October 14, 2010

Discrimination hurts teens more than we know

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships at 4:22 am by dinaheng

When it comes to acceptance in a multicultural society, we’ve come a long way on many fronts. We live in a time where our country has a multicultural President in Barak Obama, a woman is our Secretary of State, and kids see diverse characters in children’s programming on television.

But a new UCLA study shows that adolescents from Latin American and Asian backgrounds experience more discrimination than classmates from European backgrounds, and that the discrimination came from adults, as well as their peers.

The study ran from 1993 to 1996, when the students were in high school, and continues to follow the participants to assess discrimination every two years.

“A lot of our work deals with culture and ethnicity in adolescent development,” says Andrew J. Fuligni, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, who conducted the study with graduate student Virginia W. Huynh. “Latin American and Asian groups have been understudied, yet they dominate the vast amount of immigration coming into the United States.”

The study included 601 high school seniors, who were asked to maintain a daily diary for two weeks to record discriminatory comments or events experienced, and to record physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or general pain.

Results showed that the levels of discrimination impacted the teens’ grade-point average, their health, and was associated with depression and lower levels of self-esteem.

“We found that kids who reported a high frequency of feeling discriminated against reported a lower self-esteem,” Fuligni says. “It creates another challenge on top of the challenges all  teens face in fitting in, deciding on a career path, belonging.”

The kids with European backgrounds also reported feeling discrimination, but at a lower frequency than the Latin American and Asian teens. Clearly, being mistreated because of who you are hurts — no matter what your background is.

The number of gay teens committing suicide because of constant bullying is bringing attention to how far we still have to go to teach not just tolerance, but acceptance, of everyone.

Those of us who grew up in schools where we were in the minority know what it feels like to be treated differently because of the color of our skin, our religious or political beliefs, our sexual orientation, the clothes we wore… you name it, there’s always something that people use as an excuse to separate themselves from others.

Prejudice stems from fear, so the more we make a concerted effort to get to know people who are not like us, the less we will have to fear. It’s a simple formula for making new friends, and ending discrimination.

The challenge lies in practicing what we teach.



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