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What Are the Social & Emotional Effects of Living in a Low Income Community on Teenagers?

Low-income communities have poor socio-economic status because their inhabitants have limited ability to access income, education and occupations, which not only affects their quality of life but also their functioning and development, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) 1. This adversely affects teenagers because they find themselves victims of circumstances. Low socio-economic status has both social and emotional effects on teenagers on a personal, family and community level.

Family Life

Families in low-income communities struggle to meet their basic needs, which disrupts family life and often results in teenagers left to their own devices. A teenager whose parents are always working to make ends meet is unlikely to receive the attention and guidance she needs, and she may fall into bad habits or make poor decisions because she does not have access to information or other support services. For example, a teenager from a low-income community is more likely to engage in premature and unsafe sexual practices, placing her at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy, according to "Kids Having Kids," edited by Rebecca A. Maynard.

Emotional Distress

How Does the Socioeconomic Status of Parents Affect Learning?

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Low socio-economic status may also cause emotional distress in teenagers who find themselves unable to cope with the pressure of trying to fit in with their peers but lack the resources or support to do so. Teenagers from low-income communities may not be able to engage in as much activity as they would like to with their peers because they lack the financial resources, amenities and sometimes even time to do so if they have to work to help support the family. These stressors may not only hamper the development of proper socialization skills in the teenage children, but they may also become withdrawn because:

  • of the feelings of isolation
  • alienation
  • hopelessness that they experience
  • states author Eric Jensen
  • in his book
  • "Teaching with Poverty in Mind


Accessing Services

The teenagers are unable to access medical, dental or other health care when they need it, so they may develop conditions that they have to contend with into adulthood. For example, a teenager whose teeth are not properly aligned but who cannot afford to get braces might have to live with a smile that they are not happy with but cannot afford to fix. Being unable to access quality education may also demotivate a teenager who has to struggle to attend an ill-equipped school knowing that he has limited chance for educational progress.

Community Effects

How Does Poverty Affect a Teen's Lifestyle?

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Positive social environments correlate to beneficial relationships with other individuals, peers and groups where the network provides social cohesion, informal care and reinforces healthy behaviors. Teenagers living in low-income communities miss this kind of environment because the neighborhoods they live often lack amenities such as parks, community centers and sports arenas and are often in poor physical condition.