to learn from me.” Shift those roles and blend the idea that I, as an adult, can learn from you and you, as a youth, can learn from me. With this shift adults will see a greater impact.


If you need help or are in a mental health crisis, please ask for assistance and use resources available:


Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Familial Mentors May Help Promote Close Parent-Adolescent Relationships in Black Families

By: Janelle Billingsley

Highlights:

  • While close parental relationships may promote positive outcomes among Black youth, parents’ ability to support their children may be complicated during adolescence due to increased conflict and strain.
  • However, support from adolescents’ familial mentors has the potential to mitigate strains in the parent-adolescent relationship.
  • In this blog, we highlight ways that familial mentors may support the parent-youth relationship during adolescence.
Source: Pexels

Studies show that a strong sense of connectedness to parents may protect Black youth from experiencing negative outcomes associated with exposure to anti-Black racism and structural inequality. [1,2] However, parents’ ability to support their children may be complicated during adolescence as parents and youth often experience increased conflict and strain while attempting to negotiate youths’ growing autonomy. [3] While scholars studying mentoring have long suggested that mentors may be a key resource for helping youth improve their social relationships with other adults, notably their parents, the question remains:

How are mentors supporting the parent-adolescent relationship?

This question is particularly useful for understanding Black adolescents’ family-based mentoring relationships given that (1) non-parental adult relatives comprise the majority of Black adolescents’ mentoring relationships; and (2) familial mentors are uniquely positioned to mediate parent-child conflict as they are likely to hold personal relationships with both youth and their parents.

Mentors Support of the Parent-Adolescent Relationship

In a recent study, [4] we identified three ways that Black youths’ familial mentors supported the parent-adolescent relationship through both youth- and parent-directed means:

1. Mentors Acting as Sounding Boards – Familial mentors listened to parents and youth discuss challenges they experienced in the parent-adolescent relationship. These mentors provided a space for youth and parents to process their thoughts and emotions when experiencing conflict with one another.

“[She] bring up stuff ‘well momma don’t understand or daddy don’t understand.’ So I said ‘well, tell me your version of it.’ So, we sit down, and I just listen to her talk.” – Grandmother mentor of a 14-year-old girl

By providing youth and parents the space to talk through their emotions, familial mentors were likely helping both to better understand and express their feelings. These practices may have promoted more effective communication between parents and their adolescent children.

2. Mentors Coaching Positive Communication Strategies – Familial mentors suggested positive communication and response strategies to youth and parents to help them navigate conflict in their relationship. For instance, familial mentors advised youth to not argue with their parents when they were upset and also encouraged parents to refrain against harshly disciplining their children.

“you have to be calm and tell [her]in a different way. . . you got to keep a calm voice. You have to calm down and they might get it rather than you screaming at them.” – Grandfather mentor of a 11-year-old girl

By helping parents and youth calibrate their reactions, familial mentors were likely able to promote more effective communication between youth and their parents.

3. Mentors Promoting Understanding – Lastly, familial mentors promoted understanding in the parent-adolescent relationship by advising parents and youth to perspective take. Familial mentors also encouraged youth to share information with their parents and encouraged parents to give their adolescent children appropriate space and autonomy.

“[my mom] reminds me that I cannot protect [my son] from everything. I can give him advice but she’s really the one trying to get me to release a little bit and relax and let him make his own way. . . [she reminds me] that he is a young man and to let him be young man even with all my fears and worries. Not to stifle that.” – Mother of a 14-year-old boy

By advising youth to share information with their parents, and encouraging parents to give their children the space to grow, familial mentors may have helped parents and youth negotiate adolescents’ growing desire for autonomy.


Together this work highlights familial mentoring relationships as a naturally occurring resource in Black families. Even further, by working to strengthen parent-adolescent bonds, familial mentors may help to ensure that parents are well positioned to support their children through the ups and downs of adolescence.

