How Cultural Differences Influence Adolescent Development

By Beth Greenwood
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Normal adolescent development is a process that includes gradually increasing physical, emotional and social maturity. Teens begin to develop moral philosophies, learn to be intimate with others, question parental values and develop a sense of their own identify. As part of this process, teens typically question authority, bond with the peer group and may engage in risk-taking behavior. All of these developmental activities may also be affected by the teen’s culture.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a fact of life for many women and teen girls, according to a May 2008 article in “Eureka Alert,” which reports 90 percent of a group of 600 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 reported at least one incident of sexual harassment. The teens, from California and Georgia, included Latinas, whites, African-Americans, Asian Americans and multiethnic girls. Age and cultural background affected the girls’ perceptions of harassment, with older teens and teens of lower socioeconomic status reporting more sexism. Asian American and Latina girls were less likely to report harassment than girls from other ethic groups. When teens perceive harassment as an environmental factor, the authors note, it is less likely to affect self-esteem than if they internalize it and conclude they are at fault.

Teen Pregnancy

Although teen pregnancy has declined since the early 1990s, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy notes that declines have been significant among blacks, with a decline of 44 percent in the black teen girl population compared to 39 percent overall. However, 50 percent of black females get pregnant at least once by the time they are 20. This may be partly because black teens are more likely to have sex. While 44 percent of white teens and 52 percent of Hispanic teens report having engaged in sexual activity, the number jumps to 67 percent for black teens.

Risky Behaviors

Culture can affect both the level of a teen’s reported stress and her tendency to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use or violence, according to a study from the Frances McClelland Institute at the University of Arizona. Researchers studied groups of Latino and non-Latino white students, some of whom were immigrants. They found that Latinos, whether U.S.-born or not, reported higher stress from issues such as prejudice, discrimination, being in a minority group in the new culture or pressure to learn English. Latinos were also more likely to engage in risky behaviors and report depression than the non-Latino whites in the study.


Teens who are recent immigrants may face major challenges that can affect their development, according to the American Psychological Association. Among these are loneliness, loss of their previous life, strain and fatigue as they attempt to adapt and cope with a new culture, feelings of rejection that may affect self-esteem, and confusion regarding role identity because of differences between the previous and new culture. The APA notes that such stresses tend to increase eating disorders, lower self-esteem and increase depression among immigrant teen girls. Teens may also have increased conflict with parents if the teen is more readily able to assimilate into the new culture.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.