An Examination of Culturally Relevant Stressors, Coping, Ethnic Identity, and Subjective Well-Being in Urban, Ethnic Minority Adolescents

By Vera, Elizabeth M.; Vacek, Kimberly et al. | Professional School Counseling, December 2011 | Go to article overview

An Examination of Culturally Relevant Stressors, Coping, Ethnic Identity, and Subjective Well-Being in Urban, Ethnic Minority Adolescents


Vera, Elizabeth M., Vacek, Kimberly, Coyle, Laura D., Stinson, Jennifer, Mull, Megan, Doud, Katherine, Buchheit, Christine, Gorman, Catherine, Hewitt, Amber, Keene, Chesleigh, Blackmon, Sha'kema, Langrehr, Kimberly J., Professional School Counseling


This study explored relations between culturally relevant stressors (i.e., urban hassles, perceived discrimination) and subjective well-being (SWB; i.e., positive/negative affect, life satisfaction) to examine whether ethnic identity and/or coping strategies would serve as moderators of the relations between stress and SWB for 157 urban, ethnic minority adolescents. Ethnic identity moderated the relation between perceived discrimination and life satisfaction. Self-distraction coping moderated the relation between urban hassles and negative affect. This article discusses implications for school counseling prevention and interventions.

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Stress and its effects are commonly studied topics in the field of counseling. In particular, the effects of stress on urban, ethnic minority adolescents are of increasing interest to school counselors who work with this population of students (Frydenberg, Eacott, & Clark, 2008; Gaylord-Harden, Elmore, Campbell, & Wethington, 2011). In this population of adolescents, stress exposure has been associated with various negative outcomes such as risky sexual behaviors (Mazzaferro, Murray, Ness, Bass, Tyus, & Cook, 2006); anxiety, headaches, and abdominal pain (White & Farrell, 2006); behavioral problems (Rafnsson, Jonsson, & Windle, 2006); delinquency (Mrug & Windle, 2009); depression (Gaylord-Harden & Cunningham, 2009) and lower grades (Crean, 2004). However, research also has found that not all adolescents react similarly to stress exposure (Grant, Compas, Stuhlmacher, Thurm, McMahon, and Halpert, 2003; Zimmer-Gembeck & Skinner, 2008) and, depending on one's reaction, the impact on academic performance or mental health may be minimized.

Having an empirically based understanding of how to best foster and maintain well-being in urban, ethnic minority adolescents who face a variety of culturally related stressors is important for school counselors. Culturally related stressors can be understood as stressors that are a function of the cultural background and context of an individual, such as race or socioeconomic status. Determining how to foster well-being may be a particular challenge for school counselors working with lower income, urban adolescents since they often reside in environments with elevated stress levels (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Garbarino, 2001) and experience greater disconnection between cultures within the school and home environment (Cholewa & West-Olatunji, 2008). In 2005, Holcomb-McCoy (2005a) argued that, if school counselors hope to be a significant factor in improving the education and development of urban students, they must deal with issues that most directly affect this population. The purpose of the current study was to explore the relationships between two culturally relevant stressors, two factors that might moderate the impact of stress (i.e., coping styles and ethnic identity), and subjective well-being (SWB) in urban, ethnic minority adolescents. Such information has implications for the design of prevention programs aimed at fostering resiliency (Rutter, 1987) and promoting and protecting academic and psychological well-being in this population.

Defining Stress, Coping, Ethnic Identity, and Well-being

Historically, the literature has defined stress as any significant, life-changing event (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), such as the death of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship (Zimmer-Gembeck & Skinner, 2008). Although some stressors may be acute, such as the aforementioned examples, others can be chronic, such as being bullied by peers or witnessing parental arguments. These conceptualizations of stress imply that experiences of stress will wax and wane over a lift, time. Stress has been studied primarily in relation to negative outcomes, but Vacek, Coyle, and Vera (2010) examined its relationship to more positive outcomes such as life satisfaction. The), found that non-significant correlations existed between stress and positive outcome variables in urban, ethnic minority youths, suggesting that feeling satisfied with one's life is possible despite stress exposure. …

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