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Factors Impacting Adolescents of Color Mental Health: A Message to Christian Social Workers

It is important for Christians in Social Work to understand that today’s adolescents of color are faced with decisions that can impact mental health.  For example, the access to technology, which once was a privilege for some, is readily available to all ethnic groups of adolescents on mobile devices. With the world at the fingertips of our  adolescents of color, there are a host of challenges awaiting this vulnerable population, and there is a personal message for all Christians in Social Work to explore to best support this population-“What should I know?”

As an initial answer to the read: Ultimately, the opportunity to have unfiltered, meaningful in- person exchanges with adolescents of color should be employed at the conclusion of this reading.   

Education and Adolescents of Color

In the United States and across the globe, persons of color face daily challenges in classrooms -simply based on racial and ethnic identity. African American students experience racial injustices in schools as well. During the period of the Black Lives Matter movement and protest, African American students experienced greater racism as direct victims and observers of others being targets of hate and discontent. Research supports this claim as racially-charged events may have moderate to severe impact on the mental health of adolescents of color (Jernigan & Daniel, 2011) with long lasting impact when untreated.

In schools, adolescents of color experience microaggressions and school-based violence. Schools traditionally prescribe to a norm that uplifts students from higher socioeconomic groups, while overtly discounting adolescents of color from lower socioeconomic communities. In doing so, adolescents of color are adversely disenfranchised by the very institution that is charged with educating tomorrow’s future; however, the truth is not all are treated equally in schools. It has been discovered that some schools seek to silent students of color through placing them in behavioral and learning disorder courses where the curriculum and opportunity for intellectual stimulating learning is void.

Adolescents of color have experienced school based challenges via school related violence. From the mass shootings in Colorado to Florida, adolescents of color are often not mentioned in the news stories, but truly are impacted by the tragedies. Often the stories of loss and grief centers on the White male and female students, while the adolescents of color are left to deal with the matter without the benefit of a world stage to share their lived experiences. So, Christians in Social Work must be an active voice and supporter of adolescents of color with affirming language, while candidly ensuring inclusivity in service delivery and counseling in school and community settings. The message to Christians in Social Work is be active listeners and create a counternarrative for our adolescent of color. For example, share with adolescents of color, “You are more than a conqueror, and perfectly made in the image of the Almighty!”

This is the will of God concerning Christians in Social Work!

Technology and Adolescents of Color

For adolescents of color, one of the largest populations using handheld devices, it is amazing the amount of overt personal sharing that is often rendered on social media platforms. For example, the sharing of new hair color, declaring someone as a new friend, and sharing personal feelings about an utter stranger in one set of keystrokes.  The challenge is once the information, regardless of how meaningful or personal, is positioned on social media spaces, it is forever a part of someone’s consideration to review, retweet, or discuss without reservations. For Christians in Social Work this is a rich opportunity to mentor adolescents of color by offering insight on the value of self-esteem, family engagement, effective methods of communicating, and the power of resilience. Moreover, Christians in Social Work can stand on the Word of God and declare, “no weapon formed against our adolescents of color will be successful!”

Cyberbullying and Adolescents of Color

According to Mann (2008), ethnic identity is a leading factor in adolescents who experience trauma. Additionally, adolescents of color  experience trauma at a higher rate due to issues of self-identification and a lack of belonging. For example, the highest percent of Instagram  users among the adolescent population identify as African American. This online platform provides adolescents opportunities to post narrative stories and pictures that provide a landing place for disorder, disrespect, adverse exchanges, and cyberbully. To best address this alarming and present challenge, Christians in Social Work can advocate by informing our adolescents of color about the value of the use of critical thinking, decision making, reflection and prayer, prior to openly sharing personal content. There is a call for Christians in Social Work to be transformed, yet aware of multifaced ways social mediums are used. Hence, letting our adolescents know, that God should be represented in all endeavors, to include social medium post. Further, God is a very present help! Hence, Christians in Social Work are highly encouraged to share this message with adolescents of color as servant leaders in practice.

Future Considerations

While adolescents of color have been an undervalued population in the United States and  world.  Yet, under the auspices of God, this population is perfectly made, valued and worthy of the very best as children of the King. Thus, it is imperative for Christians in Social Worker to authentically engage this population to ensure their well-being now and in future years.

Below are recommendations to best serve adolescents of color:

·       Christians in Social Work  should be active in social media and provide telehealth sessions to adolescents of color;

·       Teach the use of spiritual coping skills in all endeavors;

·       Demonstrate the dignity, worth, and respect towards adolescents of color;

·        Encourage Christian values with a focus on  personal and professional growth and develop concerning education, use of technology, culture and self-worth;

·       Promote the power and influence of  fervent prayer as means of communicating with God before, during and after challenges; and 

·       Engage in the process of hiring and mentoring Christian Social Workers of color in practice and academia.

In the African American families, adolescents are seen as children taking their lead from the parents, community elders, and even the Church. The Church plays a large role in the development, rearing, and communication among adolescents and their families (Waldo, 2010). It is said that God’s way is the way that governs the African American family. For example, African American adolescents are expected to overtly display deference for older persons without question. Also, to honor God has historically been a hallmark of African American culture and guides the communication and culture norms.  What a foundation for Christians in Social Work to build upon as we all work together to strengthen the resolve of adolescents of color today!

References

Jernigan, M., and Daniel, J. (2011). Racial trauma in the lives of Black children and adolescents: Challenges and clinical implications. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma 4 (2). 123-141.

Johnson, W. Social work with African American males: Health, mental health, and social policy. OUP USA, 2010.

Mann, B. (2008). Social networking websites–a concatenation of impersonation, denigration, sexual aggressive solicitation, cyber-bullying or happy slapping videos. International Journal of Law and Information Technology 17 (3). 252-267.

 

Dr. Telvis Rich is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. His research centers on Spiritual Coping, Black Men in Social Work, and Workplace Engagement and Inclusion. Dr. Rich serves as the Vice President of the NACSW Board. He has earned degrees from the University of Georgia (BSW, MSW), a doctorate in Biblical Studies (PhD), and Doctor of Education (EdD) with a focus in Human Development and Organizational Leadership from Northeastern University.

Dr. Quincy Dinnerson is an Assistant Professor and BSW Director of the Field Education at Norfolk State University in Virginia. His research centers on Black Men in Social Work, Social Work Education, and Mental Health. Dr. Dinnerson’s research has been recognized and presented at the CSWE APM, North Carolina School Social Work Association, and NASW-national conference. He has earned degrees in Social Work (BSW, MSW) from North Carolina Agriculture  and Technical State University, and a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree from the University of St. Thomas.

 

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