Abstract: The positive role of ethnic church involvement on youth development: The buffering effects of church attendance among Korean American adolescents (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

82P The positive role of ethnic church involvement on youth development: The buffering effects of church attendance among Korean American adolescents

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
You Seung Kim, MSW , University of Chicago, Doctoral Student, Chicago, IL
Yoonsun Choi, PhD , University of Chicago, Associate Professor, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Under the premise of the model minority stereotype, Asian American youth typically get attention on their successful academic achievement but little on mental health. The comparative epidemiology studies found that the depressive symptoms of Asian Adolescents are worse than white, and in comparison to other minority group, are worse or comparable. Asian American youth reported the lowest level of self-esteem and the sense of failure even when they do well at school. They often feel not accepted as completely “American,” and experience more intergenerational conflicts with their immigrant parents than other groups. Language barrier and cultural differences often exacerbate already difficult situations. While attending ethnic church has shown to have positive social functions for Asian American adolescents and is thought to buffer the negative effects of various risk factors, there is a dearth of studies about how social workers understand the benefits of ethnic church involvement and help Asian immigrant families who are actively involved in the ethnic church. Attending ethnic churches not only means being religious but also may mean an access to a storehouse of co-ethnic social support. Although social workers may hear their Asian American clients say that attending church is very important and helpful for their lives, they may not be able to help clients benefit from clients' ethnic church involvement, without a clear understanding of how and why church attendance helps.

Method: This study used the data from the Korean American Families (KAF) Project to examine how potential risk factors of Korean American adolescents predict depressive symptoms, and how the participation and involvement in the ethnic church buffer the negative influences of the risk factors. Korean Americans report the very high level of ethnic church attendance. The KAF Project surveyed Korean American adolescents in middle school and their parents living in Chicago and surrounding areas. A total 220 Korean American adolescents (115 boys and 105 girls) were interviewed with an average age of 12. 97 (SD = 1.001) at the time of the first interview in 2007. This study used the data from youth and their parents.

Results: Regression analysis shows that peer rejection and conflict with parent were significantly associated with depressive symptoms. When the church related variables were included in regression models, social support from church was significantly negatively associated with depressive symptom. Church involvement and attendance were not significantly associated with depressive symptoms. The interaction effects between church related variables and risk factors were not statistically significant.

Implication: Findings suggest that social support from church mentor or friends may offset the stress among adolescence. The benefits from the church involvement may result not merely from attending ethnic church, but from social support of the co-ethnic network. Future research should address how social relationships in ethnic church are specifically related with the positive development of immigrant children and how immigrant children can maximize the benefits from ethnic church involvement.