Intervention that engages youth on ethnic and racial identity can enhance positive development

March 21, 2017

Developing an ethnic-racial identity is an important task for young people growing up in the United States. A new study examined the Identity Project, a mental-health promotion intervention that engages youth in exploring and resolving issues around their ethnic and racial identities. It found that the program helps promote key developmental constructs that can enhance the positive development of youth from a range of backgrounds.

The study, conducted at Arizona State University, appears in the journal Child Development.

Youth's ethnic-racial identities are informed by ethnic aspects of their ancestry and the racial groups to which they belong, as viewed in a social and historical context. Adolescents who do more to explore their ethnic-racial backgrounds and develop a clearer sense of what this aspect of means for their lives tend to adjust better, according to past research. These benefits have emerged with of various backgrounds, including Latino, African American, Asian American, Native American/American Indian, and European American . Because demographic projections suggest that White youth will not be a numerical ethnic-racial majority by 2020 and will make up only about a third of youth by 2060, ethnic-racial identity is important to consider among all youth.

The Identity Project was developed by Adriana J. Umaña-Taylor, professor of family and human development at Arizona State University, in collaboration with her postdoctoral fellow, Sara Douglass. It is a universal health-promotion program designed to provide adolescents with tools and strategies to explore their ethnic-racial backgrounds and develop a clearer understanding of what those backgrounds mean for their lives and how they can contribute to their self-concepts. The is intended for all youth in middle adolescence, not targeted to youth who are at risk or have problematic behavior, and is for youth of any ethnic-racial background. Exploring and resolving ethnic-racial identity can lead adolescents to have a more cohesive and clear sense of their general identity, which can promote positive outcomes such as higher self-esteem, better mental health, and better adjustment academically.

This small-scale efficacy trial sought to determine whether the Identity Project intervention would boost adolescents' exploration and resolution of ethnic-racial identity. The study involved an ethnically and racially diverse group of 218 ninth graders from eight classrooms in a public high school in the Southwest United States who were randomly assigned to be part of the intervention or a ; the students were also socioeconomically diverse. Students in the intervention classrooms received the Identity Project curriculum, which helps students understand and discuss their own ethnic-racial heritage, addresses within-group versus between-group differences, clarifies misconceptions about identifying with groups, and provides tools to explore their backgrounds. Students in the control group received a curriculum that exposed them to training and education options after high school. The intervention ran for 10 weeks.

When the study began, researchers saw no significant differences between adolescents in either group on their exploration or resolution of ethnic identity. Twelve weeks later, researchers surveyed youth and found that those in the intervention classrooms had increased their exploration of ethnic-racial identity significantly, while their counterparts in the control classrooms had not. These increases in exploration among the first group predicted a significantly higher likelihood that the adolescents would clarify issues related to their ethnic identity 18 weeks after the first survey; youth in the control did not do so.

"The identity work that takes place during adolescence can set individuals on a positive developmental trajectory that can have long-term implications for their psychosocial adjustment into young adulthood," notes Umaña-Taylor, who led the study. "Exploring one's identity during adolescence may provide a foundation for better long-term adjustment as a function of increased self-reflection and understanding of how one fits into the world."

Explore further: Positive feelings about race, ethnicity tied to stronger development in minority youth

Related Stories

Report: Few studies look at well-being of LGB youth of color

October 3, 2016

While research on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth has increased in recent years, these studies often fail to look at the experiences of young people of color, according to a new report in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental ...

Ethnic pride may boost African-American teens' mental health

November 13, 2009

Most adolescents who belong to an ethnic minority group wrestle not only with their self-esteem (like most teens), but also with identity issues unique to their ethnic group, such as dealing with social stigma. A new study ...

Ethnic pride key to black teen mental health

December 1, 2009

Ethnic pride may be as important as self-esteem to the mental health of young African-American adolescents, according to a new study in the Nov/Dec issue of the journal Child Development.

Recommended for you

Mathematical framework explains diverse plant stem forms

March 23, 2017

It is well known that as plants grow, their stems and shoots respond to outside signals like light and gravity. But if plants all have similar stimuli, why are there so many different plant shapes? Why does a weeping willow ...

How chewing like a cow helped early mammals thrive

March 23, 2017

You probably haven't given much thought to how you chew, but the jaw structure and mechanics of almost all modern mammals may have something to do with why we're here today. In a new paper published this week in Scientific ...

'Pay to publish' schemes rampant in science journals

March 22, 2017

Dozens of scientific journals appointed a fictive scholar to their editorial boards on the strength of a bogus resume, researchers determined to expose "pay to publish" schemes reported Wednesday.

New study shakes the roots of the dinosaur family tree

March 22, 2017

More than a century of theory about the evolutionary history of dinosaurs has been turned on its head following the publication of new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.