Adverse Life Events, Coping and Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors in Urban African American Youth

Research paper by Yadira M. Sanchez, Sharon F. Lambert, Michele Cooley-Strickland

Indexed on: 09 May '12Published on: 09 May '12Published in: Journal of child and family studies


African American youth residing in low income urban neighborhoods are at increased risk of experiencing negative life events in multiple domains, increasing their risk for internalizing and externalizing behaviors. However, little is known about youth’s differential responses to life event stress, or protective processes and coping strategies for urban African American youth exposed to adverse life events. Thus, the present study examined whether variability in predominantly low income, urban African American youth’s responses to life event stress are accounted for by the type of life event experienced or the type of coping strategies used. Participants were a community sample of 353 urban African American youth (52.8 % girls; age range 8–12 years) who participated in the Multiple Opportunities to Reach Excellence (MORE) Project. Youth reported about their experiences with adverse life events, coping strategies, and internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Results indicated that violent life events were uniquely associated with externalizing behavior, while discrimination and economic stress were uniquely associated with internalizing behavior. The utility of coping strategies varied by gender, such that avoiding problems was protective for girls who experienced violent life events, but not for boys. For boys, exposure to violence was significantly positively associated with externalizing symptoms regardless of the amount of avoiding problems coping used. Findings suggest that interventions to develop coping strategies may need to be gender-specific as well as tailored for the types of stressors common for low income urban youth.