References

[1] Seider et al., 2019

[2] Wilson, 2009

[3] De Geode et al., 2009

[4] Billingsley et al., 2021


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Janelle Billingsley is a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow and a doctoral candidate in the Community Psychology program at the University of Virginia (UVA). She received her B.A. in Psychology from North Carolina Central University and her M.A. in Psychology from UVA. Janelle’s program of research integrates ecological and developmental frameworks to uncover the ways Black adolescents leverage their familial networks to promote their healthy development in the face of contextual risk. Her scholarship primarily focuses on two areas of exploration: 1) identifying factors that promote close and supportive intergenerational relationships between Black adolescents and their parents and adult relatives, and 2) better understanding how Black adolescents’ supportive intergenerational familial relationships facilitate adolescents’ social and emotional development.

The Power of Intergenerational Activism

By: Celina Adams

Highlights:

  • In spring 2021 I worked with the Teachers in the Movement project during my final semester as an undergraduate.
  • During this time, I reviewed and conducted oral history interviews that explored teachers’ ideas and pedagogy inside and outside the classroom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
  • In this original blog post, I reviewed an interview with Mrs. Flora Crittenden and reflected on the power of intergenerational activism.

Mrs. Flora Crittenden is a remarkable woman who positively impacted her students and community throughout her lifetime. She worked as an educator, guidance counselor, and politician during the Civil Rights Movement. Her incredibly deep involvement in her community speaks to her determination to facilitate racial justice in every aspect of life. I reviewed an oral history interview from Mrs. Crittenden during my involvement with the Teachers in the Movement Project, and a major theme that arose in the discussion of her career is the importance of support systems. This yielded intergenerational progress that is evident in the lives of Mrs. Crittenden, her family members, and her students.

Role Models & Background 

While attending the only school that accepted Black students in her county in Newport News, Huntington High School, Mrs. Crittenden interacted with teachers who maintained high standards for her. This high school was established around 1920 with the intention of providing quality education to African American students, and in Mrs. Crittenden’s experience, it did exactly that. Mrs. Crittenden specifically recalls the impact her high school biology and chemistry teacher, Mr. Hines, had on her. While in his class, she was assigned projects that she found uninteresting. She was determined not to complete her assignments; however, Mr. Hines pushed her to conduct the necessary research. Mrs. Crittenden believes that educators like him were the reason she attended college and excelled academically. Mr. Hines was one of the many resources Huntington High School afforded Mrs. Crittenden, and his impact in her life extended beyond his classroom. Years after she graduated, Mr. Hinesbecame the principal of George Washington Carver High School which is located in Newport News. He alone was responsible for the school’s opening and operations due to the lack of resources provided by the School Board. As a result, he recruited Mrs. Crittenden to help develop the school’s curriculum and hire faculty. Mr. Hines garnered her support prior to the school’s unveiling in 1949. He went to her home, and he said “Mrs. Crittenden, get dressed—we got to go make a school.” This simple statement coupled with his guidance radically affected Mrs. Crittenden’s life. It gave her the opportunity to invest in a school in a way that most teachers are unable to do.

Educating during the Civil Rights Movement 

Even though the subject matter Mrs. Crittenden taught (girls’ physical education and occasionally biology) did not easily align with the ideas promoted by the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Crittenden made an effort to remind her students that they were valued, citizens. She wanted them to know that neither their age nor race made them inferior to anyone. Mrs. Crittenden worked predominantly with young women since “physical education classes were separated by gender but not the academic classes.” It was not until 1972 that all classes were required to be coeducational as a result of Title XI. Therefore, the majority of Mrs. Crittenden’s students had to navigate a society that praised whiteness and masculinity. This challenging situation made the affirming messages Mrs. Crittenden taught increasingly necessary. Additionally, she encouraged her students to be an active member of their communities despite social norms. This approach was rooted in her belief that:

Educational institutions have the ability to strengthen both families and nations by producing educated and thoughtful citizens.

Mrs. Crittenden was determined to ingrain these ideals in her students. Her teaching style suggests that activism can occur in any environment. It is not limited to certain subject matter, locations, or age groups. She suggests that “it just so happened that [she] was a teacher” who used her career as a platform to promote Civil Rights. Mrs. Crittenden’s work suggests that activism is rooted in an understanding of the humanity of people.

