Ethnic Identity Development among African American Adolescents: The Supportive Contexts of Family and Peers

Smith, Felicia Denise, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Allen, Joe, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Wilson, Melvin, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Sinclair, Stacey
Lawrence, Edith, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The formation of a healthy ethnic identity represents a critical developmental task among African American youth. Successful negotiation of this task promotes the ability to resist and constructively counter disparaging images and attitudes perpetuated within the sociopolitical environment. In contributing to the existing knowledge base on ethnic identity, the current study highlights the roles of multiple developmental contexts as youth progress along the path of optimal ethnic identity development. Specifically, the current study examines changes in ethnic identity elements over time among early adolescent African Americans, and also investigates interrelationships with family, peers, and individual characteristics in influencing psychosocial outcomes. Thus, data were collected at two time periods beginning when adolescents were in the seventh and eighth grades and again one year later. The total sample included 180 participants, comprised of adolescents, their mothers, and their close friends. Ethnic identity components that were examined included ethnic identity exploration, or adolescents' engagement in efforts to understand and develop meaning about their ethnic group membership; and ethnic group affirmation, or adolescents' feelings of belonging and connection to their ethnic group. Family factors examined in this study included mother-adolescent relationship characteristics (closeness, maternal acceptance), peer factors included friendship closeness and peer ethnic identity characteristics, and individual characteristics included adolescents' global self worth. Several primary findings emerged. First, descriptive data reveal that the initial stages of ethnic identity development represent a fluid process rather than a constant upward progression for African American youth. Second, ethnic group affirmation predicted positive emotional and behavioral functioning, both Ethnic Identity Development 3 concurrently and longitudinally. Third, family and peer relationships moderated the link between ethnic identity exploration and emotional functioning, as evidenced in crosssectional and longitudinal predictions. Finally, adolescents and their close friends demonstrated similarity in their levels of ethnic identity exploration and ethnic group affirmation. Taken together, these results provide valuable insight into ethnic identity development as youth emerge into adolescence, and highlight the supportive function of contextual resources as youth negotiate the process of ethnic identity development.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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