Mexican American Adolescents' Family Caregiving: Selection Effects and Longitudinal Associations with Adjustment

Article excerpt

One hundred ten Mexican American adolescents (12-17 years) who provide infant care for their older sisters were studied to determine the effects of family caregiving responsibilities on adolescents' adjustment. Controlling for prior adjustment and family context factors, providing many hours of caregiving predicted an increase in youths' school absences and disciplinary problems. Frequent conflict surrounding caregiving was associated with increased stress and depression and lower school grades. Older girls appear to select into caregiving and experience the most problematic outcomes. Strong family obligations were not protective against caregiving stress but, rather, further compromised youths' well-being for those who were highly involved in their family's care.

Key Words: family caregiving, family obligations, Mexican-American adolescents, siblings of teenage parents, teenage parents.

Understanding how family caregiving affects youth is highly significant given that recent estimates are that 1.4 million U.S. children and adolescents provide some type of care to a family member (National Alliance for Caregiving, 2005). The ramifications of family caregiving for adolescents' development are not well understood (East, in press). There is, however, an emerging literature that is beginning to consider how excessive family caretaking responsibilities on the part of youth may affect developmental outcomes (Burton, 2007; Dodson & Dickert, 2004). Indeed, large amounts of adolescents' family caregiving (helping parents, grandparents, or siblings with daily living assistance tasks such as bathing, dressing, and feeding 20 hours or more a week) have been found to be associated with children's stress, depression, and school absences (Pakenham, Bursnall, Chiù, Cannon, & Okochi, 2006; Shifren & Kachorek, 2003). Results of two large studies, one in the United States and one in the United Kingdom, indicated that youth who care for a family member experience significantly more anxiety, antisocial behavior, and feelings of low self-worth than noncaregivers of comparable age and racial background (Dearden & Becker, 2000; National Alliance for Caregiving). Within Great Britain, young caregivers missed school significantly more often than other children and reported feeling stressed and depressed (Aldridge & Becker, 1993). In contrast, other studies have suggested that youths' family care yields developmental benefits, such as maturity, self-reliance, and empathy (Beach, 1997; Chase-Lansdale, Wakschlag, & Brooks-Gunn, 1 995). Adolescents' helpfulness in the home and involvement in general family household tasks have also been found to contribute to positive self-esteem and feelings of interpersonal competence (Beach; Call, 1996; Kuperminc, Jurkovic, & Casey, 2009).

In this study, we examined the relations between Mexican American adolescents' family caregiving and their adjustment. As a form of family care, we examined the caretaking youth provide to their teenage sister's infant. Infant care provided by the siblings of a teenage parent is a common and often necessary response and is typically favored over other strategies because it is convenient, affordable, and best utilizes available family personnel (East, Weisner, & Reyes, 2006; East, Weisner, & Slonim, in press). Sibling-provided infant care is an important issue for Latino families because Latinos currently have the highest teenage birthrate of any racial/ethnic group (Martin et al., 2009), and most parenting Latina teens remain with their family of origin after they give birth (Manlove, Mariner, & Papillo, 2000). Infant care is likely different from other forms of children's family caregiving (i.e., caring for a sick, disabled, or elderly parent or grandparent) in that one is caring for a cuddly, beautiful baby. Infant caretaking can be highly enjoyable, rewarding, and amusing. It can also be quite labor-intensive and emotionally stressful, however (Cowan & Cowan, 2000). …