June 21, 2018

Expert on how Latino youth cope with stress and related mental health effects from parent separation

Prof says don’t forget how harmful pulling teens away from their parents can be too 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — While splitting young Latino children from their parents is devastating, the separation between parents and older children, including teens, also is incredibly harmful, says a Purdue University expert who studies mental health and resiliency in the children of Latino migrant farmworkers.

“Family is the cornerstone of resiliency for these children, and the parent attachment is critical to the well-being of these children,” says Zoe E. Taylor, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “We forget that teens need their parents, as well, and worry about them. In these populations, teens are used to contributing to the family and the value of family has tremendous cultural significance. These teens may have additional burdens, making this an even more stressful situation, and at the same time, they are often a source of resilience for their younger siblings.”

Taylor says the children separated from their parents are likely already stressed from their experiences that brought them to the border. Children of Latino migrant workers have high levels of anxiety and depression, which can affect their growth, health and behavior, says Taylor, who studies migrant farmworker families in Indiana. The high levels of anxiety, especially in these younger children, can affect their sleep and appetites, contributing negative effects to their physical and cognitive growth during a critical developmental period. Depression is more common in adolescents and teens, and it can lead to similar health problems, poor academic performance and behavior problems.

Taylor is studying resiliency to learn more about how kids end up doing well despite having adverse circumstances that set them up to do poorly. The project has included interviews of 80 children, ages 6-18, from migrant farm families. The children, most of whom were born in the United States, relocated to Indiana for the corn harvest, and they move around regularly. The younger children participated in a federally funded summer education program for youth of migrant farm families. The older children worked in the fields. This research project was funded by the Spencer Foundation, and Taylor hopes to expand the study to follow the families over time.

“Having a supportive adult, even just one, buffers kids from the negative effects of whatever adversity they are experiencing.” Taylor says. “It’s devastating to see these young kids whose attachment relationships and source of resilience are being ripped away from them.” 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Zoe Taylor, zetaylor@purdue.edu 

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