The Buffering Effects of Healthy Family Systems in Managing Adolescent Vulnerability to Discrimination.

By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

Racial and religious discrimination can be a challenging stressor for young people to face. Healthy family systems can act as a buffer against these negative influences. Even when young people are in the minority in a neighborhood and face social exclusion as a result, they can still thrive if there are healthy communication patterns within their home of origin. Those who live in areas where there is a dominant nationality and/ or religion should be sensitive to the challenges which are faced by the minority. As individuals work to strengthen families who are in the minority, therapists must realize that they cannot cling to the familiar family narrative that originates locally. We live in a cosmopolitan and increasingly globalized world that is moving toward ever increasing local diversity. We must allow our narratives to include viewpoints that originate outside of our local society and experience. Breaking out of familiar ways of doing and viewing things, requires close examination of our own perceptions concerning the family. In this paper the author will examine three family therapy models and identify the treatment techniques and interpersonal tools that can help families with adolescents who face discrimination. These three models are Experiential Family Therapy, Strategic Family Therapy, and Solution-Focused and Narrative Family Therapies.


In the book, “Family Therapy – History, Theory, and Practice” by Samuel T. Gladding, (pp. 59) we are encouraged to be sensitive to the beliefs and world view of the client/ family. In fact, Gladding refers to this sensitivity as being a crucial consideration. He observed in the textbook that if family therapists are not careful about the similarities and differences between themselves and the families with which they work, they may make assumptions that are both incorrect and unhelpful. This is also true of entire communities as it relates to the discrimination that exists toward young people who are in the cultural or religious minority.
In the October 2010 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, published by the National Council on Family Relations, Gene H. Brody and his colleagues wrote an article on research which suggests that stress-buffering effects, which combat the negative effects of discrimination, originate at the family level, and that family support, communication, and monitoring reduce the effect of life stress on adolescents and young adults. This stress-buffering effect within healthy families has the power to lessen the impact of many outside problems and risks factors. (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005).
Neighborhoods can develop a strong sense of cohesion and common identity which often exists because of a large majority of one religion, (In Utah “Mormons” and in other states “Catholics” or “Evangelical Christians” etc.) who believe that they belong to the "one true religion." There are sometimes two communities that form as a result, the "believer" community and the "non-believer" community. Children who are not of the majority denomination are often rejected and do not have playmates because some parents teach their children not to play with the "non-believers."
The neighborhood environment that exists in each unique neighborhood is a very important factor in helping young people stay away from risky delinquent behavior. These neighborhoods are where young people develop from infancy through to emerging adulthood. These neighborhoods contain many other influences including parental, religious and public educational sources and contributions.
In order to define deviance we must first identify the established norms and expectation of the group in which the activity is taking place. If the majority of people are behaving in a similar way, it is not technically deviant behavior. This makes delinquent behavior a matter of geographic location and historical setting. Even if a behavior is participated in only by a minority, it must still be socially challenged and condemned if it is to be characterized as
deviant behavior.
Social exclusion can take place in any community. There are several mechanisms that produce social exclusion in a community. These mechanisms can deny young people the opportunity to feel like a part of the community as a whole.
One way that teenagers mark themselves as “superior” is by excluding others who they perceive as “inferior.” Adolescents become well practiced in the art of exclusion. (Giddens, Anthony, et al. Introduction to Sociology, Sixth Edition, pp. 247)
Lets begin by asking some basic questions; how does the neighborhood in which a young person lives, affect their level of risk for delinquent behavior? What impact does social exclusion have on the level of delinquent behavior that exists in a neighborhood? Or we could ask an even more basic question; what is a neighborhood?
Local Communities are areas that develop naturally as a result of business and residential forces. Business and residential interests compete for land as population groups seek affordable housing. A neighborhood is a smaller portion of the overall community and is a collection of people and institutions that are contained in the same geographic location which is influenced by ecological, cultural, and sometimes political forces. (Park R. 1916. Suggestions for the investigations of human behavior in the urban environment. American Journal of Sociology. 20: pp. 147-154)
Defining the influence of a specific neighborhood is somewhat like defining a family system. If we observe several genograms produced by members of the same family we will see a different
interpretation of the relationships of each family member toward the other. The only way for an
outside observer to accurately identify the relationship patterns is either to observe the behavior of the family directly or to look at all of the genograms and find the places they agree most often to identify the most accurate reality of that particular family system.
