Latino adolescents are happier and healthier if both they and their parents have one foot firmly planted in Latino culture and the other in U.S. culture, a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found. In other words, Latino adolescents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as abusing alcohol or drugs or dropping out of school, if they take steps to stay involved in their heritage culture and their parents also take steps at the same time to integrate into U.S. culture.
One example of how policymakers can support biculturalism, the study suggests, is by backing two-way or dual immersion programs in schools. in which students whose primary language is English and students who are dominant in Spanish learn both languages in the same classroom.
The longitudinal study of 281 Latino adolescents and one each of their parents is described this month in a special issue of The Journal of Primary Prevention that focuses on the connections between cultural adaptation and Latino youth behavior. (Only abstracts are available to non-subscribers.) Fifty-eight percent of the youths studied, all of whom now live in either Arizona or North Carolina, were from Mexico, 21 percent were born in the United States, and the rest were natives of Central American or South American countries.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week