Adolescents' Experiences, Emotions, and Coping Strategies Associated with Exposure to Media-Based Vicarious Racism

Nia Heard-Garris*, Patricia O. Ekwueme, Shawnese Gilpin, Kaitlyn Ann Sacotte, Leishla Perez-Cardona, Megan Wong, Alyssa Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Importance: Adolescents frequently encounter racism vicariously through online news and social media and may experience negative emotional responses due to these exposures. To mitigate potential adverse health impacts, including negative emotional health, it is important to understand how adolescents cope with these exposures. Objectives: To examine adolescents' responses to online and media-based vicarious racism exposure and to explore coping strategies, particularly positive coping strategies, that may be used to combat negative emotions. Design, Setting, and Participants: This qualitative study rooted in phenomenological research methods conducted 4 semistructured focus groups, with 3 to 6 English-speaking adolescents (aged 13-19 years) in each group, between November 2018 and April 2019. Focus groups were facilitated by 2 research team members. The study was conducted at community sites and youth organizations in the greater Chicago, Illinois, area. Interview transcripts were analyzed thematically. Exposures: Lived experiences of media-based vicarious racism. Main Outcomes and Measures: Focus group participants shared their experiences with media-based vicarious racism online, including their responses to exposure and the coping strategies used. Results: Four focus group sessions were conducted with a total of 18 adolescents. Participants had a mean (SD) age of 16.4 (1.6) years. Overall, 7 participants (39%) self-identified as Black/African American, 8 (44%) as Hispanic/Latinx, and 3 (17%) as White individuals; 7 (39%) were in grades 7 to 9, 8 (44%) in grades 10 to 12 grade, and 3 (17%) at the college or university level. Central themes emerged related to adolescents' experiences, including their emotional and coping responses to media-based vicarious racism. Many participants reported helplessness as a major negative emotion associated with these exposures. Activism was endorsed as a key positive coping strategy that participants used, including online and in-person modalities. Conclusions and Relevance: The findings from this qualitative study suggest adolescents may experience helplessness as a primary negative emotion after exposure to media-based vicarious racism and activism may serve as a coping mechanism. Activism may represent an important and constructive means by which adolescents cope with and combat structural racism, mitigate negative emotions, and potentially prevent adverse health effects..

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJAMA network open
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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