Life Beyond Teaching 

Mrs. Crittenden sought opportunities to enact change in the lives of young people and community members beyond teaching. This led to her decision to become a guidance counselor. This new position allowed her to counsel students in a more personalized manner; she could tailor her approach to individual students rather than classrooms with multiple people. Mrs. Crittenden was invested in the lives of her students. Furthermore, she was able to engage directly with students and parents creating an environment that fostered student success. Thursa Crittenden, Mrs. Crittenden’s daughter, recalled an experience in which a student received a scholarship to an excellent university, but he did not want to attend that institution. Mrs. Flora Crittenden knew the school would afford him numerous opportunities, so she traveled to the students’ homes to speak to his parents and compel him to accept the university’s offer. He ultimately decided to attend the university, and he attributes his success to Mrs. Crittenden’s persistence. This situation highlights Mrs. Crittenden’s deep desire to support her students.


Read more in the original blog post on how Mrs. Crittenden’s family shaped her view of education and ultimately led to her deep appreciation of teaching, her educational background, her life after retiring from teaching which include becoming a representative for the Virginia House of Delegates, and references.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Celina Adams recently received a Bachelors of Science in Education in May 2021 from the University of Virginia. She double majored in Youth in Social Innovations and American Studies. She currently works on the Counseling and Equity team at ReadyKids, a local nonprofit that provides educational, developmental, and counseling support to children and families. This position embodies Celina’s interests in racial justice, culture, and mental health. She hopes to continue her studies in order to learn how to highlight the stories of marginalized people and promote positive racial identity development. 

Vlog: Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the first in a series. View the second post entitled “Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog, I share more about my experience working with youth, and talk about what adults can do to better support youth who are focused on both the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

There is a pandemic that has been going on for centuries and a pandemic that we just started about 2 years ago. It is easy for adults to just focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say we’ll figure out the other things later about racial injustice. But for many youth that is not their focus or lived experience. So what can adults do to support youth at this intersection of the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic?

The best thing adults can do is ask questions and listen.

Say “teach me more about that,” or “I don’t know I understand.”

Put youth in the driver’s seat and make them teachers. Have them show you their experiences, and how they are navigating through it to make meaning of their experiences. Especially teenagers who are muted in their own responses, ask them questions about how they are processing and dealing. Create a space that is non-judgmental where a youth can be their genuine self.

If you are working with youth, there are 3 rules to follow:

  1. Show Up: When you are there with youth, be there completely. Limit distractions and be fully present.
  2. Keep Showing Up: Be there for youth and build a deep connection. Keep showing up time after time working with the same youth. Don’t be a one-and-done, but instead be there for the long haul!
  3. Be Authentic: Don’t make assumptions, and be true to yourself. Say “tell me what that is like” instead of pretending you know or understand their experiences. Say “what can I do to better understand your experience.”

Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Understanding Factors Associated with Intimate Disclosure Between Black Youth and Non-Parental Familial Adults

By: Ariana Rivens

Highlights:


Question: What would you say is the main takeaway from your article?

Rivens: I would say the main takeaway is about non-parental adult relatives and how intentional they are about making space for youth in their lives to disclose. Not only making space, but also staying engaged throughout the disclosure process. The paper describes how these adults encouraged youth to share by creating a positive atmosphere, being really supportive when youth were disclosing, and then, afterwards, taking steps to honor youth disclosing by validating them, giving them advice, and advocating for them. That’s the biggest takeaway—adult relatives play an active role in the process.

Question: You talk about reciprocity and how people may be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings with others who also reveal personal information about themselves. Is this the case in relationships between youths and trusted non-parental adults as well, or is this something that occurs more so between youths and their peers?

