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The proportion of ethnic minorities in the U.S. population has increased dramatically in recent decades, bringing about what some observers have described as a "demographic imperative" to increase knowledge that will contribute to serving the needs of a pluralistic society (Gibbs and Huang, 1998, p. 2). The social, cognitive, and physical transitions that begin in early adolescence (Hill and Holmbeck, 1986; Petersen et al., 1997) bring about numerous changes in young people's self-concepts (Harter, 1990) and their social relationships (Hill and Holmbeck, 1986). The early adolescent years also mark increases in behavioral and emotional problems (Allen et al., 1997; Leadbeater et al., 1999). High rates of poverty and exposure to stressful environments increase the likelihood that ethnic minority youth will experience difficulties managing the transitions of early adolescence (McLoyd, 1998). Yet, knowledge remains limited about the interplay of ethnicity and social class in the development of emotional or behavioral problems. There is also limited understanding of whether protective factors, including competencies and interpersonal relationships, contribute in similar ways to reduce the likelihood of adjustment difficulties. This study used 1-year longitudinal data from an ethnically diverse sample of White, Black, and Latino young adolescents to investigate patterns of change and contributions of self-concept and interpersonal relationships to explaining psychological and school adjustment across broadly defined ethnic/racial groups.
Ethnic Group Comparisons of Developmental Change
White middle-class samples have formed the basis of most adolescence research in the U.S. Research and theory has tended to view adolescence as a time of increasing independence and individuation (Allen et al., 1997; Blatt and Blass, 1996; Hill and Holmbeck, 1986). Yet, youth from differing cultures and subcultures may place greater emphasis on "collectivist" than on "individualist" socialization goals (e.g., Cooper et al., 1998; Yager and Rotheram-Borus, 2000). Similarly, ethnic identity or acculturation processes may differ in salience for ethnic minority group members as compared to members of majority groups (Carlson et al., 2000; Phinney, 1996). Most studies of ethnic differences have focused on comparisons of Black and White youth, and little is known about cultural variations in developmental processes among Latinos and other groups (Carlson et al., 2000).
The study of ethnic group differences in adjustment and maladjustment can provide critical information for understanding cultural variations in development (Carlson et al., 2000; Rowe et al., 1994). Such research can also inform culturally competent interventions to prevent maladjustment and promote positive developmental outcomes (Cauce et al., 1998; Fergerson, 1998; Gibbs and Huang, 1998). Although ethnic or racial categories carry important information about distinct social and cultural experiences of diverse groups, it is important to recognize the limitations of using categories as proxies for culture (Betancourt and Lopez, 1993; Cauce et al., 1998; Phinney and Landin, 1998). Ethnic categories cannot describe the diversity that exists within them, nor can they capture the cultural variables assumed to be responsible for observed differences (Betancourt and Lopez, 1993). The term Latino is used to describe diverse groups of immigrants and U.S.-born individuals with family origins in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean--countries with widely varied histories and traditions. The term Black may be used to describe African Americans, Caribbeans, and immigrants from the African continent. In this study, the terms White, Black, and Latino are used to represent membership in distinct ethnic groups, while recognizing the social and cultural diversity that exists within those groups. (6)
Cauce et al. (1998) describe three approaches that have been used to interpret findings of ethnic group differences. First, ethnic group differences have been used as evidence of "cultural deviance" or inferiority of minority groups relative to mainstream White cultural patterns and lifestyles (see also Cooper et al., 1998). More recently, using a "cultural equivalence" approach, researchers have noted that the wide social class disparities that exist between the White majority and many ethnic minority groups can explain many of the ethnic group differences that have been observed. The third approach, the "cultural variance" approach, views group differences as unique adaptations to external forces. Examples of cultural variance interpretations include the oppositional frame of reference adopted by many Black Americans who equate academic achievement with "acting White" (Fordham and Ogbu, 1986) and the dual frame of reference adopted by many immigrants who compare conditions they encounter in the United States to the conditions in their country of origin (Suarez-Orozco, 1991).
The present study draws from both the cultural equivalence and cultural variance approaches. Recognizing that many observed differences can be attributed to unequal social status, ethnic group differences were considered in the context of variation in social class as indexed by parental education, occupation, and income. While acknowledging that developmental processes probably share more similarities than differences in the 3 groups studied (Rowe et al., 1994), this study focused on identifying differences that may mark unique cultural adaptations within ethnic groups.
