You are here: Home / Hot Topics

Hot Topics

PACT Continues To Make An Impact During Pandemic

Parents and Children Together (PACT), formed in 2007, is a partnership between Penn State researchers and residents of the greater Harrisburg community. The mission of PACT is to enhance the lives of children, youth and families that are of racially, culturally and economically diverse backgrounds. Most of the work PACT does involves face-to-face data collections and meetings, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the members to change their approach. According to Dr. Dawn Witherspoon, McCourtney Family Early Career Professor in Psychology who is the director of PACT, their community advisory board (CAB) continues to meet bi-monthly via Zoom, share resources, and connect despite social and physical distancing guidelines. Dr. Witherspoon describes the work as bidirectional as CAB helps to shape the research projects and the investigators give back by sharing the findings, conducting workshops for families, and hosting community events. A longtime member of PACT CAB, The Reverend Doctor LaVette Paige is the chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Community Development Center. She explains that ultimately PACT wants individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to understand that they have a voice and that they are more than just subjects and who will not be taken advantage of.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused events to be canceled such as the King Center’s annual summer enrichment program for girls but other CAB organization are finding creative ways to cater to their audiences while also partnering with PACT for information and support. Black Girl Health which is a virtual 5k walk/run, led by Porcha Johnson, and Latino Connection, which is a COVID-19 webinar led by George Fernandez, are examples of those creative ways. More information can be found here


Talking to Children about Racism

As Black and Brown communities continue to be disproportionately targeted by oppressive systems, members and allies of these communities are demanding immediate change . Young children are watching this unfold and many parents are questioning whether they should discuss the recent events with their children. More importantly, they are grappling with how to teach this generation about race. Having expertise in parenting among ethnic-racial minority families, the researchers recommend an approach to racial discussions with children called “intentional parenting for equity and justice” (IPEJ). It involves deliberate conversations and meaningful activities that increase children’s awareness of racial dynamics in our country as well as urge them to resist and change those dynamics. In order for IPEJ to be considered a normative approach, adults should not avoid mentioning race to their children. White parents are more notorious for doing this as many studies show that the murders of Trayvon Martin (2012) and Michael Brown (2014) motivated Black parents to have conversations about racism and discrimination with their children while very few White parents engaged in those discussions. Not talking about race and racism with children hinders their racial progress and encourages colorblind, egalitarian ideologies. In order to dismantle systemic racism, children need to know that it exists and that it is unacceptable.

Parents need to first closely examine their own racial beliefs and attitudes in order to position themselves to teach what is most valuable to them. They should also find opportunities to talk to their children about how minoritized groups are negatively stereotyped and discriminated against while also highlighting their strengths and their culture’s positive contributions to society. By utilizing these strategies, parents can then become a part of the solution to fighting racial injustice. More information can be found here


Science has a Racism Problem

The editorial team at Cell Press highlights the many examples of racism in science that date all the way back to the initial explorations of human genetics. Human genetics, particularly eugenics, has served as the rationale for the concept of racial superiority. Other examples of racism in science are evident in the exploitation of Black people, from Henrietta Lack’s cells being stolen to the Tuskgee syphilis study where Black men were tested on without proper consent. The mortality and morbidity rates in the healthcare system that disproportionately affect Black individuals is also another example of racism in the scientific world.

Understanding this and recognizing that they are also part of the problem, Cell is committed to bringing about positive change through their platform. They will feature more Black and underrepresented minority authors in order to increase representation and educate the public. Additionally, they aim to improve diversity within their organization and plan to listen to any other ideas that will aid the Black scientific community. They hope these actions will be a starting point for eliminating science’s racism problem. More information can be found by following here



Mental Health Minute: Racism

In this episode of Our Mental Health Minute, Riana "Ri" Anderson and Shawn "CT" Jones discuss racism, how it manifests in society, and the emotional and behavioral consequences of experiencing it. Click here to get to this episode. 

This is one of many brief episodes created by Ri and CT, both clinical psychologists. Their videos cover topics like how to recognize mental health problems, tips for improving well-being, what to expect in therapy, identity, and how to talk about race with children. Ri and CT have also started a podcast! Check out the Our Mental Health Minute website:


The Adultification of Black Girls

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the issue of adultification of Black girls, a phenomenon in which “teachers, law enforcement officials, and even parents view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their White peers.” The article, entitled Why Won’t Society Let Black Girls Be Children? by A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez, draws on both personal experiences and recent research to illustrate how the tendency to adultify means that Black girls are viewed as disruptive or even malevolent for behaviors that are in fact developmentally appropriate.