Rivens: Yes! In our study, both youth and non-parental adult relatives talked about times when the adults self-disclosed to the adolescent and participated in reciprocal sharing. This was really interesting to us, because adult disclosures were typically age-appropriate and relevant to what youth were sharing. When asked, relatives also talked about being really intentional about making sure that what they shared had the maximum positive impact on youth. They weren’t overburdening the youth by asking them for emotional support or looking to them for advice. It was more along the lines of: “You brought up a topic, so here’s a time that I’ve experienced it growing up” or “Here’s how I’m experiencing it right now as an adult”. It really speaks to what we believe—and research suggests—is one of the key reasons why having non-parental adults in youths’ lives is so helpful. It’s because they can pull on that lived experience and wisdom and can also share how they currently navigate situations. These adult relatives do that not by minimizing what kids are going through, but by emphasizing how this might be something that happens throughout life.

Question: The findings from this study are also incredibly powerful when put into the context of prior research, which, as you mentioned, suggests Black youths’ relationships with natural mentors may be protective of psychological distress associated with racial discrimination. Do you think that youths who lack such relationships face the risk of greater vulnerability to racial discrimination?

Rivens: Previous research suggests adults can be really helpful when youth are experiencing all types of marginalization. We’re focusing on racial discrimination and the effects of racism in this study, but these relationships could be really helpful for other marginalized groups such as LGBTQ youth who might be experiencing rejection or difficulties with their parents. Having a family member or another adult outside act as a buffer against these negative effects from interpersonal issues as well as the more systemic ones. To answer your question more specifically: yes, we know that these supportive relationships have buffering effects against the impact of racism, and we know that youth who experience racism-related stressors in our world and don’t have supportive connections that they can turn to process the event, get support, and to be reminded how important and valued they are, are more likely to feel isolated. While supportive relationships are so important and a rich resource, though, the cumulative adverse impacts of things like racism and other structural inequalities aren’t really offset by having these supportive relationships—that’s not going to solve it all. Even the most supported Black child is at risk for some adverse outcomes based on these issues, so, regardless of their mentor status and whether or not they have these relationships, youth are going to benefit from the dismantling of racism and other inequitable systems.


For more from this Q&A, please see the SRA blog. For more on these research findings, please see the Journal for Research on Adolescence article entitled “Understanding Factors Associated With Intimate Disclosure Between Black Youth and Nonparental Familial Adults.”

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ariana Rivens (she/her/hers) is a clinical psychology PhD student in the Promoting Healthy Adolescent Development (PHAD) Lab at the University of Virginia. Her clinical and research interests include the mental health of Black youth and emerging adults, supportive intergenerational relationships, and positive institutional climates within higher education

How White, Middle Class Teachers Can Apply Psychology to Teach Students Who are Different From Them

By: Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman & Krystal Thomas

Highlights:

  • Four out of 5 U.S. teachers are White, but more than half of their students are students of color. Almost all teachers have college degrees and the majority are middle class, but one-fifth of students live in poverty.
  • Just as teachers acquire skills to teach reading or math effectively, the skills to teach students who are different from them can be learned, too.
  • New advancements in psychology shed light on how to create more equitable learning environments, which we shared in a new APA research brief.
Source: Youth-Nex

How can we solve problems that stem from implicit bias? One important solution involves recruiting more diverse educators. Yet another solution is to prepare White, middle-class educators to teach students who are different from them. This brief focuses on the latter solution.

If teachers are concerned about own biases, that is a good thing. That means teachers care and want to do better for their students. The human mind is imperfect and all people – even educators – carry biases that can prevent their students from succeeding in school and beyond.

Learning how to reduce one’s own biases requires self-reflection. It is important that all educators hold themselves and each other accountable to do this necessary and important work. Without these efforts, educators underserve their students from traditionally marginalized groups and prevent them from reaching their potential.

Four Suggestions to Improve Teaching Practices

We have four suggestions that use psychology to support teachers to be more effective with students who are different from them. We mention these suggestions below and you can learn more about these ideas in the original 2-page research brief.

We recommend educators:

1. Become Self-Aware & Unlearn Prejudicial Habits by Detecting, Reflecting and Rejecting

Mostly, we are unaware of our biases. But, every once in a while, we become aware of our stereotypes. In those instances, instead of being embarrassed or pushing thoughts about biases away, use your awareness as an opportunity to detect the bias, reflect on your behavior, and reject the stereotype by replacing it with a new way of thinking.  

