Teens Stressed Out About Discrimination More Likely to Develop Behavioral Problems

A new study led by researchers at the University of Southern California has found that teenagers who display high levels of stress over recent public acts of discrimination also show increased behavioral problems. The researchers surveyed 2,572 juniors in 10 public high schools in Los Angeles County in 2016 on their level of concern about discrimination in society. The following year, the researchers recorded their new level of concern and how that manifested in behavioral problems during their senior year.

The project’s team found that at the beginning of the study in 2016, 29.7 percent of teens were very or extremely worried about societal discrimination. In the following year, 34.7 percent teens held this viewpoint. The numbers were higher among students from underrepresented groups. There were also associations found between increased levels of concern and bad behavior, some of which were stronger in minorities or low-income teens. One example found that teens with less educated parents, whose concern dramatically increased over the one-year period, used marijuana and alcohol at three times the rate of teens whose concern was unchanged.

The researchers concluded that even though some of the associations they found were modest, even small increases in adolescent behavioral issues may cause public health consequences nationwide.

“Teens who stand to suffer most from prejudice in society are stressed out about the social climate, and our study found that as their concern grew, so too did their behavioral problems,” said Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the University of Southern California and the lead author of the study. “This proved true even for the teens who say they rarely experience discrimination in their own community, suggesting that what’s happening in society at large weighs on them. The impact of polarizing social policies on teens’ mental health needs to be addressed.”

The full study, “Association of Reported Concern About Increasing Societal Discrimination With Adverse Behavioral Health Outcomes in Late Adolescence,” was published on the website of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. It may be accessed here.

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