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Ties to culture may protect Latino teens from violence

A family chatting at the dinner table. (stock image)ANN ARBOR—Latino kids who spend unstructured leisure time with friends, participate in certain nonschool activities and have part-time jobs may encounter high levels of violence in their communities.

But when teens adhere to the cultural value of "familismo," their exposure to violence is low, according to a new University of Michigan study.

The study examines protective and risk factors that may affect teens' community violence exposure after school, such as part-time employment, unstructured time with friends, extracurricular activities and family. Unstructured time might involve time spent in public outdoor places rather than at home.

Research indicates that unstructured time with peers is linked to behavioral and academic problems for low-income teens in dangerous neighborhoods.

"Hanging out in the neighborhood is also likely to coincide with a lack of supervision by parents and other adults," said Traci Kennedy, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology and the study's lead author.

Consequently, both the location and the lack of structure or supervision are likely to increase youths' risks for violence exposure, the study shows.

Researchers analyzed data from 223 9th-grade students from three high schools in impoverished areas of Northeastern cities. Many students reported being chased by gangs and seeing someone hold a gun or knife. About 21 percent of them witnessed a shooting.

Participating in nonschool clubs and sports, like unstructured peer socializing, often occurs in more dangerous areas of the community compared to school-based activities, which may increase the likelihood of being exposed to violence, Kennedy said.

Another finding indicates that having a job may be linked with greater community violence exposure. Kennedy hypothesized that the exposure to older peers and access to money associated with having a job may increase teens' involvement in violence. Working also may increase exposure to neighborhood violence when they travel to and from the job, especially during the evening hours.

Latino teens who have a strong sense of family may be more likely than others to spend their after-school time with family in a protective context, Kennedy said.

Familismo involves having a strong sense of unity and loyalty to one's family, prioritizing family over personal needs and relying upon family for instrumental and social support. Youth who feel a strong sense of familismo may be more likely to return home after school to fulfill familial obligations—reducing their encounters with community violence.

"Fostering familismo among Latino adolescents in high-crime neighborhoods may minimize the need for later interventions," Kennedy said.

Kennedy co-authored the study with Rosario Ceballo, associate professor of women's studies and psychology. The findings appear in the current issue of Social Development.

 

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