Adolescent Coping in Different Chinese Family Environments

Article excerpt

In general, individuals who view themselves as masterful and in control of their lives are more likely to adapt successfully to stressful situations than are those who perceive life to be beyond their control (Bandura, 1982; Folkman, 1984; Rotter, 1966). Self-esteem is also associated with coping abilities. High self-esteem and high sense of mastery have been shown to be related to effective personal efforts to overcome stressful situations and the tendency to use active strategies to cope with stress (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Compas, Banez, Malcarne, & Worsham, 1991; Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Weinberg, Gould, & Jackson, 1979). Low esteem and low sense of mastery are related to tolerance of, avoidance of, or withdrawal from a difficult situation, that is, the use of more passive, less effective coping strategies (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Parkes, 1984; Tyszkowa, 1990).

Apart from an individual's psychological coping resources, support from interpersonal networks, such as family and friends, is an important coping resource (Folkman, Schaefer & Lazarus, 1979; Pearlin & Schooler, 1987). In addition, Patterson and McCubbin (1987) maintain that the coping practices of family members, as well as parental instruction, help adolescents acquire coping behaviors.

The coping repertoires that individuals tend to use under a broad range of stressful situations can be regarded as their coping style (Lee, Chan, & Yik, 1992). Empirical data support the notion that the nature of the family environment (e.g., level of cohesion, degree of conflict, and organization) is strongly associated with adolescent coping style (Rutter, 1983; Shulman, Seiffge-Krenke, & Samet, 1987; Siddique & D'Arcy, 1984). Family environment also influences adolescent coping ability via its effect on self-esteem and sense of mastery. Some studies have shown that the more conflictual and less cohesive the family environment is perceived to be, the lower the individual's level of self-esteem (Cheung & Lau, 1985; Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong, 1992).

The aims of the present study were fourfold. First, it investigated the characteristics of adolescents' family environment (e.g., level of cohesion, degree of conflict, and organization), classifying them into family types. Second, adolescents' self-esteem and sense of mastery, which are associated with coping ability, were investigated for the identified family types. Third, it sought to identify the characteristics of the family environment that are associated with the adoption of a more constructive coping style. Finally, since few studies concerning family environment have been carried out with Chinese adolescents, we explored the different family types in Hong Kong, which provides a unique socioeconomic context that combines urbanization, Westernization, and Chinese culture.

Adolescent coping has been conceptualized using different dimensions (Hwang, 1977; Pearlin & Schooler, 1987; Moos & Billings, 1982; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Patterson & McCubbin, 1987; Shek & Cheung, 1990; Compas, Banez, Malcarne, & Worsham, 1991; Seiffge-Krenke, 1995), and there are many similarities between Western and Eastern findings. For example, seeking information and advice, obtaining social support, relying on oneself to solve the problem, appealing to a supernatural power or religiosity, doing nothing, exercising or using relaxation techniques, and blaming others appear to be commonly used coping methods in both cultures. However, adopting a do-nothing approach, such as shui-chi tzu-an (let nature take its course), I pu-pien ying wan-pien (coping with shifting events by sticking to one unchangeable way), and k'an-k'ai (to see a thing through), is rooted in the Taoist philosophy of self-transcendence to promote a sense of inner tranquillity (Yue, 1994, 2001), and made explicit in the socialization of Chinese children. …