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African-American Children

Socioemotional Well-being

The self-esteem of African-American children and adolescents is reported to be equal to and often-times higher than that of European-American children and adolescents. During the grade school years, African-American children, compared to European-American children, report more positive attitudes about school and homework, perceive themselves to be more competent in reading and mathematics, hold higher expectations about their future performance in reading and mathematics courses, and are more optimistic that they will attend college. These differential expectations are at odds with racial differences in children's actual performance on school achievement tests and national statistics on rates of high school completion and college attendance, suggesting perhaps that some African-American children do not receive or have not incorporated feedback about their performance in school. These findings also raise questions about why young African-American children's greater fondness for school and higher educational expectations do not translate into higher levels of academic performance and educational attainment. Notwithstanding comparatively high educational expectations, as early as second grade, African-American boys residing in inner city neighborhoods have lower occupational aspirations and expectations than middle class European-American boys, with the gap between aspirations and expectations being larger for the inner-city boys than the other boys. Both groups of boys become more realistic about occupational aspirations and expectations the older they are. For example, the percentage who aspire and expect to be professional athletes decreases with age.

Evidence concerning race differences in rates of depression is mixed, with some studies reporting higher rates among African Americans, others reporting higher rates among European Americans, and still others reporting no racial differences. African-American adolescents, however, have long had substantially lower suicide rates than European-American adolescents. It is thought that suicidal behavior is inhibited among African Americans by extended social support networks that serve as buffers against stressors and by cultural values that proscribe suicide. The racial gap in the adolescent suicide rate has narrowed in recent years, especially among males. Scholars have speculated that the increases in suicide among African-American adolescents are due to African Americans' rise to middle class status and its attendant splintering of community and family support networks, weakening of bonds to religion, and psychological distress resulting from efforts to compete in historically European-American-dominated social circles. Others have suggested that with greater assimilation and contact with European Americans, African-American adolescents increasingly adopt or model European-American adolescents' strategies for coping with depression and other forms of psychological distress. None of these hypotheses has been adequately tested.

African-American male adolescents are more likely than their European-American counterparts to be labeled conduct disordered or antisocial; to be disciplined, suspended, or expelled from junior high and high school; and to be arrested and incarcerated. Some of these differences appear to reflect racial bias resulting in more harsh treatment of African-American adolescents for comparable offenses. Generally, studies of self-reported delinquency find no race differences. For several decades, however, the rate of death from homicide has been higher for African-American male adolescents than European-American adolescents. In annual national surveys conducted since the early 1980s, African-American adolescents, compared to European-American and Hispanic adolescents, consistently reported the lowest level of marijuana use, the lowest prevalence of alcohol use and binge drinking, and the lowest level of cigarette smoking. School-based surveys probably underestimate drug use by African-American and Hispanic youth because of higher dropout rates among these two groups, compared to European-American youth. Nevertheless, this does not fully account for the racial and ethnic disparities. There is some support for the claim that African-American adolescents are less likely to use drugs because they have less exposure to peer and adult drug users and are more religious.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1African-American Children - Family Structure, Academic, Cognitive, And Physical Well-being, Socioemotional Well-being - Sources of Strength and Buffers of Race-Related Stressors