Mental Health Research: Latino Family Issues


Latino child and parent communicatoon and suicide
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This is part of our Mental Health & Latino Kids: A Research Review »

Cultural identify affects Latino youth self-esteem

Umaña-Taylor and Updegraff used data from a longitudinal study on Latino adolescents’ ethnic identity to determine whether self-esteem, cultural orientation, and ethnic identity had a mediating or moderating effect on the relationship between discrimination and depression.

The study included 273 Latino adolescents, 84 percent of whom identified as Mexican-American, and 72 percent of whom were born in the U.S. Participants completed a questionnaire that included questions related to self-esteem, depressive symptoms, cultural orientation, ethnic identity, and perceived discrimination.

Acculturation, the process by which recent immigrants adopt cultural norms of their new country, moderated the relationship between self-esteem and discrimination for boys only. Among boys with high levels of acculturation, there was a negative relationship between self-esteem and discrimination (p<.01). Girls on the other hand reported this negative relationship whether they had high (p<.01) or low (p<.01) levels of acculturation.16

The affect of Latino family communication

Latino child and parent communicatoon and suicideIn the cross-sectional study of MSS data by Garcia et al., all grade and gender groups reported greater communication with mothers than with fathers.

High levels of family connectedness were least commonly reported among 9th grade mixed Latino females, who had the highest rates of suicidal ideation and emotional distress of all groups.

Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts were significantly more likely to be reported by adolescents, boys and girls, whose parents were not around.

In addition, significantly higher levels of emotional distress were reported by those adolescents who felt they were not able to talk to their parents. Across all groups, the odds of suicidal ideation ranged from 2.3-8 times higher for students who felt low levels of connectedness and communication within their families.7

Different types of Latino family stressors

Cordova et al. created 25 focus groups with 170 self-identified Hispanic or Latino adolescent participants ages 11-19; participants were recruited from middle schools (42%), high schools (35%) and area clinics (23%) in the Northeast and Southwest U.S.17

In focus groups discussions, the adolescents identified and discussed several family stressors:

  • Participants described the stress of having to serve as family translator for non-English speaking parents, especially those whose parents and extended family members had a general mistrust of the English language.
  • Some participants felt that their parents were overprotective, especially compared to their non-Latino peers.
  • Fnd female participants felt that a focus on traditional gender roles was a stressor, as males in the household generally had more freedom and fewer family obligations.
  • Discrepancies between adolescent and parental cultural values and levels of acculturation were also discussed as stressors for adolescents.17

Latino child-parent roles and depressive symptoms

Cespedes and Huey administered a questionnaire to 130 Latino students in grades 9-12 enrolled in a Los Angeles high school to evaluate the association between intrafamilial cultural discrepancy and depressive symptoms in the children of Latino immigrants.

Most study participants were Mexican American or Central American, 70 percent were female, and all were ages 13-18. Latino youth completed the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans-II from their own perspective, and then again from the perspective of a parent or caregiver; the participants also completed questions regarding gender role beliefs, cultural discrepancy, family functioning, and depression.

Girls were significantly more likely than boys to think of themselves as different from their parents in their beliefs on gender roles (attitudes towards women and machismo, a cultural concept that presents the male as the strong, unemotional head of the house).

Parent-child discrepancy regarding attitudes towards women and machismo were positively associated with family conflict, low family cohesion, and depressive symptoms.

After forming depression and gender role composites, a significant association was noted between gender role discrepancy and depression (p<.05); after controlling for gender role discrepancy, there was also a significant association between depression and family dysfunction (p<.001).18

In Ramos et al.’s review of data from the Boricua Youth Study, parent-child conflict and parental monitoring were measured to determine whether these had any effect on internalizing symptoms.

For both PR and NY youth, there was an association between parental monitoring and fewer internalizing symptoms. No association was noted between parent-child conflict and internalizing symptoms for either PR or NY youth.15

Manongdo et al. conducted a study at two time points to determine whether parenting behaviors could be predicted by youth mental health, and whether youth mental health could be predicted by parenting behaviors. Mexican-American adolescent participants were recruited through printed flyers and in-school announcements. There were 216 participants, ages 14-19, at Time 1 (T1), 88 of which also participated at Time 2 (T2).

Youth internalizing and externalizing symptoms (anger, aggression, impulsivity) and parental behavior were evaluated using relevant inventories.

Parenting behavior was classified as either supportive (defined by parental acceptance, involvement, and monitoring) or harsh (defined by firm control, harsh parenting, and inconsistent discipline). Internalizing symptoms at T1 were found to moderate the prediction of T1 harsh parental control on internalizing symptoms at T2 (p≤.05). Higher internalizing symptoms at T1 significantly predicted lower supportive parenting at T2, and higher externalizing symptoms at T1 significantly predicted greater harsh parental control at T2.19

Mental health affects from having a Latina immigrant mothers

Stacciarini, et al., conducted interviews with 31 pairs of Latino immigrant mothers and adolescents to determine the effect of family, community, and social environments on the mental well-being of the adolescents.

The mothers ages 25 or older and spoke Spanish, and the adolescent children were ages 11-18.

A promotora, or bilingual community health worker, interviewed the participants after receiving extensive training from the study coordinators. The promotora administered a questionnaire developed to assess the participants’ sociodemographic and family characteristics, including family separation, and relationships between adolescents and parents.

Both mother and adolescent participants thought of their migration to the U.S. as a sacrifice made by the family. Mothers expressed an expectation for their children to become successful, as they felt the children were provided with opportunities not afforded to the parents.

This expectation at times resulted in conflict, as the adolescents felt their mothers were too strict, while the mothers believed that the adolescents were not serious about fulfilling their responsibilities.

