Using Immigrant Roots to Foster Teen Resilience During COVID-19

Latinx families have turned to each other for support time and time again throughout a pandemic that has exposed existing inequalities in our society — from wages and housing to education and healthcare — and that disproportionately affected communities of color. Whether to care for sick relatives, watch younger ones, get through the challenges of virtual learning, or grieve the loss of loved ones, Latinx families have turned to each other and their roots for strength.

As the world continues reopening and we slowly return to pre-pandemic rhythms of life, the lessons of this past year, and the cultural values that got us through it, deserve to be celebrated and fostered in Latinx teens.

Family Comes First 

It is no secret in Latinx families, la familia viene primero, family comes first. This part of our culture can be an essential part of our kids’ and teen’s development and identity. Scientists have even given this aspect of our culture a name —  familismo. And it has been on display throughout the pandemic.

Familismo is defined as loyalty that one has to family and the expectations of emotional and social support that one gives to one’s family, says Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein. “It’s a way of defining the self in the context of the family,” she adds.

Familismo is defined as loyalty that one has to family and the expectations of emotional and social support that one gives to one’s family.

How Family Identity Influences Teens

When a teen’s identity is centered around their family, they can, in turn, get a sense of meaning, purpose, and accomplishment. “Latino adolescents and others who hold this value feel connected to their family, which is important in itself. And familismo can also promote connection with others and character strengths like respect to others,” says Dr. Livas Stein

The Value of “Familismo” in Promoting Resilience

The value of familismo and its positive downstream has revealed itself in Latinx teens in many different ways throughout the pandemic. For example, some teens helped and cared for younger family members who needed childcare or even older relatives who fell ill. Other teens volunteered to safely deliver groceries and complete tasks to vulnerable community members as COVID-19 was at its peak, all while balancing their existing responsibilities at home and school. These small acts, familismo at its finest, have in turn helped to promote another critical value in teens — resilience.

Reach Toward Resilience

Resilience is the flexibility and ability to adapt to different situations, explains Dr. Livas Stein. Families can and have through the pandemic come together to think about how they will navigate various challenges, making sure to include tweens and teens in the problem-solving in ways that are appropriate for their developmental stage.

“When we bring children into the conversation, we give them a sense of meaning and accomplishment. They get this feeling that we are doing something together as a family unit,” says Dr. Livas Stein. The feeling of doing something together to solve a problem as a family reinforces familisimo, the value of centering their identity around their family. This can give young people a sense of power and effectiveness that protects them from feeling hopeless when so much — school, seeing their friends, even financial circumstances — can feel out of their control, she adds.

Familismo and resilience, and the ways Latinx families cultivated them by providing spaces to communicate and problem-solve together through a period of unimaginable challenges, must be celebrated and carried forward as we get past this pandemic and for many years to come. Doing so can protect Latinx teens and give them essential lifelong tools. 

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About Edith Bracho-Sanchez

Edith Bracho-Sanchez, MD is a pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Broadway Practice, director of pediatric telemedicine for NYP's Ambulatory Care Network, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia.

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