Great Expectations: Exploring Family Dynamics and Stress Among Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders

may-2013-ehas-appi-monthAccording to the 2010 US Census, Asian-Americans were among the fastest-growing ethnic minority groups in the United States. In Washington, D.C., there are at least five major Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups, which include Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean and Asian Indian. Each ethnic group includes an array of diverse cultures, beliefs and languages, which can intersect with U.S. culture in challenging ways. Those challenges are sometimes manifested in the experience of stress and mental illness. Unfortunately, due to cultural and language barriers, Asian-Americans may underuse mental health services, which could further exacerbate their experience of these conditions. This, coupled with the recent dramatic growth in Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations in this country, suggests the need for further research on mental health concerns, including enculturation, acculturation, and family expectations among AAPI groups.

In honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA) is raising public awareness concerning the chronic condition of stress among America’s Asian and Asian-American populations. The focus is on family expectations and demands as it relates to stress. We are featuring two articles by Asian-American and Pacific Islander psychologists who have substantive knowledge and experience in the field of mental health, in addition to significant experience working with AAPI families and communities. Matthew Miller, PhD, studies mental health, the underutilization of mental health services, cultural and racial factors related to mental health and strategies for dealing with psychological distress among Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups. His article offers insight into factorial invariance of the Asian-American Family Conflicts Scare-Likelihood (FCS-L). Second, Charissa Cheah, PhD, is interested in understanding the development of social skills in AAPI children, and the influence of parenting styles on child outcomes. In her feature article, Cheah examines how Chinese immigrant mothers parent post-migration. In addition, contributions from psychology graduate students discussing mental health among AAPI populations are also provided in the Ethnicity and Health in America Students' Corner.

Selected Articles

Factorial Invariance of the Asian-American Family Conflicts Scale Across Ethnicity, Generational Status, Sex and Nationality

Matthew MIller, PhD
Richard Lee, PhD

Preface, by Matthew Miller, PhD: Asian-Americans face many unique cultural experiences that impact their mental health (Miller, Yang, Hui, Choi, & Lim, 2011). For example, many Asian-American families experience intergenerational conflicts, which are exacerbated by acculturation differences between parents and their children. In general, children of immigrant parents tend to adapt to U.S. culture (e.g., language proficiency and activities of daily living) at a faster rate than their parents (Lee, Choe, Kim, & Ngo, 2000). The intergenerational acculturation gap conflict between immigrant parents and their children can lead to increased stress as parents may expect their children to adhere to their Asian culture of origin and children may seek to adopt U.S. culture. Given the importance of this culture-specific type of conflict, Dr. Richard M. Lee and I examined the psychometric properties of the Asian American Family Conflicts Scale in a sample of 1,012 participants to determine how well the measure worked with Asian Americans across different ethnicities, generational status, sex and nationality. Read the PsycNET abstract

Understanding 'Tiger Parenting' Through the Perceptions of Chinese Immigrant Mothers: Can Chinese and U.S. Parenting Coexist?   

Charissa S.L. Cheah, PhD 
Christy Y.Y. Leung, PhD
Nan Zhou

Preface, by Charissa S.L. Cheah, PhD: In response to the recent controversy and media attention on “tiger mom” parenting, this article, Understanding ‘Tiger Parenting’ Through the Perceptions of Chinese Immigrant Mothers: Can Chinese and U.S. Parenting Coexist? provides a better understanding of the parenting beliefs and practices of Chinese immigrant mothers from their own perspectives. Using a qualitative approach, we illustrated how Chinese immigrant mothers thought about parenting endorsed by the Chinese culture and the mainstream U.S. culture. We also revealed what these mothers liked about the parenting of each culture and how their parenting changed since immigrating to the U.S. These findings shed light on the parenting challenges that Chinese immigrant mothers face as they adapt and adjust to the new cultural context and their parenting acculturation. Greater knowledge about how immigrant parents evaluate the parenting of the mainstream culture in relation to that of their heritage culture is crucial because a lack of cultural knowledge of the mainstream culture may contribute to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and confusion about what parenting to endorse in the new cultural context. Bicultural socialization, the means by which children “acquire the norms, attitudes and behavior patterns” of the two cultural contexts has been shown to be associated with more positive outcomes in immigrant children. Our study attempts to show the nuanced ways in which mothers negotiate what parenting values and practices they consider to be important and, thus, more likely to be integrated into their own parenting towards achieving bicultural competence in their children. This parenting knowledge is also imperative so that psychologists, educators and practitioners can effectively assist acculturating families and promote their children’s healthy development and well-being. Read the full article (PDF, 77KB).