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Study: Multiracial Youth More Likely to Engage in Violence, Substance Abuse

Multiracial adolescents in middle school are significantly more likely to engage in  problem behaviors such as violence and substance abuse than single-race young people, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Chicago also found that perceived racial discrimination in school and in their neighborhoods puts adolescents at risk for these problems. However, the study suggests that a strong, positive ethnic identity can shield some multiracial youth from behavior problems. The study was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

“Adolescence is a difficult period for all children because two things are usually happening,” says Dr. Richard Catalano, director of the UW’s Social Development Research Group in the School of Social Work and a co-author of the study.

“Parents are giving children more independence. (Adolescence) is also when drug and alcohol use begin, and rates of delinquency and violence increase. Being a minority is tough and many youngsters are experiencing discrimination. We suspected this, and now we know that there are higher levels of discrimination and problem behaviors among multiracial youngsters.”

Multiracial adolescents were significantly more likely than White, Black or Asian American youth to have smoked cigarettes. Similarly, Whites, Blacks and Asian Americans were 45, 30 and 65 percent less likely, respectively, to have ever consumed alcohol than multiracial youngsters.

Multiracial youngsters also were significantly more likely to have used marijuana and to have become drunk or high on drugs than White or Asian Americans. But, there was little difference in these behaviors between multiracial and Black youth.

When it came to violent behaviors such as carrying a weapon, being in a fight and threatening to stab someone, multiracial youth again were significantly more likely to report having engaged in these activities than were Whites or Asian Americans. Fewer differences were found between multiracial and Black youths, although the multiracial adolescents reported significantly higher rates of hurting someone badly in a fight (39 percent) and having carried a gun (46 percent).

All of the findings, based on a survey of more than 2,000 Seattle middle-school youth, were adjusted for age, gender and socioeconomic status.

Among the students who identified themselves as multiracial, there were 25 different combinations of racial or ethnic backgrounds and about 80 percent of the multiracial students included some Black background.

“When it comes to multiracial youngsters, you have to take into account the experiences they are having with discrimination,” says Catalano. “Discrimination felt by these children no doubt contributed to involvement in problem behaviors. Formation of identity is more difficult for multiracial children who have to figure out where they fit in and belong.”

—    Diverse staff reports

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