A 2017 study conducted by Dr. Jamilia Blake and colleagues (Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood) found that black girls were perceived as needing less protection, needing less support, and knowing more about adult topics than their White peers. These views in turn likely contribute to harsher discipline and fewer opportunities for Black girls across a variety of contexts, including in school, at home, and in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Evidence suggests that adultification of Black girls begins even before entering kindergarten, with Black girls making up a disproportionately high percentage of preschool suspensions in preschool (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). These recent reports build on previous research supporting that Black boys are viewed as more adultlike and more culpable than same-age White boys (Goff et al., 2014).

According to Dr. Blake, language matters when talking to and about Black girls, which might involve calling out other adults who use negative language to describe Black youth. She emphasizes that in addition to letting kids be kids, awareness and self-reflection are crucial first steps to overcoming these views.

Child Antisocial Behavior Is More Environmental in Origin in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods

A new study by Dr. Alexandra Burt and colleagues has found that neighborhood factors impact the importance of genetic factors in youth antisocial behavior (e.g. theft, vandalism). In disadvantaged neighborhoods, shared environmental factors had a much larger influence on youth antisocial behavior than in more advantaged neighborhoods. Genetic factors had effects on youth antisocial behavior in all neighborhood contexts, but the effects were proportionally smaller in disadvantaged neighborhoods. This study replicated previous findings in behavioral genetic research using multiple methods of neighborhood measurement. Given these findings on the role of neighborhood disadvantage in youth antisocial behavior using multiple methods, future research should investigate the ways in which neighborhood disadvantage confers risk for antisocial behavior.

To access the article, click HERE


An Economic Portrait of Low-Income Hispanic Families in the United States

The National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families recently synthesized findings from their first five years of studies (2013-2018), revealing important information about the economic well-being of Hispanic families in the United States. Data from nationally representative surveys show that most low-income Hispanic children live in a household with at least one employed parent. Despite high levels of parental employment, Hispanic children live in lower-income households than their non-Hispanic peers on average, and access to employer-provided insurance is particularly low among immigrant Hispanic families. Still, public assistance utilization is low among low-income Hispanic parents for a number of reasons, including the belief that they do not need any assistance, a lack of knowledge about the programs, and immigration-related concerns. The studies also show that many low-income Hispanic parents’ jobs require irregular or nonstandard work schedules, which may limit time that parents (particularly fathers) spend with children. 

High levels of employment among Hispanic families may confer certain benefits, including stability and a steady income source. On the other hand, this synthesis of studies shows that many Hispanic families face barriers to economic mobility. The authors suggest that future research should address how information about public assistance is made accessible to parents. Furthermore, because education is a primary path toward economic mobility, future research should examine education trajectories in Hispanic populations. For more information and to see the article, click here

A Discussion of Developmental Science in the Spirit of 2044

In the year 2044, the United States is projected to become a "majority-minority" country, meaning that no racial/ethnic group will have a numerical majority. The population under age 18 will be a majority-minority even sooner, by the year 2020. With these demographic shifts taking place, developmental scholars are challenged to consider ways of conceptualizing and measuring culture, race/ethnicity, and children's increasingly diverse developmental contexts. At the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) 2019 annual conference, the Racial and Ethnic Issues Committee hosted a pre-conference dedicated to discussing these demographic shifts and the implications for developmental science. 

Dr. Dawn Witherspoon  & Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein introduced and moderated the pre-conference panels, entitled Conceptualizing and Measuring Culture, Context, Race and Ethnicity: A Focus on Science, Ethics, and Collaboration in the Spirit of 2044. Link to Introduction video HERE.

Panel discussion: Best Practices in the Measurement and Conceptualization of Race and Ethnicity. Link to video of panel HERE.

Panel discussion: Influence of Contextual Factors and Individual Differences: A Guided Discussion. Link to video of panel HERE.

