The school calls and a Latinx parent hands the phone to their child so they can translate.
A burst of Spanglish and a second-generation Latinx parent feels the burden of teaching their child to be bilingual and bicultural. A parent says “no” to prom because that’s not as important as a family event. These are examples of the many experiences of Latinx families in the United States. The diversity of Latinx families challenges many well-meaning professionals. We have to approach parenting, media, and mental health from different perspectives in order to be effective.
Latinx families often avoid services due to the lack of ready access to information and mental health practitioners knowledgeable in their cultural and linguistic experiences. This lack of trust that professionals will hold their culture and language in mind can be a factor in the suicide rate among adolescent Latinx females. The school can become the bridge between the two cultures, rather than placing that burden on the teen or parent to find help. Recently migrated Latinx families need someone to facilitate relationships with the teachers and adults in their children’s lives. Community building is important for the Latinx parent used to solutions coming from a collective point of view.
In multigenerational Latinx families, the media does not offer the family a way to celebrate their bicultural experience. Parents and teens have to choose between media that is entirely Spanish or entirely English and rarely see the multicultural experiences they live. There is a gap in representation. Not seeing yourself in popular culture can create a burden in the development of the self, particularly in adolescence. Among Latinx females in multigenerational families, this questioning of who they are and who they wish to be without seeing themselves in culture adds to other burdens, like depressive or anxious responses, body image issues, and the pressures of the future. We need to study the effects of being bicultural and the lack of representation for the Latinx teen and parent. This can give us better ways to approach this community and reverse this disheartening statistical rise in suicide among Latinx females.
Ambiguous thoughts around their Latinx culture and the dominant “American” culture is another factor. Losing their child to the dominant culture through acculturation creates family conflict in recently migrated families. Many factors contribute to the increase in suicide and suicidal ideation among Latinx females, but in the Latinx community, the rift between parent and child due to the acculturation question is a dominant one. In a recently migrated family, a teen may be accused of rejecting their family or home country if they express attitudes considered American. An adolescent who is naturally asking, “Who am I, and who do I want to be?,” may feel stuck in accepting the self and betraying the family. For some, this becomes reason to give up and annihilate the self.
The Latinx parent in the United States has all the typical questions about normative development, academics, and emotional growth, but they can never leave out the acculturation questions or cultural and linguistic aspects of their child’s experience. Since they can’t, neither should researchers, schools, media companies, policymakers, or mental health professionals who work with Latinx families. We all need to be mindful of their burdens.
Lina Acosta Sandaal, L.M.F.T., is a psychotherapist and child development expert.
This essay was written as part of the Common Sense research report Tweens, Teens, Tech, and Mental Health: Coming of Age in an Increasingly Digital, Uncertain, and Unequal World. Learn more about the report.