Puerto Rican Adolescents, Latino Values and Risky Activities

Dr. Myriam Villalobos presented some interesting results from her research on Puerto Rican adolescents at a seminar that took place at Centro on February 19, 2015. She shared the results from her two recent studies about the role of Latino culture on Puerto Rican teens' lives, including their relationships with parents and involvement in risky behaviors. Dr. Villalobos decided to study Puerto Rican adolescents specifically because of the rapid growth of this group compared to other adolescent ethnic groups. It is estimated that in 2020, one quarter of all teens in the U.S.A. will be Latino. Both the lack of research on this group, and the fact that previous research on this group only focus on the negative behaviors, were both factors that motivated Villalobos to conduct her studies.

Both studies measure autonomy in the adolescent, defined as freedom to do things. Villalobos measure the manifestation of their autonomy in four areas: personal issues (that do not affect the welfare of the adolescent), relation to peers, prudential and multifaceted issues, and risky behaviors. The first study examined the links between Latino values and how much Puerto Rican teens share and keep secret from parents about their involvement in risky activities. The study was based on a questionnaire presented to 109 adolescents ages 14-18 from an urban setting in Upstate New York. Several observations were shared, for example the fact that among our adolescents, boys posses more autonomy than girls especially when it comes to risky issues. Another observation was related to the management of information shared with parents. Our adolescents disclose more information to mothers than to fathers. These autonomy interactions were examined within the context of Latino values such as familiarismo and respeto. These values, common in the family culture of Puerto Ricans, have a positive impact on adolescent decisions and consequently their behaviors. Villalobos found a direct relationship between the ideas an adolescent has about what their parents think is right and what they themselves think is right.

The second study was an analysis of the meaning that Puerto Rican teens ascribe to Latino values and how this meaning influences teens’ activities with peers. Villalobos took a look at how Puerto Rican teens prioritize their Latino family values versus their desires to spend time with peers. The study was based on one or two, individual face-to-face interviews with each of the 105 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, from the same urban setting in Upstate New York. The teens in this study were presented with hypothetical situations that affected the relationship of their beliefs with their actions. They were asked to respond to situations that confronted what they should do with what they would do. The results showed a close relationship between the two elements: teens will act according to their beliefs. The reasons given by teens were varied, from feeling obliged, to fear of punishment, to valuing their family values.

Some take away messages from the discussion were: - Adolescent and teens autonomy is healthy, it should be respected and it contributes to opening channels of communications between teens and parents. - Gender difference is evident in the way teens communicate with adults. Girls are generally more communicative, both boys and girls are more communicative to mothers than fathers. - Family and respeto are important elements that Puerto Rican adolescents and teens take into consideration when making decisions, especially decisions that involve risky activities.

The potential benefits that Latino culture can have on teens' lives are evident in the results of this presentation. We look forward to catching more details of Dr. Villalobos research work and her future studies. She is currently a visiting postdoctoral scholar at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia University, Teacher’s College. There she collaborates with Dr. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn on a project that examines the relative impact of support from the family versus neighborhood on Latino youth’s externalizing and internalizing problems.

For updated information about Centro’s events please Click here and follow us on social media (@CentroPR; #centroevents).