Neighborhoods are difficult things to define and most studies must only look at only one point in time with cross-sectional research. Neighborhoods are not static places and are affected by families moving in and out, the process of aging, institutional resources, friendships, and current norms, which all add up to the collective efficacy of the neighborhood system. U.S. census data does not provide us with enough information about each neighborhood; we
must also use systematic social observations by trained observers who use an adequate format to categorize neighborhoods along a range of social and physical attributes. (Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn 2003)
In the article, “The CANEP Scale: Preliminary psychometric findings of a measure of youths’ perception of their neighborhood environment” by Corinna Bisegger and Bernhard Cloetta, they identified a new scale to determine the perception of young people of whether their environment is safe, clean, quiet, and providing opportunities for social contact with peers. This instrument measures the perception of security. The same living situation does not have the same effect on every individual; phsychological processes such as the perception of the situation or adaptation mechanisms play a large role in every individual’s quality of life and health.
Our textbook explains the contributions and work of Virginia Satir and praises her for her charismatic leadership. Satir had a very simple view of effective communication and genuinely believed that healthy families are able to share their feelings and affection openly. Satir developed the Human Validation Process Model of group family therapy. One of the most promising new directions in family therapy is one that seeks to integrate Satir’s model into the techniques of Emotion-Focused Therapy. Just as Satir sought to clarify transactions among family members using the modeling of “I” statements, families can interact with the community effectively as they speak clearly and directly about their religious or ethnic beliefs and traditions. There is an important difference in the reaction of a community to the requests for consideration put forth by families who use an effective approach in expressing their differences and the reasons behind them.
When individuals are in the minority they need to accept their role as educators for the community about their culture or religion. Parents model these effective approaches to communication for their children. When parents model a sense of confident and quiet pride about their religion or culture, children are greatly impacted and fortified against defensiveness and other negative communication patterns.
As I continue discussing the buffering effects of a healthy family system, I will do so from the perspective of a neighborhood in my own life experience; Bountiful, Utah in the year 1990.
I have tried to analyze the research that I have included in this paper to see whether the research has incorporated
cultural influences into the studies. Many of my sources come from the discipline of Sociology which has a great history of research and publication of studies on adolescence and emerging adulthood; some of the best studies on the subject of delinquency come from this discipline.
My perception of the world has been shaped by the experience of being raised in a family that was very religious. Our family belonged to the dominant religion in our community. The following story may quickly and effectively paint the picture for you about my family background. One Sunday, my family of origin was sitting in Church, all ten of us filling up the second row as usual. I was sitting at one end of the bench and my dad was at the other. Being unsupervised as I was, I pulled a few elastics out of my sock, tied them together and began flipping my little sister. My father looked down the row and saw me doing it so he opened up his bible to a certain passage and sent it down the row with the instructions to give it to me. My brothers and sisters, being as they are, took the liberty of reading it as it came to them. When it finally got to me I read it. The scripture was 1 Corinthians 13:11 "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man I put away childish things."
Now, when I read this I stopped... For a while, then I forgot and started again. My father saw
that I was doing it again and sent this scripture down the row, my brothers and sisters also read
this, Proverbs 15:5 "A fool despiseth his fathers instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent."
Now, I am no match for my father's wisdom in things dealing with scriptures, but this time I thought that I had him. I sent up Matthew Chapter 5 verse 22. The last sentence
states, "whosoever shall say thou fool shall be in danger of hell fire." But, my dad proving again his superior knowledge sent back down Exodus 21:17 "And he that curseth his father or his mother, shall be surely put to death." After I read that, the problem was solved.
Adolescents’ perceptions are dependant upon more that their social support measures. When we examine individual support experiences, it can help us to understand the social environment aspect of loneliness. Perception of the wider context which surrounds individual experience is very significant. We must use ecological models in our search for understanding the adolescent development process. The length of time that young people have lived in a community has a significant impact on their sense of community. When young people arrive in a community
they may seldom think about their neighbors, however, after they have been there awhile they have a different feeling
when they are around their own block as opposed to elsewhere in the city. Young people can even get to the point that they feel comfortable knocking on a stranger’s door in their community if they needed assistance. (Grace M. H. Pretty Et al 1994)
I am thankful for the experiences that I have had at Weber State University that have helped
me to see beyond the majority culture and reach out to “strangers” with sincere brotherhood. I
had one of the most powerful experiences while taking the Library Studies Skills Class at Weber State University.
The instructor explained about the rare books collection and then offered to give us the opportunity to look at some of these rare books. I was able to hold in my hands, a very old religious text that is connected with my faith in God. I looked around the room,
filled with a desire to share the joy I felt. I then noticed a man who was having the very same experience, as he was reading from an old religious text of a different religion. It was apparent to me that this man was of a religion and nationality different than my own. His eyes met mine, and as we saw the tears in the other persons eyes, he said, “These are beautiful,” as he cradled a book in his hands. “Yes they are”, I agreed.
