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Ariel Rodríguez, Ph.D.,
ASU School of Community
Resources & Development
Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.
The U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Latino youth, which will continue to play a key role in the services provided during out-of-school time. Out-of-school time is defined as before and after school, as well as weekends and summer. These programs are often developed to meet the needs of the youth they serve, and demographic shifts throughout the US suggest most programs will serve Latino youth, if they are not already doing so.
The term Latino refers to the nearly one in four youth residing in the U.S. who come from different Latin American nationalities, although they have varying races, cultures, language proficiencies, and experiences in the U.S. While an increasing amount of individuals identify themselves as Latino, most still refer to themselves by their Latin American country of origin. In addition, an increasing number of these individuals are simply referring to themselves as American. This is apt, as approximately 92% of them are U.S. citizens.
While Latinos have a variety of differences, they are often united by the many struggles they experience. These struggles date back hundreds of years and include oppression by those in power. The net result of these struggles is that Latinos are lacking in many key developmental areas, suggesting developmental needs for youth programs to address. In a recent article, I highlighted these deficit developmental areas, which include social, cognitive, physical, and spiritual developmental domains. Below, I will briefly highlight some of the key factors within each of these.
Social Development — The individuals we surround ourselves with influence our behaviors and, ultimately, help us to define who we are. Out-of-school time programs often focus on enhancing the developmental assets of youth, and, sometimes, changing deviant behavior to more positive behavior. For Latino youth, the family is the most important component in their lives. In a recent study, my colleagues and I found a Latino child’s parental self-concept was the most, and, in fact, the only salient predictor of their life satisfaction when compared with other elements of self-concept, such as academics or peers.
More specific to deviant behavior, research suggests that the more acculturated Latinos are (i.e., the more they have adopted the American culture), the more likely they are to engage in deviant behavior (such as doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and having sex). This immigration paradox has contributed to the teen pregnancy rates among Latinas, which is currently higher than any other major race/ethnic group in the U.S., at 13%. Gang membership, which has received an extensive amount of coverage in the news because of the violent acts committed by these individuals, was in fact quite low, at 1% of total Latino youth.
Physical Development — Latinos are often raised in poorer communities, ones in which community safety and the availability of facilities for physical activity and recreation continues to be a challenge. Of all the major racial/ethnic groups in the US, Latinos have the highest levels of being overweight and risk of obesity.
Given the high rates of overweight and obesity, it seems almost contradictory that 34% of Latinos live in households with food insecurity, where they don’t know where their next meal will come from. This suggests that the quality of the food many Latino youth are consuming may be contributing to their overweight levels. Programs for youth should help to address these areas. This also serves as a preventive measure for adult-onset diabetes, which is becoming more commonplace among Latino adults.
Cognitive Development — From the moment a Latino youth steps in the door of their first grade class, he or she is often behind academically. In part, this is due to fewer Latino families placing their children in early childhood programs compared to their non-Latino counterparts. This deficit persists throughout elementary, middle, and high school, where just over one in two Latinos graduate high school.
Regarding higher education, only 13% of Latinos have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to the rates for African Americans (17.5%), Whites (31%), and individuals of Asian descent (50%). This low academic achievement level contributes to the economic instability of Latino families and affects the overall U.S. economy. It also has implications for a host of other important social wellbeing indicators.
Spiritual Development — Many programs tend to avoid incorporating spiritual and religious components, which I view as a missed opportunity. Approximately 90% of Latinos are Christian, with 70% being Catholics. A young person’s spiritual development impacts his or her identity formation, resilience, delinquency rates, and overall wellbeing. For Latinos, their religion often is a source of hope, a meaning in life, and a significant component of their spiritual growth. Religion is one element of their lives Latino youth may turn to as adults in order to cope with life stressors.
Latino youth have a number of challenges that are often not experienced by their non-Latino counterparts. I’ve highlighted a few of these key differences for youth programmers to keep in mind as they develop out-of-school time programs. However, it is imperative to stress that these deficits only represent one aspect of youth development and should not define these youth.
The 17 million plus Latino youth in the U.S. are a potential positive force who can help shape a bright future for our country. Unfortunately, they are presently an untapped resource whose potential we know very little about. It is something I will continue to help remedy throughout my research career.
Ariel Rodríguez is an assistant professor at ASU in the School of Community Resources and Development. Dr. Rodríguez’s research focuses on healthy lifestyles among youth, and his teaching philosophy emphasizes the importance of experiential learning and community development.
^  National Youth Gang Center. (2009). National youth gang survey analysis. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
^  Hook, J. V., Balistreri, K. S., & Baker, E. (2009). Moving to the land of milk and cookies: Obesity among the children of immigrants. Retrieved April 28, 2011.
^  Nevarez, C., & Rico, T. (2007). Latino education: A synthesis of recurring recommendations and solutions in P-16 education. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
Rodríguez, A., Larsen, D., Látková, P., & Mertel, S. J. (2011). Development of Latino youth: Implications for park and recreation programs and services. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Rodríguez, A., Látková, P., & Martinez, R. (2011). Effects of self-concept on life satisfaction in Latino children. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Rodríguez, M. C., Morrobel, D., & Villarruel, F. A. (2003). "Research realities and a vision of success for Latino youth development." In F. A. Villarruel, D. F. Perkins, L. M. Borden & J. G. Keith (Eds.), Community youth development: Programs, policies, and practices (pp. 47-78). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Click here for a complete list of references. (PDF)
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