In families where the parents were married, mothers and adolescents both reported positive paternal relationships, though adolescents reported that their fathers’ long work hours resulted in limited communication.

Negative or nonexistent paternal relationships were reported by mothers who were no longer married to the fathers.

Mothers and adolescents shared feelings of pain and loneliness regarding periods of separation from family members during the migration process, especially children who emigrated at an older age, and both also feared being deported.1

Latino Cultural values and mental health

In a 2015 study, Schwartz et al. created a theoretical model of acculturation that included both Latino and U.S. practices (language, culinary and peer choices), values (prioritization of self, family, and community needs), and identification (attachment to heritage).

The study included 302 recently migrated Latino adolescents ages 14-17 in L.A. and Miami, with most of the L.A. population of Mexican origin, and most of the Miami population of Cuban origin. The participants were assessed on each of the acculturation measures 5 times over 2.5 years. Additionally, mental health measures such as optimism, prosocial behavior, positive parenting, and depressive symptoms were assessed at each time point. For each of the three acculturation measures, participants were given a designation of either stable (S) or increasing (I) over time.

Those who were increasing at all measures (III) and those increasing in practices and values and stable in identification (IIS) had similar mental health measures, except that positive parenting was higher in the III group, and depressive symptoms were lowest in the IIS group. In addition, the SSS group had the lowest scores of all groups in positive adjustment and family relationships; this group also scored highest in depressive symptoms and had an increase in depressive symptoms over time.20

A 2008 article by Goldston et al. discussed suicidal behaviors among minority adolescent groups in the U.S., including Latinos, within a cultural context, and noted many of the factors identified in the above studies.

The Latino cultural emphasis on familism (the importance of collective family goals versus individual goals), marianismo (demure and nurturing behavior exhibited by mothers and daughters), and machismo may play a role in suicidal thoughts and behaviors among Latino adolescents, especially girls, who are twice as likely as boys to attempt suicide.

This is especially likely to create conflict between Latinas and their parents as the Latina adolescents assert their individualism and independence.5

Latino parenting styles and infant health

Parenting styles and family dynamics affect the mental health of adolescents, but it is important to understand how these factors affect young children as well.

In a cross-sectional study of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a study designed to follow a nationally representative sample of children from birth until kindergarten, Cabrera et al. analyzed data from 1,711 Latino infants who were living with married and cohabiting parents.

The study measures included maternal health, child health, and child development, assessment, and psychometrics.

The authors found that having married parents (p=.006) and having a father with at least a high school education (p=.005) were associated with higher infant cognitive scores.

There was a positive association between a father’s happiness in his relationship and the time he spent engaged in literacy activities with his child (p<.001); fathers were also more engaged in caregiving activities when they had a lower household income (p<.01), when the mother worked outside the home (p<.001), and when the father was younger (p<.05).

Maternal happiness was found to be negatively associated with mother-child interaction (p<.05).21

Calzada et al. used data from two independent longitudinal studies, one that drew participants from head start centers and one that drew from public schools, to determine what effect the parenting styles of Mexican and Dominican immigrant mothers had on their children’s cultural socialization, school readiness, and internalizing and externalizing symptoms.

The study subjects included 442 4- and 5-year old children enrolled in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs in New York City. Parenting styles included authoritative, characterized by negotiation, exploration, and assertion; and authoritarian, emphasizing child obedience, deference, and decorum. Acculturation, cultural socialization, child behavior, and parenting practices were all self-reported.

Higher authoritarian parenting was reported by Mexican-American mothers compared to Dominican-American mothers; both groups reported similar levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in their children, though teachers reported that Dominican-American children exhibited higher levels of both symptoms. Dominican-American children, however, displayed significantly higher school readiness compared to Mexican-American children.

The authors found that authoritarian parenting was associated with children being socialized to respeto (a Latino cultural value of respect), and socialization to independence (a U.S. cultural value) was associated with authoritative parenting for both Mexican and Dominican Americans.

Higher socialization to independence was associated with school readiness and higher teacher-reported externalizing symptoms for Mexican American children

Authoritarian parenting had an association with parent-reported internalizing and externalizing behaviors and was associated with higher parent-reported internalizing and externalizing behaviors in Dominican-American children.22

More from our Mental Health & Latino Kids: A Research Review »

References for this section »

16. Umaña-Taylor, A. J. & Updegraff, K. A. Latino adolescents’ mental health: Exploring the interrelations among discrimination, ethnic identity, cultural orientation, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms. J. Adolesc. 30, 549–567 (2007).

17. Cordova, D., Ciofu, A. & Cervantes, R. Exploring Culturally Based Intrafamilial Stressors Among Latino Adolescents. Fam. Relat. 63, 693–706 (2014).

18. Céspedes, Y. M. & Huey, S. J. Depression in Latino Adolescents. Cultur. Divers. Ethnic Minor. Psychol. 14, 168–172 (2008).

19. Manongdo, J. A. & Ramírez García, J. I. Maternal parenting and mental health of Mexican American youth: A bidirectional and prospective approach. J. Fam. Psychol. 25, 261–270 (2011).

20. Schwartz, S. J. et al. Developmental Trajectories of Acculturation: Links with Family Functioning and Mental Health in Recent-Immigrant Hispanic Adolescents. Child Dev. 86, 726–748 (2015).

21. Cabrera, N. J., Shannon, J. D., West, J. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Parental Interactions With Latino Infants: Variation by Country of Origin and English Proficiency. Child Dev. 77, 1190–1207 (2006).

22. Calzada, E. J., Huang, K.-Y., Anicama, C., Fernandez, Y. & Brotman, L. M. Test of a Cultural Framework of Parenting With Latino Families of Young Children. Cultur. Divers. Ethnic Minor. Psychol. 18, 285–296 (2012).

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