Self-Definition and Interpersonal Relatedness
Recent research has recognized that most adolescents are able to manage the psychological and social demands of the second decade of life without experiencing major problems (Dryfoos, 1991). With this recognition has come a new emphasis on positive aspects of adolescent development and on protective and risk factors in adolescent development (Cicchetti et al., 2000; Hawkins et al., 1992; Jessor et al., 1995; Larson, 2000; Scales et al., 2000; Zeldin, 2000). Two primary dimensions of psychological development--self-definition and interpersonal relatedness--have been identified consistently as contributing to positive developmental outcomes and protecting against maladjustment (Blatt, 1991, 1995; Blatt and Blass, 1990, 1996; Blatt and Shichman, 1983). Self-definition involves the development of a well-differentiated, integrated, realistic, and essentially positive sense of self. Interpersonal relatedness involves the development of intimate, mutually satisfying, reciprocal interpersonal relationships. These dimensions, also termed agency and communion, have been discussed from multiple theoretical perspectives (e.g., Angyal, 1941, 1951; Bakan, 1966; Blatt and Blass, 1990, 1996; Freud, 1930; Wiggins, 1991) as central dimensions of personality development, especially in adolescence. Whereas considerable research has addressed gender differences in the development of self-definition and interpersonal relatedness (see Leadbeater et al., 1999), less is known about ethnic group similarities and differences in how relatedness and self-definition change over time during early adolescence or in how those processes contribute to changes in school and social adjustment
Following Rutter's conceptualization of self-concept development (Rutter, 1987), 2 aspects of self-definition were examined: self-evaluations of agency in social functioning (efficacy) and global feelings of self-worth. Numerous studies have found that low levels of self-efficacy often accompany a range of problem behaviors, including delinquency and drug use in multiethnic samples (Allen et al., 1990, 1994; Ludwig and Pittman, 1999). Associations of low self-worth with emotional and behavioral problems in adolescence have been well established (Blum and Rinehart, 1997; Brook et al., 1997; Harter, 1990; Jessor et al., 1995). Positive self-concepts can reflect perceptions of competence in several domains, including academics, sociability, physical appearance, and romantic appeal (DuBois et al., 1996; Harter and Whitesell, 1996). DuBois et al., (2000) confirmed a similar factor structure for self-esteem across gender, ethnicity (White and African American), socioeconomic status, and developmental level. Thus, group differences (at least in comparisons of White and Black youth) do not appear to reflect differences in the meaning of constructs related to self-definition (i.e., cultural variance), but may be more likely to reflect differing social contexts (i.e., cultural equivalence).
Recent research and theory has emphasized that a central developmental task of adolescence involves renegotiating rather than relinquishing parent-adolescent relationships (Allen et al., 1997; Blatt and Blass, 1990, 1996). Feldman and Gehring (1988), for example, found that adolescents (ages 11-18) did not perceive a decrease in family cohesion as desirable, nor did they view family cohesion as incompatible with the development of their sense of autonomy. The protective influences of positive parent-adolescent relationships have been supported by previous research (Cicchetti and Toth, 1998; Ge et al., 1994; Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1998; Patterson et al., 1992). Secure attachment patterns have been linked to positive social functioning and low levels of problem behavior in children, adolescents, college students, and adults (Allen et al., 1998; Allen and Land, 1999; Grossmann and Grossmann, 1991; Kobak and Sceery, 1988; Sperling and Berman, 1994). Arbona and Power (2003) found a similar factor structure for relationship quality with mothers and fathers for African American, Mexican American, and European American high school students and found similar associations of this measure with self-esteem and antisocial behavior across the three groups.
Adolescents' relationships with peers fulfill personal needs for social support and provide a context for the development of intimacy, social competence, and well-being (Buhrmester, 1996; Newcomb and Bagwell, 1996). Research has shown some ethnic group differences in characteristics of close friend and peer relationships. For example, Giordano et al. (1993) found that B lack as compared to White adolescents described their friendships as less intense and intimate, and reported lower levels of peer pressure and lower perceived need for approval from peers. In a sample of African American, Latino, and Asian adolescents, Way et al. (2001) found that Latinos reported more intimate friendships whereas Asians reported more "disengaged" friendships. Despite differences in characteristics of friendship and peer relations; however, peer relationship quality appears to have similar correlates across groups (e.g., Henry et al., 2001).
In sum, cross-sectional research supports the role of self-definition and interpersonal relatedness processes as protective factors against adolescent maladjustment across diverse groups. What is not known, however, is whether changes experienced in those processes during early adolescence contribute in similar ways to explaining differential patterns of change in psychological and school adjustment for White, Black, and Latino youth.
Psychological Problems and School Adjustment in Young Adolescents
Behavioral and emotional difficulties in adolescents are usually classified into two broad categories of internalizing (i.e., anxiety, depression, somatization) and externalizing (i.e., aggression, delinquency) syndromes (Achenbach, 1991), although researchers have begun to note cultural variations in the construct validity of those syndromes (Drotar et al., 1995). Ethnic group differences, especially in internalizing problems, are not understood well and findings of past studies have been inconsistent (Allen and Mitchell, 1998). Petersen et al. (1993) reported that White and Asian adolescents experience higher rates of clinical depression than do Latino and Black adolescents. However, Siegel et al. (1998) found that Latino adolescents, ages 12 through 17, reported higher levels of depressed mood than did White, Black, and Asian adolescents. Black adolescents experience higher rates of police and juvenile court contact for delinquent behavior than do White youth (McGarrell, 1993). Latino youth appear to be at higher risk than White youth, but at lower risk than Black youth for legal involvement (Allen and Mitchell, 1998). However, self, parent, or peer reports of delinquency and other behavior problems reveal few racial or ethnic …