As I looked into his eyes, I realized that this man was a good and honest man. I realized at the same time, that whatever had moved him to tears must therefore be good as well. These feelings banished any fear, suspicion or prejudice instantly from my heart. I felt a bond of brotherhood with this man.
This shared experience, gave me an appreciation for the things that other people hold sacred. As human beings, we hope and yearn for the same things. On that night, I realized very powerfully that those who hold as sacred, the written words that teach civility and morality, have ever so much in common.
As families discuss their interactions with the community and share and discuss the discrimination that in the lives of their children, they can, as a family discuss and even role-play effective reactions and strategies for dealing with these stressful circumstances. Just as you can get results from a defiant and rude employee as a customer if you speak with the person who signs their paycheck, families can develop effective strategies for combating discrimination. One good example of an effective approach in combating discrimination was the passive resistance
Coping with Adolescent Discrimination 6
that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. borrowed from Mahatma Gandhi. At first the community condemned Dr. King and
his group of passive resisters. However, once the public saw the fire hoses and dogs turned on the young people in Birmingham the community changed their views and behaviors to allow for greater equality. This strategy and the success in Birmingham eventually spread throughout the United States of America and has also influenced many other groups in many different nations as they have developed their approach to establishing equality and inclusion in their communities. Consciously arranging a high profile photo opportunity within a community to bring to bear the power of sympathy, sounds a little like something Milton Erickson, the “samurai warrior” of therapy from Wisconsin, might encourage. Our textbook indicates that Erickson believed families should use their resources and develop a strategy for each problem that they faced. Erickson’ approach focused on facilitating actions that produced beneficial results. One idea of the strategic family therapy model is that family therapists give families tasks in the form of homework. Families who already have effective communication in their homes can give their children “school work” or tasks that they are assigned by wise parents who follow up on their efforts to cope with discrimination in effective ways while they are outside of their home.
Some young people maintain a reputation in a community as law abiding and good people. However, because of their affluent parents they have access to cars which enable them to commit their delinquent acts in different cities far from the eyes of local policemen. Young men from lower SES backgrounds may actually cause less trouble in a neighborhood but be almost persecuted by the local police department for causing more simply because they do not have a vehicle to transport them to distant locations to participate in their delinquent behavior. (Chambliss, William J. “The Saints and the Roughnecks”)
Though a healthy family is an important protective factor and can serve as a buffer to the negative impacts of stress in the lives of young people, the neighborhood in which young people live has a significant impact on their lives. Parents are limited in their ability to raise children successfully if they cannot rely on their neighborhood to provide a caring and watchful environment for their teenagers. (Bould, Sally, 2003.)
Social capital is derived from the reputation that ones parents and family have in a community. The level of social capital available to young people as a result of their family of origin has s a major impact on the offending patterns of young people who are making the transition to adulthood. (Weiss, Harold E., 2009.)
The generous amount of social capital which was available to me in my neighborhood as I was developing is the reason that I was able to feel so much support and warmth. My father had been a leader in the local congregation of our religion and had earned the respect and gratitude of many people. All I had to do to cash in on the social capital of my family was to identify myself as my Father’s son and I was showered with affection and praise.
Conceptual and empirical work on child and adolescent development has clearly shown that the boundaries of developmental context must be pushed beyond the walls of the household in order to help us to understand the importance of the neighborhood context in understanding development. In the African American community especially there has been strong evidence that the positive parenting style and economic success of parents have not been enough to insulate young people from the influence of troubled neighborhoods. Youth who live in inner-city environments have added stressors that are not experienced in other neighborhoods. High neighborhood violence, having to ride the bus or train, high noise levels, may be contributing factors in the increased level of delinquency and deviant behavior among those who live in these environments. Studies have shown that community satisfaction plays a great role in the mental health among rural African Americans. Neighborhoods can serve as either risk or protective factors in the adolescents’ experience of life stress. Because many young people are becoming increasingly autonomous, they spend less time at home or in school and more time in their neighborhood. (Kevin W. Allison, Et al., 1999.)
The importance of cohesion within a community is important because high levels of violence often exist in noncohesive communities. Social disorganization and low levels of citizen engagement are all serious problems in non-cohesive communities. (Measuring Neighborhood Connection and the Association with Violence in Young Adolescents By Rachel Widome Ph.D.)
If communities are diverse in nationality and religious practice it is necessary for all who belong to such a community to be tolerant and inclusive. There is an interesting dynamic that often takes place in communities, in that cosmopolitan communities have an opportunity to practice tolerance more often and so are sometimes more skilled in their ability to interact with minorities in an inclusive manner.
