Research: Latino children lose social skills in middle school

The American Psychological Association found that Latino children, even those who grew up in poverty, started kindergarten with strong social and classroom skills.

“The vast majority of Latino homes, especially immigrant households, is headed by two parents, and there are often grandparents around who help raise young children,” Bruce Fuller, professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said. “Kids are taught to respect other family members, [which] gives young kids strong cooperative skills in terms of how they play with siblings and how they contribute to housework.”

Students who have these skills generally become better learners. But the association also found that those good qualities eventually wore off during the children’s middle school years, said Fuller, who co-edited the section highlighting this research in Developmental Psychology, an American Psychological Association journal.

However, Fuller believes steps can be taken to prevent this loss of social skills. Culturally sensitive teachers and strong parental advocacy can help these children, LA Beez reported.

“Enthusiasm helps children learn at a rapid rate,” Fuller said.

Fuller noted this loss of social skills can come from negative peer pressure and teachers who have low expectations for kids of color.

“For those Latino families who cannot afford to leave poor neighborhoods, there are negative peer influences as soon as middle school, such as young gangs emerging and friends whose parents do not value education,” Fuller said. “Secondly, in some poor [neighborhoods], we often have a concentration of uninspiring teachers or teachers who think brown kids are not going to college [anyway].”

It is unclear whether income level makes a difference in children’s classroom skills, but Fuller said it may be a factor.

“Overall, Latino children start school with social skills comparable to white middle-class kids, but we also find Latino kids coming from very poor households,” Fuller said. “Those [living] below the poverty line show weaker social skills and language development.”

Research from the American Psychological Association showed that children of color often looked around the American society and noticed that white children got ahead more than they did.

“[Kids of color] start to make judgments about whether the society is being fair to kids [who] look like them,” Fuller said. “I think we have to provide middle school youth with positive role models to make them feel that they can get ahead.”