Understanding the Cultural Development of the African American Adolescent

Understandingthe Cultural Development of the African American Adolescent

Understandingthe Cultural Development of the African American Adolescent


Theadolescent stage is the most critical step in the development of anychild. It is the transition stage from childhood to adulthood andstudies have pointed out that it is a vulnerable stage that leavesmany teenagers exposed to social dynamics around them. Culturaldevelopment involves a great change in the habits of individuals asit relates to cultural behavior, cultural reasoning, and socializingmethods. Several theories have brought to light ideas about humandevelopment.

Accordingto the cognitive theory proposed by Jean Piaget, children aredescribed as motivated people who develop their thinking gradually.The theory emphasizes that a child has to go through four stages ofcognitive development which are: sensorimotor, preoperational,concrete operational and formal operational (Brittian, 2012).According to Jean, the official operational stage is the transitorystage between childhood and adulthood and in this stage,self-awareness manifests. Individuals develop the ability to solveproblems and this ability is largely dependent on perception andphysical cues.

Thesocial-cultural theory by Lev Vygotsky considers effects that aculture has on the development of a child. The emphasis of thistheory is that social interactions need to be understood and theirinfluence on cognitive development and thinking considered. Anothertheory that describes development is bioecological systems theorydeveloped by Urie Bronfenbrenner. This approach puts a lot of focuson the influence the outer world such as school, community, andpolitical systems has on child development. The theory is graphicallyrepresented in four circles. The first circle suggests themicrosystem that bears the greatest influence on the elaboration of achild and the second ring is the mesosystem that reflectsinteractions and linkages which may be affected by the parents orother care providers. The third circle is the ecosystem while thelast ring is the macro system. These components have a grandinfluence on the child even though they do not affect the individualchild directly.

Accordingto findings in research by the American Psychological Association in2008, the crucial factors for an African-American adolescent culturaldevelopment revolve around their surrounding environment. Brittian(2008) outlines the essence of identity in the understanding ofdevelopment in an African American adolescent in his research. Again,an article by Day-Vines et al. (2003) explains that a key tounderstanding the cultural development of an African American youthis to unravel the problems that they face in their development.

Overthe years, the views of the society on the development of an AfricanAmerican child and more specifically the adolescent child haveconstantly been changing (Brittian, 2012). The modification of theviews has been necessitated by the fact that an African Americanchild is confronted by myriad problems which impact negatively ontheir positive development. Understanding of their problems is key tofinding a lasting solution.

Outsideinfluences on the cultural development of an African Americanadolescent include identity, discrimination, health status, racism,and prejudice. Studies reveal that negative social identity affectsself-esteem further leading to teenage pregnancies, crime, and drugabuse among others. Discrimination and racism have also been reportedto affect development by lowering self-esteem. Health statusinfluences the development of an African-American youth in that goodhealth contributes to the positive mental growth of any childirrespective of their ethnic and social background (Brittian, 2012).Poverty as social determinants of health affects the African Americanadolescent more than their white counterparts.

Rationale:Biological Development

Thebiological component that affects the development of an AfricanAmerican youth is race. Race leads to conflicts relating to identitywhich include perception. The society does not perceive anAfrican-American child in the same way as a native American child.The effect of negative perception is well reflected in theirself-esteem. As a result of their low self-esteem, academicperformance as well normal mental growth is affected.


Thecognitive component is the most critical element in the developmentof an adolescent child. It is less likely that child who developsless cognitive skills will end up being successful (Charlesworth,2003). Cognitive skill development is profoundly affected by theenvironment. Because the African American child grows in a societythat is racially oppressive towards them, they become vulnerable andthis form of development is severely impaired. Poor cognitive skilldevelopment is reflected in their poor cognitive outcomes.


Emotionsplay a critical role in shaping the future well-being of youths.Feelings of empathy are developed from the emotional developmentstage. The African American youth`s emotions are affected negativelyby the environment shaped by racism and discrimination. They can seeclearly that they are being discriminated against in everything fromtheir homes to schools, and this affects their emotional development.Socially, the African American youth is influenced by the lack ofracial socialization. They are segregated because of their lowersocial status, and this impairs their social as well as emotionaldevelopment.


Accordingto study findings in an article by Sale et al. (2003) and also Willset al. (2003), African American adolescents can significantly benefitfrom racial socializations with adolescents of other racial andethnic backgrounds. During this stage of development, the adolescentsare most vulnerable and negative development in this juncture islikely to affect even their adult lives. In schools, the socialprocesses that exist between teachers and students are important ininfluencing behavioral norms among African American adolescents.

Anarticle by Ford (1993) reveals that African American students arebound to feel estranged in environments where all values and beliefsare not in tandem with their own. These feelings are likely toprecipitate into stress. Stress affects their cognitive skilldevelopment leading to poor academic performance and also reducedsocial relations which may be depicted in the form of drug abuse,violence, teenage pregnancies and eating disorders.


Theadolescent stage in development comes before the infancy, toddler andpreschooler stages. These steps that come before the adolescent arecritical in the development of any individual. They are stages thatmark the development of will purpose and self-esteem. The preschoolerstage is typically marked by changes in personality. In this stage,parents become more worried about their children as they begin todevelop special interests, likes as well as dislikes (Charlesworth,2003). Previous, as well as current research findings on the growthand development of an individual, agree that development is shaped bythe environment as well as biological components. Erik Erikson, atheorist, proposed a theory in development which is typicallycentered on human growth throughout the entire life span. CharlesDarwin in his theory of evolution also explains that individualcharacteristics are a result of the environment in which they livein.


Thisstage of development is characterized by increased awareness. Theadolescents become more aware of themselves and their environment.Their feelings are significantly impacted by the surroundingenvironment. They struggle with self-identity and tendencies toreturn to childhood behavior especially when stressed. Again, theirsexuality is affected, and feelings of shyness and sexualattractiveness emerge.


Tosum up, the development of an African American adolescent like anyother child will progress normally if the conditions warrant it. Itis thus vital that the problems they face in their lives areaddressed so that they can be able to go through optimal developmentlike other youths. Marmot &amp Wilkinson (2006) agree that thesociety needs to become more involved in addressing the problemsaffecting the development of an African American child. Currentresearch does not resolutely explain the interventions that can beexploited in bringing about paradigm shifts in the way an AfricanAmerican adolescent is perceived and this has made it impossible forsignificant progress to be made in addressing the problems that theyface in their development (Brittian, 2012). Identification andpromoting social tolerance mechanisms should be the primary focus offuture research.


AmericanPsychological Association, Task Force on Resilience and Strength inBlack Children and Adolescents. (2008). Resiliencein African American Children and Adolescents: A Vision for OptimalDevelopment.

Brittian,A. (2012). Understanding African American Adolescents’ IdentityDevelopment: A Relational Developmental Systems Perspective. 38, 2,172-200

Day-Vines,N. Et al. (2003). Counseling African American Adolescents: The Impactof Race, Culture, and Middle-Class Status. Journalof American Socioeconomic Status. 7,1, 40-55

Charlesworth,R. (2003). Understandingchild development.Albany, N.Y.: Delmar.