The amount of time that families have lived in a community has a large impact as well. Those who move often
sometimes do not benefit as strongly from the effects of a new positive neighborhood as there is often a lag-time in the educational benefits of entering a new community. (Crowder, Kyle, and Scott J. South “Neighborhood distress and school dropout: the variable significance of community context”)
In our textbook we learn the concept of Skeleton Keys. Families use things within their household that have worked before in order to unlock a variety of problems. One of the challenges that is faced by families who migrate from their nation of origin in search of greater financial opportunity is that the skeleton keys that worked for them as a family in interfacing with the community in their culture of origin, no longer fit the locks in the radically different culture in which they now find themselves. Solution-Focused and Narrative Family Therapies teach that even though the causes of problems may be complex, the solutions need not necessarily be. One of the challenges faced by families who are in the minorities and who are facing discrimination is that they may not understand the causes of the problems they and their children are having in interfacing with the community. Focusing on exceptions, a treatment technique from Solution-Focused and Narrative Family Therapies, can be helpful as a family tries to unravel the mystery of how to fit in to their new community. By identifying times when differences are not a problem for family members and when discrimination is not a factor can be very helpful to families that are in the minority. Families can discuss what they do differently in these situations in order to use the techniques they discover to promote greater harmony in other areas of their lives outside their homes.
Summary and Discussion
Wise families seek to improve the neighborhoods in which we live. There must be determination, courage, and active work motivated by real concern and love for every member of the community regardless of their ethnicity or religious persuasion.
I now view the practices of the most influential group in the community where I grew up differently as I look at these practices using the perspective that I’ve gained during my education.
Among the Snomrom uniformity seems to play a large role in their cultural traditions. Harmonious interaction was the goal that led to the code of this group’s traditional worship-day dress. The most interesting manifestation of these rituals is to be found in the powerful cultural and social trends which influence the male practitioners. Social norms
require each male to purchase an elaborate and expensive costume made of natural fibers which are dyed to a very dark color. A bib-necklace is also worn over the top of this costume or uniform. If a male wears a different costume to these religious ceremonies he is noticed and extended special warmth and kindness. However, if this male continues wearing non-traditional garb to the religious services, arrangements are made for a used costume of worship-day finery to be provided at no cost to the visitor.
If these gifts are not accepted, the visitor will be treated with suspicion by the frustrated local leadership of the Snomrom. This leadership may consider requesting a meeting with the discordant individual about his choice of apparel. The instructions given to these adherents in their sacred books are that no one should be excluded from attending these ceremonies regardless of the composition of their clothing fibers. However, no man, young or old, is encouraged to participate directly in the work of these rituals unless clothed in the appropriate costume, complete with the colorful bib-necklace. This religious group sometimes also encourages their members to continue to wear their worship-day finery throughout the rest of that day after they return to their homes even after the religious services have concluded.
Who are the American Snomrom and where do they live? To answer this question, simply spell Snomrom backward. That is correct! The culture of which I speak, exists among those who are American Mormons like me. Wearing a suit and tie to church on Sundays, is a strange tradition from the perspective of many of those who live in different parts of the world. (In the above section, I borrowed heavily from the Ideas of Horace Miner as found in “Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition” by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 68)
As long as any Church members cherish the idea that they are superior, then that belief may well result in prejudice toward others. Even the mildest for of discrimination is out of line with the teachings of Jesus. One convert believed that he had not been valiant enough to have been born into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints. He said that he did not mind but that he was glad that he was a member at all. Some LDS people seem to believe that there is a specific hierarchy of spiritual talent that existed before we came to this earth life and that it carries over into the mortal sphere. The highest responsibilities would belong to those born into the homes of those who were already members of the Church of Jesus Christ; following close behind would be converts to the LDS Church; in last place straggled all of the non-Mormons. (“Beached on the Wasatch front” - by Karen Margaruet Maloney from Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought. pp. 103)
The kind people in the neighborhood where I grew up taught me that I am a child of God. I was treated with warmth and kindness. I was taught by the example of those in the neighborhood that the most important things I could become in my life are a husband and a Father. However, I have realized that they may have done this only because I was one of them.
It is easy to overlook the difficult situations that some have faced when they are not raised in an area where their family is a part of the dominant cultural or religious tradition. If someone was not of the LDS faith and grew up in Bountiful Utah in 1990, they may have had a different experience entirely. I have been able to realize that I grew up in a community that had a long list of things that were deviant behaviors, drinking Coca-Cola, saying swear words, and listening to music the featured electric guitars as an instrument. I have talked with people who lived in our community while they were growing up and heard their stories about the fact that neighborhood children were told not to play with them because they were not LDS. I may not be able to change every community or neighborhood but I can change the way I view my neighbors and reach out in love and brotherhood as we seek to solve the problem of delinquent behavior in our community together.

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