Ethnic-racial socialization (ERS), the transmission of knowledge about cultural heritage and racial barriers, is considered an important aspect of youth of color’s development and well-being. Numerous studies have found ERS fosters positive youth outcomes, including ethnic-racial identity, psychological well-being, and academic achievement. However, limited research exists on post-resettlement ERS processes among youth in refugee families. In addition, existing literature on ERS processes in Asian American families suggests that Asian American parents engage in fewer ERS practices compared to other groups, and that ERS may pose risk to rather than protect well-being outcomes. Drawing on a sample of Southeast Asian children of refugees, the primary aim of the current study is to examine ERS and its associations with ethnic identity and mental health. A secondary aim was to explore the mediating role of ethnic identity in the association between ERS and mental health.
Data were collected from a survey of 327 adolescents of Cambodian (n=164) and Vietnamese (n=163) descent who participated in a five-wave longitudinal study of refugee caregivers and their children. Participants were randomly drawn from a sample of families with children enrolled in an urban school district. Over half of the sample was female and 58% were U.S.-born, with a mean age of 14.17 (SD=1.11) years. The current exploratory analysis draws on child-reported data from the third wave that included variables assessing ERS constructs (cultural socialization, preparation for bias, and parents’ support of native language use), ethnic identity constructs (cognitive clarity and affective pride), and depressive symptoms. After tests of measurement invariance, separate structural equation models (SEM) were used for each ethnic group subsample to test associations among variables, controlling for gender. The CFI and RMSEA provided measures to evaluate model fit.
SEM analyses indicated proposed models for each group provided reasonable fit with the data. Across both groups, cultural socialization was positively associated with both clarity and pride in one’s ethnic identity. For Cambodian youth, cultural socialization was positively associated with ethnic identity clarity and negatively associated with depressive symptoms, respectively. In contrast, for Vietnamese youth, ethnic identity pride was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. Across both groups, preparation for bias and parents’ support of native language use were not significantly associated with ethnic identity constructs nor with depressive symptoms.
Conclusion and Implications:
With increasing racial and ethnic diversity within the U.S. wherein minoritized youth now compose the majority of U.S. children under 15, coupled with the racial inequities that families of color face, it is vital to understand processes that promote positive development and well-being for youth of color. Children of immigrants and refugees are a substantial portion of this growing demographic and must learn to navigate our racialized society in the U.S. The current study findings can inform interventions that draw on ethnic-racial socialization practices within refugee families to bolster psychological well-being for youth. Future research can identify which aspects of ERS optimize youth outcomes in order to tailor interventions that best suit the needs of specific refugee communities.