African-American children who experience discrimination run a high risk for emotional problems, according to a recent report released by Iowa State University researchers.

“Kids who experience discrimination, or see it happening to their parents or other family members, are at a high risk for depression,” says Ron Simons, director of the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research at Iowa State University. “Symptoms of depression include sleeping problems, feeling sad, worthless, listless or suicidal.”

Since 1997, researchers have interviewed and observed 870 African-American families in 41 communities in Iowa and Georgia. Simons says the research is an expansion of the Iowa Youth and Families Project, which began studying rural families in Iowa during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

The families included in the study have at least one child in fifth grade. “Our goal,” Simons says, “is to identify how family and community processes combine to influence children as they grow up and start their own families.”

Researchers interviewed families every other year and use the interim year to process data. An early finding in the study illustrated some of the negative effects of discrimination.

Researchers also studied how families dealt with discrimination when it did occur. Simons says some kids are taught that they will never get a fair break. Others are taught to expect problems but that they can be

“There is great variability regarding what children learn about race relations. We are just in the process of looking at how these ideas affect children’s psychological development,” Simons says.

The research also focuses on how relationships in the community influence children. Throughout the study, Simons found truth in the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When there were strong social ties among adults living in a community, researchers found fewer conduct and delinquency problems with children. Researchers refer to the phenomenon as “collective socialization.”

“Kids tend to behave themselves when they are out in public because they may run into someone they know,” Simons says. “Even when their parents are not doing a great job, kids tend to do pretty well if they live in this kind of community. That’s one of the more exciting early findings from the study.”

The intensive interviewing process costs approximately $1.5 million per year and is funded through the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol abuse.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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