Acculturation, Communication Patterns, and Self-Esteem among Asian and Caucasian American Adolescents

Article excerpt

Acculturation generally refers to the cognitive and behavioral changes that occur as a result of close contact between different cultures, specifically the adoption of the language and values of the dominant group (Berry, 1990, 1997). Stress is inherent in the acculturation process. Depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic disorders are the most frequently identified mental health consequences among acculturating individuals (SAm, 2000).

A long-standing position in ethnic studies is that the length of residence in the U.S. and English proficiency have a strong impact on the development of self-esteem among individuals with immigrant backgrounds (Jackson & Lassiter, 2001). Self-esteem is widely considered a reliable indicator of mental health status for both native residents and immigrants. It is highly likely that low self-esteem is related to certain unpleasant emotional states and negative psychological adjustment such as dissatisfaction with life (Rosenberg & Owens, 2001).

Ethnic minority adolescents with immigrant backgrounds face the challenge of successful psychosocial adjustment to the new social environment. They are expected to value and maintain their heritage and, at the same time, to learn another language quickly and to adapt to the host society. For instance, immigrant Asian parents tend to emphasize obedience and conformity with parental expectations and yet, paradoxically, recognize the importance of individual autonomy and self-assertion for the academic and social success of their children (Rhee, 1996; Uba, 1994; Ying, 1998). This dual expectation within the family and acculturation stress experienced by ethnic minority adolescents can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and life satisfaction, and can contribute to a variety of psychosocial adjustment problems (Asakawa & Csikszentmihalyi, 1998; Florsheim, 1997; Gil et al., 1994; Padilla et al., 1986). In counseling, it is not uncommon for Asian American high school or college students to report feelings of confusion, anger, and frustration attributable to relationship difficulties with their more traditional parents (Ho, 1992; Lee, 1997; Thompson, 2003).

There has been increasing research into adolescents' adaptation and acculturation and their general psychological well-being. The amount of research on minority adolescents over the past two decades has also increased steadily. Several studies have shown that the level of acculturation has a dramatic impact on the development of self-esteem, and that self-esteem is a significant predictor of general psychological well-being in ethnic minority adolescents (Caetano, 1987; Flaskerud & Uman, 1996; Phinney et al., 1992). However, most studies have focused on African American and Hispanic adolescents, despite the rapid growth of the Asian American population (Carlson et al., 2000; Roberts et al., 2000). Furthermore, there is a paucity of studies comparing Asian and non-Asian American adolescents. The present study therefore sought to examine level of acculturation, openness in communication with parents, peer interaction, and self-esteem in two ethnic groups--Asian and Caucasian American adolescents who grew up in the same neighborhood.

BACKGROUND

In 1970, Asian/Pacific Islanders accounted for only 0.7% of the U.S. population. In 2000, there were 11.9 million Asian/Pacific Islanders, comprising 4.2% of the total population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2002). Among the diverse Asian American groups, the largest proportions are Chinese, Filipino, and Asian Indian, followed by Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. About 88% of Asian/Pacific Islanders currently residing in the United States are either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). The Asian population is relatively young in comparison with other ethnic groups; 33.0% are 20 years of age and under compared with 27.6% of non-Hispanic Whites (U. …