The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Korean-Immigrant Parents and Their Children: Learning to Navigate the New World

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:30 PM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Junghee Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
William Donlan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Lew Bank, PhD, Senior Scientist, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Jangmin Kim, BSW, Student-Master's, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Hyuny Clark-Shim, BA, Student-Master's, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Purpose: Korean immigrants experience challenges in parenting related to language difficulties, differing cultural expectations, and differential acculturation, which accentuates generational gaps between parents and children, and increases immigration related stress in families. Compared to other immigrant groups, parenting among Korean immigrants has received less scholarly attention. To increase awareness among social workers of the challenges Korean immigrants are experiencing in parenting, and to inform the development of culturally relevant parenting supports, this study addressed following research questions: What aspects of their children’s school/social life do Korean parents express a need to know more about? What sources do Korean parents rely upon for information about children’s school/social life?

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.