Psychologist Links Online Racial Discrimination to Teen Depression

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

According to a new study from Brendesha Tynes, a University of Illinois professor who studies race and the Internet, online racial discrimination is linked to depression and anxiety among teens. Tynes views the problem as a public health issue that deserves attention from parents.

Tynes is an educational psychologist, and professor of educational psychology and African American studies at the University. According to Tynes …” people don't know much about online racial discrimination and its effects on adolescent emotional well-being.” Her study, co-authored by Michael T. Giang, David R. Williams and Geneene N. Thompson, appears in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study finds that online discrimination has been experienced at least once by 71 percent of African-American adolescents, 71 percent of white teens, and 67 percent of multiracial/other adolescents. While online, Twenty-nine percent of African-American adolescents, twenty percent of white, forty-two percent of multiracial and other adolescents also reported being individual targets of discrimination.

“I wanted to find out whether online racial discrimination impacts adjustment over and above what’s experienced in offline settings. We’ve found evidence to suggest that it does.”The research found that regardless of ethnicity, racial discrimination online. Discrimination occurs during online participation on social sites, forums, at game sites, has a negative impact on the emotional well-being of teens, leading to depression and anxiety. The results find teenage girls particularly vulnerable.

A very disturbing finding by Tynes involves web site that promote hate, luring members by creating “child friendly” websites. She cites the website, White Pride For Kids - “It’s masked racism that uses a bait-and-switch to entice unsuspecting kids.” She points out the wealth of misinformation that comes from such sites, saying, “The Web sites encourage children to propagate historical canards in their research papers. The published information found on such sites, however, is typically neither factual nor accurate. I saw many examples of trolls going to sites devoted to a specific ethnic group of color and then posting a negative message filled with racial epithets solely to provoke and inflame members of that community.”

Of interest, the study is a departure from previous findings that people of color are affected the most from online discrimination. She suggests more research to define the difference.

Tynes still believes that Internet time is useful for teens, saying, “For all of its shortcomings, it’s a good bridge to help kids become more sophisticated in their understanding of race.” Her solution, rather than strict control over how teens spend their time on the Internet, is open discussion.

Tyne offers the following advice to parents, in an effort to address the issue of online racial discrimination - …”we need more discussion, so that when teens experience race-related victimization online, it can serve as a buffer to help them to feel a sense of racial pride and a positive racial identity”.

Speak with your children. Let them know that they can be proud of who they are. Teach them to ignore racially targeted text messages, forum discussions, and web sites that involve subliminal or outright messages of hate for any racial or ethnic group.

Online racial discrimination linked to depression, anxiety in teens