The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Acculturation, Family Dynamics and Psychological Well-Being Among Southeast Asian Refugee Children: A Mediation Analysis

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 8:00 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Yong Li, PhD, Doctoral Research Assistant, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Portrayed as the “model minority”, children of Asian immigrants are often believed to show fewer problems in psychological and sociocultural adaptation outcomes than children from other immigrant groups. However, ethnic groups within Asian immigrants are not necessarily the same in terms of history, language, culture and migration experience. Southeast Asian children, for example, may be in a disadvantaged position because their parents often had a refugee background (e.g., Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian). As they grow up, Southeast Asian refugee children could be at risk for psychological adjustment problems such as low self-esteem and more depressive symptoms due to the way they experience acculturation and interact with their families. Unfortunately, there is little empirical evidence for this group that can support such relationships. In terms of the potential mediating effects of family dynamics on the association between acculturation and psychological well-being among this group, evidence is even scarcer. This study examined whether different aspects of family dynamics mediate the effect of acculturation on self-esteem among Southeast Asian refugee children.

The study sample is from the follow-up survey of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS). A total of 508 Southeast Asian refugee children is analyzed in the present study, with a mean age of 17.38 years (SD=.93) and 49.8% being female. Self-esteem is assessed by a widely used standardized instrument—the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). Acculturation was measured by three variables, i.e., generation status, length of stay in the U.S. and children’s U.S. preference for doing things. Family dynamics are indexed by family cohesion and intergenerational conflict. Family cohesion is measured by a 5-point Likert scale ranging from never to always (4 items, e.g., “Family members feel very close to each other”). Intergenerational conflict is tapped by a 4-point Likert scale ranging from very true to not true at all (4 items, e.g., “My parents and I often argue because we don’t share the same goals”).

A total of six simple mediation models were constructed. Gender, age, family size and grade point average were analyzed as covariates. To test the significance of the simple mediation models, a bootstrapping method was used (Preacher and Hayes, 2004). Results indicated that family cohesion mediated the association between length of stay and self-esteem, with the bias-corrected confidence interval equal to (-.64, -.23) and intergenerational conflict mediated the association between children’s U.S. preference for doing things and self-esteem, with the bias-corrected confidence interval equal to (-.63, -.05).

This study suggested that higher levels of acculturation were associated with lower levels of family cohesion and higher levels of intergenerational conflict, which in turn were associated with lower levels of self-esteem. Social work practitioners should incorporate both acculturation and family dynamics in the assessment for Southeast Asian refugee children. Since family cohesion and intergenerational conflict appear to have more important impact on self-esteem, they should develop intervention strategies that help to increase family cohesion and decrease intergenerational conflict. Policy makers may need to encourage the host society to recognize the value of Southeast Asian cultures.