Parent-Child Acculturation Gaps in Latino Immigrant Families
Flavio Francisco Marsiglia, PhD, Arizona State University, Stephen S. Kulis, PhD, Arizona State University, Blythe FitzHarris, LCSW, Arizona State University, and David Becerra, MSW, Arizona State University.
This study examines acculturation differences between adolescents and their parents in Latino immigrant families, and their association with adolescent problem behaviors. Acculturation to the U.S. occurs at different speeds for immigrant parents and their children. Immigrant parents tend generally to acculturate more slowly than their children. A strong connection to family has generally been viewed as a protective factor for adolescents, but acculturation to the U.S. has been found to put adolescent Latinos at risk for increased substance use, parent-child conflicts, and other problem behaviors. Parent-child acculturation gaps may increase the incidence and exacerbate the seriousness of these undesirable and health-threatening adolescent outcomes. Data were drawn from Wave 1 of the Arizona component of the Latino Acculturation and Health Project, examining acculturation and health outcomes over time. The participants were 151 dyads of Mexican heritage mothers and their adolescent children, recruited in 2005 from ESL classes, community centers, local churches and community fairs in a large metropolitan area of the Southwest U.S... Both mother and adolescent were interviewed separately at home. The mean age was 15.5 for the adolescents and 39.9 for the parents. Adolescents had lived in the U.S. an average of 11.3 years, and their mothers for 16.5 years. Forty-seven percent of the adolescents were foreign born and 87.4% of their mothers. The parents and adolescents were grouped separately into categories based on their level of acculturation according to their scores on the “Hispanicism” and “Americanism” subscales of the Bicultural Involvement Questionnaire, and then the categories for each pair were compared. Four distinct groups emerged: adolescent more acculturated than parent (37%); parent more acculturated than adolescent (9%); both bicultural (high Hispanicism and Americanism scores, 43%) , and both “separationists” (with high scores on Hispanicism but low scores on Americanism, 11%). Regression analyses controlling for the adolescent's age, gender, school grades, and mother's education level indicated that acculturation gaps predicted numerous youth problem behaviors as measured by the adolescent's self-report on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC) and substance use measures, but the direction of the gap was unexpected. Compared to the dyads where both parent and child were bicultural, only the youth with more acculturated parents demonstrated increased rates of problem behaviors, such as aggressive behavior, conduct problems, externalizing problems, oppositional defiant and rule breaking behavior. These same youth also reported the highest relative level of perceived ethnic discrimination. The adolescents who were more acculturated than their parents were not significantly different on any outcome than other parent-child dyads. The “separationist” dyads demonstrated protective effects of attachment to origin culture: these adolescents reported less alcohol use, less acculturation related conflict, and higher familism scores. Possible explanations for the unexpected findings where parents were more acculturated than their adolescents are that they may reflect parent-child differences in their perceptions of the success of their adjustment to U.S. society, differential exposure to ethnic discrimination, and a gap in arrival to the U.S. (child arriving substantially later than their parent). However, controlling for time in the U.S. did not affect the results.