Photo: Bruce Matsunaga


Navigating the complexities of a multicultural society can be both enriching and challenging for teenagers. A study conducted by the University of California, Davis, surveyed over 700 teens attending public schools in the Southwestern United States, uncovering a crucial factor that significantly impacts their academic performance and overall well-being. The findings revealed that while these young individuals attended ethnically diverse schools and were exposed to multiple cultures in the classroom, the messages they received from their families and peers were not always congruent.

This incongruity had profound effects on their academic engagement, interest in school, and aspirations for higher education.

Lead author of the study, Maciel M. Hernández, an assistant professor of human ecology, emphasized the emotional toll that inconsistent messaging can take on adolescents. When teens receive mixed signals about cultures other than their own, it can negatively influence their academic achievement. Hernández stressed the importance of fostering successful interactions and social connections with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Being a full participant in a diverse society entails appreciating and understanding cultural traditions beyond one's own.

The co-lead author, M. Dalal Safa, from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also contributed to the study, underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of this groundbreaking research.

The researchers assessed the level of consistent multicultural messaging and affirmation the teens received in their classroom, peer, and family environments. Astonishingly, only 4% of those surveyed reported receiving high levels of consistent positive messaging about diverse cultures. The questions asked covered various aspects, from the students' knowledge about different cultures to how much their friends and families encouraged their learning and appreciation of cultural diversity.

For instance, regarding family interaction, the survey inquired about how often parents and caregivers encouraged their teens to read books about other racial/ethnic groups, discussed significant events and figures from different cultural histories, and expressed the belief in equality regardless of race or ethnicity. Similar questions were posed about peer interactions.

The results indicated that students who enjoyed school and felt engaged in their education demonstrated higher academic goals, which is not surprising. However, it also highlighted the importance of ensuring that youth actively enjoy their experiences in a culturally diverse world, as this aspect significantly impacts various facets of their lives and future success.

Interestingly, the study found that youth with at least one immigrant parent experienced higher degrees of multicultural socialization. It is possible that these parents actively worked towards integrating into diverse communities and passed on these aspirations to their children, fostering a more inclusive mindset.

Latinx and multiethnic students comprised the majority of respondents in the study, demonstrating the relevance of this research in diverse and inclusive societies. However, the study emphasized that there is much room for improvement, given that only a mere 4% of students reported receiving consistent positive messages about diverse cultures.

Hernández emphasized the promise of promoting multicultural socialization across schools, peer groups, and families to enhance adolescents' academic functioning. By bridging the gap in consistent messaging, we can foster an environment that empowers teenagers to thrive academically and personally, equipping them to embrace the richness of cultural diversity and contribute positively to society.

In conclusion, the research underscores the importance of providing teenagers with consistent and positive messages about cultures beyond their own in multicultural environments. By nurturing an inclusive and supportive atmosphere that celebrates diversity, we can empower the next generation to excel academically and become socially conscious global citizens.