Latine children show higher rates of mental illness and suicidal thoughts than other children their age. As parents and caregivers, to help and support them, we first must understand some of the reasons Latine children are impacted at higher rates than other groups.
Acculturation is the process through which a person changes when they are exposed to a different cultural group. This process can lead to acculturative stress that comes from an attempt to adapt to the new culture and balance the cultural differences.
- Acculturation gap: This is a difference between parents and kids on their rate of acculturation, for example when children learn English faster than their parents do. This can cause intergenerational conflict, deepen the loss of cultural values, and strip parents of authority.
- School belonging: Latine children may feel like they do not fit in with their U.S. peers. Difficulty developing a connection to the school environment negatively affects children’s academic outcomes and increases their likelihood of dropping out.
- Language: Latine children often have to be their own advocates for school, as many parents do not speak English, making learning feel more stressful and isolating.
Discrimination affects children’s physical and mental health. Unfortunately, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latines are one of the ethnic groups that most often experience discrimination.
- Peers: Latine children often report discrimination from peers. This includes having their nationality or documentation questioned, being made fun of for their accents or skin color, being excluded, or even physically assaulted.
- Schools: Institutional discrimination often happens in schools. For example, immigrant children are placed in ELL (English Language Learner) programs without determining individual needs (such as placement in advanced classes, or in the case of a disability the creation of an individualized education program (IEP). Additionally, teachers may have lower expectations for Latine children, and they may not receive the same resources as others. Finally, evidence points to Latine children facing more discipline than children from other groups.
- Laws and systems: Laws in place, such as those that prohibit bilingual education, ethnic studies, or require undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition in college, increase discrimination against immigrant children and their families.
Inequities in health care: There are many obstacles to Latine children receiving equitable mental health care, such as lack of mental health professionals that understand the Latine culture, lack of insurance, language barriers, and distrust in the system.
How can parents and caregivers help?
- Stay connected to your child’s school. Identify a staff member who can help you navigate the school system and set up meetings with school officials. Know the name of your child’s teachers, important dates at school, and attend after-school events when possible. Do not hesitate to be an advocate for your child if their academic needs are not being met. If you are not proficient in English, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, schools must provide language assistance and information in a language that the parent can understand.
- Have your child join after-school activities. School clubs or sports help increase children’s feeling of belonging to the school. Additionally, it helps them meet peers with similar interests. This creates protection against discrimination and helps children stay active, which is helpful for mental health.
- Teach your child about their racial, ethnic and cultural background. Talk to your kids about your ethnic and racial heritage and traditions to create a sense of belonging and pride around their ethnic/racial group. As a family, you can practice traditions, learn or practice Spanish, or eat traditional foods together. Additionally, prepare your kids for possible experiences of discrimination by having open, honest conversations. Discuss ways they can respond and the right people they can talk to in those situations.
- Limit access to adult information. Be aware of what news your children are listening to or watching, and limit if necessary. While you should be honest about family stressors, it is important you share at your child’s developmental level. Be mindful that you are not oversharing information that can cause more stress and lead to a sense of loss of control.
- Talk to your child about emotions. Having regular conversations with your child can help you develop a relationship of trust and connection with one another. Normalize emotions as a human experience and create an environment where they are comfortable sharing how they feel.
- Learn the signs of mental health concerns. Knowing what to look for can alert you of your child’s silent struggles. Withdrawing or avoiding social interactions, persistent sadness that lasts for more than two weeks, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, outbursts, uncommon or extreme irritability, and negative changes in behavior that are hard to explain among others, can be signs that your child may be experiencing a mental health disorder.