Although a decrease in suicide rates has been reported among White and First Nations adolescents, especially in recent years, there has been an increasing trend among African American adolescents, which is a serious public health concern. Given that suicidality is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research has identified several antecedents of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as psychological distress and a lack of peer support. Less explored are types of parenting behaviors and how they might be related to adolescent suicidal thoughts, especially among African Americans in urban communities. In addition, fewer studies have examined how bullying perpetration and victimization may be related to suicidal thoughts differently. The current study specifically examined these aspects among a sample of African American adolescents in urban neighborhoods.
The study used data from a convenience sample of African American adolescents and their parents in Chicago Southside. A total of 131 adolescents and their parents participated in the study, and 113 complete cases were used for the analyses.
The dependent variable, suicidal thoughts indicated youth never (0) or ever had suicidal thoughts (1). One set of independent variables was bullying perpetration and bullying victimization, which assessed the frequency of involvement in bullying perpetration and victimization in the last 30 days. Responses ranged from never (0) to 7 or more times (4) Mean responses were used, with higher values indicating more frequent perpetration or victimization. Another set consisted of authoritative, authoritarian, neglectful, and permissive parenting styles. Responses were rated on a five-point scale. Mean responses for each parenting style were used, with larger values indicating more prone to a parenting style. Covariates include child age, sex, sexual orientation, depression, family structure, and receiving government assistance.
About one-fifth had suicidal thoughts. Multivariate models show that neglectful parenting (b = 2, p = 0.01) and bullying perpetration (b = 1.6, p = 0.4) were positively associated with suicidal thoughts. In addition, youth depression (b = 1.8, p = 0.03) was positively associated with suicidal thoughts, while receiving government assistance was negatively associated with suicidal thoughts (b = -2.9, p = 0.01).
Given that depression, neglectful parenting, and bullying perpetration are positively associated with suicidal thoughts, it is imperative that practitioners, particularly social workers working with adolescents in urban areas thoroughly assess not only individual characteristics, but also adolescents’ relations with their parents and peers. For adolescents whose parents are characterized as neglectful, practitioners might need to carefully identify and assess barriers that inhibit the development of positive parent-child relationships. Practitioners also need to assess the types of relationships adolescents have with their peers and consider intervention that teaches social skills and prosocial behaviors. Practitioners and youth workers need to advocate for greater access to needed resources for African American adolescents in Chicago, many of whom are confronted with structural disadvantages in their community.