Korean-Immigrant Parents and Their Children: Learning to Navigate the New World
Method: Focus groups were undertaken as part of an ongoing effort to modify an evidence-based parent management training curriculum (PMT) to be culturally/linguistically relevant for use with Asian Americans. Four focus groups with English- vs. Korean-speaking immigrant mothers and fathers were held in summer 2011. Several community-based strategies recruited a total of 30 self-identified Korean-immigrant parents in focus groups averaging about 120 minutes each. Audio/video recorded and transcribed data were inductively analyzed for thematic content by the PMT research team including bilingual/bicultural Korean-American researchers. Using intensive, consensually driven data analysis processes, thematic patterns emerged from each group discussion.
Result: Themes differed by parent/child age, gender, and acculturation status. Participants in general shared a strong need to know more about American social/cultural/legal expectations and academic/school systems to improve their parenting, and to become more aware of social/cultural/behavioral norms in order to better interact with school/public officials. Participants wanted to know more about school-based sex education, behavioral etiquette, after school activities, and community resources. Parents shared special concerns about perceived negative consequences for children involved in ELL/ESL courses. They also reported that U.S. public school systems do not appreciate bilingual home environments, and without accurate assessment, students, who self-reported speaking Korean at home, were often inappropriately tracked into ELL/ESL courses. Participants stated their best sources of information to learn U.S. systems were Korean churches or the Internet, but reported information often was inaccurate/inadequate for their needs. Participants shared negative experiences with school and child welfare systems due to their inaccurate/inadequate information about social/cultural/legal expectations.
Discussion: Children’s social/academic lives in Korea are more homogenous in more supervised settings; thus, it is not surprising to find Korean-immigrant parents feel they are vulnerable and powerless in parent management due to a lack of knowledge regarding children’s complex academic/social lives in the U.S. Following Confucianism-based values, Korean parents relied first on themselves to deal with family problems (e.g., parenting challenges), then on friends and/or community. Even when they face urgent needs, it appears it is hard to seek out help, which is perceived to result in “loss of face” in their community. Developing community-based services that are culturally relevant for Korean-immigrant parents, such as a “buddy” system linking newly arrived immigrants with experienced immigrant volunteers, is urgently needed. Acquiring accurate information about U.S. social/cultural/legal expectations is the first step for Korean-immigrant parents to avoid negative involvements with school/public officials.