College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree



coping, African American, urban, low income, adolescents


Low income, urban African American adolescents are exposed to disproportionately high rates of stressors in their everyday lives (Allison, Burton, Marshall, Perez-Febles, Yarrington, & Kirsh, 1999; Attar, Guerra & Tolan, 1994; Gaylord-Harden, Gipson, Mance & Grant, 2008). In order to succeed in their own context and beyond, these adolescents must learn to cope effectively with the stressors they face. Little of the extant coping intervention literature has incorporated low income, urban African American adolescents, even though these youth could benefit from such interventions. The following research develops a model of the culturally and contextually relevant factors that contribute to coping for low-income, urban, African American youth. It is hoped that such a model will inform the development of coping interventions for these youth.

In this mixed methods research, a total of nine focus groups were conducted at a public elementary school in a large Midwestern city with a student population that was predominantly low income and African American. Focus groups were conducted across three stakeholder groups (fifteen parents, nineteen adolescents in the 7th and 8th grades, and eight teachers and staff members) to determine the culturally and contextually based coping strategies employed by youth. Adolescents, teachers and parents contributed their perceptions of the types of skills adolescents should learn to cope with stressors associated with an impoverished, urban context. Additionally, participants provided information about the ways in which a coping intervention could best meet the need s of low income, urban African American adolescents.

Based on these findings, a culturally relevant and contextually based model of coping was developed to inform the development of future coping interventions. The model suggests that aspects of coping influenced by culture include religion and spirituality interconnectedness, knowledge of cultural heritage, and emotion focused strategies. Aspects of coping influenced by a low income, urban environment include neighborhood stressors, limited protective settings, compromised relationships, and pressure for survival or adaptation. These cultural and contextual influences were integrated into a conceptual coping model based on cognitive, behavioral and social elements of coping. Cognitive components included cultural strategies such as prayer to accept problems and religious reframes. Cognitive components related to context include perspective taking in relationships with neighbors. The behavioral components of the model included cultural strategies distracting action defined as the use of rhythm, dance and music for expression. Contextually based behavioral included avoidance in some community contexts and portraying a tough image for self-preservation. Social components of the model linked to culture included seeing advice from religious figures and family members, and relying on family connections. Social components linked to context included seeking support from limited protective settings. Based on these findings, culture and context play an important role in coping for low income, urban African American adolescents. Future research should incorporate specific aspects of culture and context to increase the relevancy of coping interventions for these youth.

In terms of specific recommendations for intervention development, study participants’ suggested that the intervention utilize active and engaging methods to teach coping strategies. In terms of the mentorship, participants suggested that mentors have knowledge of the community. Participants also suggested that the coping intervention incorporate a parent component that would enable parents to learn coping skills. Additionally, participants indicated that protective settings were limited and youth should be linked to both protective settings that exist in the community (i.e. churches or community centers) and protective settings outside the community.