Panel discussion on policy and intervention implications and closing remarks. Link to video of panel HERE


Cultural Values and Behavior among African American and European American Children

A new study by Smith, Witherspoon, and colleagues (2019) explored collectivistic and individualistic values among African American and European American elementary school students and its relation to behavioral outcomes while analyzing the difference between race/ethnicity, grade, and gender. The study showed that collectivistic and individualistic values were found in both African American and European American children. However, African American children showed higher levels of individualism. Moreover, collectivist values were related to less delinquent problems, while more individualistic values were linked to less prosocial behavior and more conduct issues. In regards to grade level, children in higher grades possessed more collectivistic values. The research also showed that boys and girls had similar collectivistic and individualistic values. The study extends the current line of literature with studying cultural values among African American and European American children. For more information, click HERE


Detailed New National Maps Show How Neighborhoods Shape Children for Life

A recent nationwide study identified the specific neighborhoods in different cities across the USA where children were more likely to escape poverty. The study demonstrated that the time spent in a neighborhood as a child has an effect on adulthood success. A recent news article discussed these findings and how they will be used to redesign social programs that help those in poverty.

The study compared families of the same income level in different neighborhoods and found that the neighborhood in which the family lived, regardless of family income, was most correlated with upward mobility. The neighborhoods linked to the highest rates of upward mobility for children in poverty are labeled “Opportunity Zones”. The article also discusses research showing additional factor that effects upward mobility, even when comparing families in the same neighborhood with the same income level. Finally, the article suggested that incarceration is an important factor that distinguishes “Opportunity Zones”, showing that many young children in worse neighborhoods end up incarcerated and therefore unable to escape poverty.

The article stressed that more research needs to be done to understand the factors that make neighborhoods better or worse for upward mobility, but it emphasized that this research will already be useful for government programs that target specific areas. To access the entire article, click HERE.


Everyday Discrimination Raises Women’s Blood Pressure

A new study found a direct correlation between women who experience discrimination daily and development of high blood pressure. Though many studies already connect recurrent discrimination and health problems, most are cross-sectional. This study differed as it aimed to link the experience of discrimination against women, or “the ways in which the dignity and the respect of people who society does not value is chipped away on a daily basis” (David Williams, Harvard University) to the development of health problems in the future. Researchers did this by asking 3,330 women between the ages of 42 and 52 how often they were discriminated against and then measured their blood pressure ten years later.

Researchers found that women who experienced routine discrimination ended up with higher blood pressure after ten years. Additionally, they found that women who experienced routine discrimination were more likely to gain weight, which is hypothesized to perpetuate a cyclical experience of discrimination and increased blood pressure. To access the entire article, click HERE


The Relationship Of Race To Community Health

Access to healthy food, economic stability, and public safety vary between Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and White communities, which may be associated with enormous race- and ethnicity-based health disparities. A recent news article described a study which examined the 500 Healthiest Communities and established a clear link between communities’ racial and ethnic makeup and health.


Hidden Populations, A Special Issue On Developmental Psychology

Dr. Dawn Witherspoon, along with Dr. Mayra Y. Bámaca-Colbert (the Pennsylvania State University), Dr. Gabriela L. Stein (UNC Greensboro), and Dr. Deborah Rivas-Drake (University of Michigan), will be guest editors for a special issue on hidden populations, communities of color who are less well-represented in the developmental research literature. More information can be found here.


Quality After-School Programs Help Students Feel More Connected

A recent study by Dr. Emilie Smith and Dr. Witherspoon and their colleagues (2017) found that high-quality afterschool programs were effective in fostering positive youth development among diverse 2nd -5th graders. Youth’s competence, feelings of connectedness, and respect towards adults increased. Also, the researchers found that staff who showed care for and interest in children impacted the growth of respect and caring from the children. It is important that children see and are engaged in positive interactions with adults, so that they may give back that same positivity. More on this study can be found here.  


Parents Talking About Culture Matters For Adolescents' Self-Views 

A study by Dr. Knight and his colleagues (2017) found that Mexican families who placed greater importance of Mexican-American values were more likely to teach their youth about cultural traditions, values, beliefs, and history. Parents who taught their youth about culture had teens who had positive views about their abilities and whose ethnic identity developed. These results emphasized the role of parents in adolescents’ development of ethnic and broad self-views. For more information and to see the whole article follow this link.