2. Learn About Your Students & Their Perspectives

Learn more about your students so you can understand their perspectives. Take time to understand your classroom from their point of view, identify their strengths and interests, cultivate empathy for them, and appreciate their uniqueness. Use what you know about your students’ interests to create trusting relationships with them.

3. Individuate to Counteract Stereotypes

Counteract stereotypes by individuating. Individuating means noticing individual students’ behaviors and becoming aware of their strengths, challenges, and personal preferences. It means seeing a person as an individual, not only as a member of a social category.

4. Transform the School Climate & Culture

Amplify the voices of individuals from groups that tend to be left out of conversations and decision-making. Make sure that school mission statements, policies, and curricula reflect inclusion, respect, and equity for diverse groups. Include the perspective of diverse groups in school practices (e.g., lesson plans, school-wide activities, community events).

Read more from these suggestions, what the research says, key definitions and more in this research brief! You can view other research briefs for educators through APA online.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman conducts research on elementary and middle school classrooms with the goal of using evidence to improve the quality of schooling experiences for teachers and students. Over the past twenty years, Rimm-Kaufman has led a dynamic team of researchers, project managers, post-docs, students, and staff toward improved understanding of the systematic ways that classroom social and psychological experiences are productive (or not productive) environments for child and youth development. In doing so, her research considers the diversity present in schools, respects the challenges that teachers face every day, and recognizes the complexity of school improvement. In all of her work, she has a steadfast commitment to educational equity.

Author Bio: Dr. Krystal Thomas is an education researcher at SRI Education who brings a developmental psychology and equity lens to research, evaluation, and capacity building. Her projects span issues of teacher quality and practices, students’ academic and social identities, and patterns of contextual inequality in the classroom. Before joining SRI, Thomas was an IES Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia, a lead statistician at the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, and a lab manager at the Cognitive Intervention Research, Culture and Learning Environments in Schools (CIRCLES) Lab. Thomas holds a PhD and master’s in developmental psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She also earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Virginia State University.

Vlog: Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline

By: Theresa Pfister

Highlights:

  • As a doctoral student in Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science, I wrote new APA Division 15 Policy Brief and am now sharing it as a video blog.
  • I argue that racial disproportionality in school discipline in the U.S. has contributed to gaps in outcomes—including lower academic achievement, risk of drop-out, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
  • In this video, I provides recommendations for policy and practice, including providing professional development for all educators in race, bias, and equity.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

Education is a fundamental right. However, the public school system continues to fall short in delivering on its promise to provide an equal education to all students. One of the ways in which this happens is through racial disproportionality in school discipline.

While causes of the discipline gap are complex, researchers have found implicit bias, differential selection and processing, and negative racial stereotypes are greatly to blame:

  • Differential Selection and Processing: There is evidence that students of color are more likely to be “selected” for harsher discipline, despite similar behaviors exhibited by classmates.
  • Implicit Bias: Infractions that require subjective instead of objective interpretation (e.g., disrespect versus drug possession) account for a great deal of the discipline gap, as they allow implicit bias to drive decision-making.
  • Negative Racial Stereotypes: Researchers found that behaviors cited most commonly for Black girls’ discipline referrals aligned with racial stereotypes of behavior, such as being too loud or having a bad attitude.

Scholars argue that the goal of equitable education for all students cannot be realized while racial disparities in school discipline persist, including not only who gets chosen for discipline, but also the harshness of that discipline. Read more from this research brief online.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Theresa Pfister is a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology – Applied Developmental Science from Friendship, Wisconsin, studying adolescence, the importance of relationships, and equity. An educator first and foremost, she believes deeply in the importance of working in partnership and utilizing research as a tool of empowerment. Before coming to the University of Virginia, Theresa was a teacher-trainer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, a 4th grade teacher in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and a College Advisor at SEO Scholars in Manhattan.