Abstract: Family, School, Country of Birth and Adolescents' Psychological Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13366 Family, School, Country of Birth and Adolescents' Psychological Well-Being

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 5:30 PM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Qingwen Xu, PhD , Boston College, Assistant Professor, Chestnut Hill, MA
Venera Bekteshi, MA, MPA, MSW , Boston College, PhD Student, Chestnut Hill, MA
Thanh V. Tran , Boston College, Professor, School of Social Work, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background: Latest statistics indicate that approximately three million foreign-born children, half of whom are adolescents, are living in the United States, comprising 4 percent of the U.S. population under age 18 (Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2007). While the processes by which adult immigrants adapt and assimilate and the influence that these processes have on their mental and emotional well-being and consequently, their role in the broader society have long been studied, the literature concerning the psychological well-being of adolescent immigrants is scarce. This study compares the psychological well-being of foreign-born and U.S.-born adolescents, and examines the role that family and school play in influencing the outcome of adolescents' psychological well-being.

Methods: This study is based on the data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS)'s Adolescent Survey 2003, which collected key health indicators of California adolescents (age 12-17). Conducted every two years, CHIS is a random-digit telephone survey of households drawn from every county in California. CHIS staff interview one sample adult in each of the randomly selected households, and in households with one or more than one adolescent, they interview one adolescent. CHIS 2003 surveyed 4,010 adolescents living in California, among them 453 foreign-born adolescents (11.3%), including 158 naturalized citizens (3.9%). Measures include psychological wellbeing, family support, school support and demographic variables. Full sample multivariate regression models were used to examine the differences in psychological well-being between foreign-born and U.S.-born adolescents and the extent that supports from family and school, and family-school interaction affect adolescents' psychological well-being by controlling migration-related and demographic variables. Sub-group analyses were then conducted to explore how findings regarding psychological well-being differences operated differently across contextual variables, and whether these differences persisted across both foreign-born and U.S.-born groups.

Results: This study identifies some preliminary relationships among country of birth, family support, school support, and adolescents' psychological well-being. Based on this analysis, the difference in adolescents' psychological well-being is not associated with country of birth; strong associations exist between comparatively lower psychological well-being and Latino and Asian ethnicity, and families without married parents, and just being a female adolescent. In addition, school and family supports, in particular the strength of family-school interactions, is critical to adolescents' psychological well-being. For foreign-born adolescents, family support is the key factor that impacts their psychological well-being.

Conclusion and implications: This study finds that foreign-born adolescents' unique family environment, life experiences and/or cultural norms seem to have a protective effect on them and support their development. Therefore, to ensure that foreign-born children can develop a sense of psychological well-being in the long-term, social supports, services and interventions should focus on strengthening families, building strong ties between families and schools, and developing cultural programs geared to the various immigrant groups. This study also points to the need for policy reforms aimed to reduce inequality along the lines of economic resources, gender, race/ethnicity, and country of birth. Policy response for the stratified society has been challenging but must be addressed for building a caring and fair society.