Discrimination Can Hurt Teens, Body and Soul


Discrimination experienced by U.S. teens from Latin American and Asian backgrounds can affect their grades and health, and is associated with depression, distress and reduced self-esteem, a new study has found. University of California, Los Angeles researchers asked 601 high school seniors, who generally range in age from 17 to 19 years, to record any discriminatory events or comments they experienced over two weeks. They were also asked to note any physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches and general pain.

Nearly 60 percent of the teens reported discrimination from other teens, 63 percent reported discrimination from adults, and 12 percent said they experienced discrimination every day. Latin American teens reported more adult discrimination than Asian American teens, while Asian American teens reported more adult discrimination than white teens of European descent. Both Latin American and Asian American teens reported more discrimination by their peers than the white teens. Teens who experienced higher levels of peer or adult discrimination reported more aches, pain and other symptoms, and had lower overall grade-point averages, the investigators found.

The study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Discrimination can be especially hard on teens, the study authors noted. "These are the years when social identity is arguably more salient among teenagers who are struggling with defining who they are. Adding on a 'layer' of discrimination is not an easy thing for them to deal with," one of the study authors, Andrew J. Fuligni, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in a university news release. "Discrimination significantly predicted lower, higher levels of depression, higher levels of distress, lower self-esteem and more physical complaints," Fuligni added. "So the bottom line? Discrimination is harmful."
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