Locus of Control, Self-Concept, and Self-Esteem among At-Risk African-American Adolescents

Article excerpt

Simmons and Weinman (1991) presented a methodology for the study of youths in an emergency shelter. The purpose of their study was "to describe self-esteem and locus of control among youth temporarily residing in an emergency shelter mainly due to abuse and severe family problems" (p. 278). Over a two-year period, they administered the following three instruments to a sample of 163 youngsters (mean age = 13.4 years): Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control (1973), Offer's Self-image Questionnaire (1982), and the Coppersmith Self-esteem Inventory (1987). They presumed that the youngsters in their sample would present poor self-image and external locus of control, as would similarly be expected from clients in a mental-health facility. They emphasized this similarity in further noting that the youths would suffer poor self-image and external locus of control independent of more readily attributable variables such as sex, age, family characteristics, or type of abuse.

Maxwell (1992) used a similar approach in studying homeless adolescents who were in crisis. He examined the relationship of three aspects of self-concept, including hostility, depression, and self-esteem. The study was undertaken to better understand the nature of self-esteem among "troubled, abused, neglected, and homeless adolescents in crisis" (p. 139). In addition, he sought to clarify the boundary between what is normal and what is pathological among adolescents in the 13- 17-year-old group.

Their approach holds promise for the study of a different, but equally important group of adolescents. The focus of this study is African-American adolescents who were "at-risk" by virtue of poor economic conditions and academic achievement from two to four years below grade level. Consequences of these risk factors include continuing family trauma, behavioral problems, and dropping out of high school. These also impact on the community in terms of costly psychological treatment and educational remediation, as well as the increasing number of adolescents seeking shelters or group homes, or requiring court-ordered involvement at juvenile detention centers. Moreover, Taylor, Casten, Flickinger, Roberts, and Fulmore (1994) projected severe consequences as minority adolescents attempt to enter the work force, but are unable to do so. This, in turn, would result in a decrease in the international competitiveness of the United States.

An important area of research concerns the linkage between at-risk status and its consequences. Studies with African-American at-risk adolescents suggests the linkage for these youths might be the effects of stigmatization on the manner in which negative feedback is processed (e.g., Hillman, Wood, & Sawilowsky, 1992). Crocker and Major (1989) noted that stigmatized individuals are those "who by virtue of their membership in a social category are vulnerable to being labeled as deviant, are targets of prejudice or victims of discrimination, or have negative economic or interpersonal outcomes" (p. 609). They indicated that where people are stigmatized (e.g., due to race, gender, facial disfigurement), there may also be an effect on the way in which they perceive and behave as a result of negative feedback. These perceptions and behaviors, where a stigmatization explanation can be offered, result in a person not using negative feedback for corrective action. It also results in the maintenance of positive self-esteem to the neglect of using alternative and positive learning strategies and behaviors. Where there is a large group of people who are similarly stigmatized, such as racially homogeneous groups found in a large urban area, the maintenance of this cognitive style may be frequently supported by community consensus.


The purpose of this study was to use strategies similar to those of Simmons and Weinman (1991) and Maxwell (1992) to add to the sparse but growing descriptive data on at-risk adolescents in order to better understand the boundaries between normal and abnormal psychological profiles, particularly on instruments that are widely used in psychology research and clinical and educational practice. …


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