Acculturation, Peer Relations, and Delinquent Behavior of Chinese-Canadian Youth
Wong, Siu Kwong, Adolescence
Research on people of Asian descent in North America, particularly those of Chinese heritage, has found that they tend to have lower rates of delinquency (Abbott & Abbott, 1973; Chang, Morrissey, & Koplewicz, 1995; Cochrane, 1979; Kallarackal & Herbert, 1976; Kitano, 1973; Touliatos & Lindholm, 1980). Studies have also revealed fewer users, as well as less heavy use, of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs among Asians when compared with Caucasians and other ethnic groups in North America (Bachman et al., 1991; Chi, Kitano, & Lubben, 1988; Chu, 1972; Elder, Molgaard, & Gresham, 1988; Schwitters et al., 1982; Sue, Zane, & Ito, 1979; Welte & Barnes, 1987; Wilson, McClearn, & Johnson, 1978).
Some investigators have attributed these low rates of delinquency and other behavior disorders to culture-related factors. That is, Asian culture emphasizes conformity, family solidarity, harmonious relationships, and respect for authority, especially the unconditional respect for parents, or filial piety (Fong, 1973; Hsu, 1981). The North American culture, on the other hand, emphasizes freedom and individualism. Consistent with this notion of cultural differences, Kelley and Tseng (1992) reported that Chinese parents in North America used more physical control over their children and more restrictive child-rearing practices than did their non-Chinese counterparts.
The restraining effects of the traditional family and ethnic cultural norms have been documented in a number of studies. For example, Kitano (1973) contended that the strong, intact traditional family explained the low prevalence of delinquency among Japanese-American youth. Kallarackal and Herbert (1976) concluded that the strong, protective Indian family explained why their children had a lower rate of maladjustment than did native English children. Chang et al. (1995) noted that the lower prevalence of aggression among Chinese-American children was probably due to the strong intolerance of acting-out behavior in Chinese families. In addition, cultural norms have been found to be important in explaining alcohol consumption (Li & Rosenblood, 1994; Weatherspoon, Danko, & Johnson, 1994). Sue et al. (1979) concluded that stronger parental disapproval of alcohol use and more conforming attitudes toward drinking explained the lower prevalence of drinking among Asians who were less assimilated.
While culture, to some extent, explains why youth of Chinese descent tend to score low on certain measures of deviance, it is not likely the only factor. Like members of any other ethnic group, these youth are subject to other influences. Peers, for example, play an important role in the process of cultural preservation and acculturation (Howes & Wu, 1990; Malhotra, 1989; Patel, Power, & Bhavnagri, 1996; Regis, 1988). In addition, culture can be a source of interpersonal conflict. Charron and Ness (1981) found that Asian-American adolescents who developed interethnic friendships were at risk for conflict with parents, while those who failed to develop such friendships were more likely to experience emotional distress. Thus, it is important to examine both cultural and interpersonal factors in order to understand the behavior of youth of Chinese descent in North America.
Studies have investigated the role of peers in shaping values and behavior. How and why peers contribute to involvement in deviance may be debatable and, at times, controversial, but the notion that peers are an important correlate of deviance is widely recognized (Agnew, 1991; Akers, 1979; Brownfeld & Thompson, 1991; Foshee & Bauman, 1992; Marcos, Bahr, & Johnson, 1986; Massey & Krohn, 1986; Warr & Stafford, 1991). In fact, peer association has been found to be one of the strongest predictors of deviance and delinquency. Therefore, it is important to include peer-related factors when studying delinquency among youth of Chinese descent.
Peer association is a key component of differential association theory (Sutherland & Cressey, 1974). The theory proposes that association with deviant peers increases exposure to definitions (e.g., values, attitudes, and beliefs) favorable to violation of norms, whereas association with conventional peers increases exposure to definitions unfavorable to violation of norms. When definitions favorable to violation of norms exceed those unfavorable to violation of norms, deviant behavior is likely to occur. In this way, association with deviant peers should increase the likelihood of involvement in delinquency.
According to control theory (Hirschi, 1969), close peer relations, particularly attachment to peers, restrain a person from engaging in deviant behavior. Moreover, the theory claims that attachment to peers restrains deviance regardless of the conduct of peers. A low level of attachment explains why individuals associating with deviant peers are more likely to engage in deviant acts.
The present paper examined the relationship of acculturation and peer relations to delinquency in a sample of youth of Chinese descent in Canada. In accordance with cultural explanations, it was hypothesized that acculturation is positively related to delinquency (Hypothesis 1). That is, youth who are acculturated to North American society would be more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than would those who adhere to Chinese culture. Conversely, association with Chinese peers should have a negative effect on delinquency. That is, assuming that Chinese youth are more conforming than are non-Chinese youth, association with Chinese peers should represent an effective means of social control. Thus, it was hypothesized that the greater the association with Chinese peers, the less likely the youth would be to engage in delinquent behavior (Hypothesis 2).
As mentioned earlier, deviant peer association is central to differential association theory, whereas peer attachment is a key component of control theory. Here, these theories were adopted in their rudimentary forms and it was hypothesized that deviant peer association is related to increased delinquency, and peer attachment to decreased delinquency (Hypotheses 3 and 4). Assuming that Chinese culture emphasizes conformity and commitment to the family, the more a person is attached to Chinese culture, the more important the family would be and the less important peers. Conversely, those more acculturated to North American society would be more peer-oriented and susceptible to the influence of peers, especially deviant peers. Therefore, it was hypothesized that the greater the acculturation, the stronger the association with deviant peers as well as the attachment to peers (Hypotheses 5 and 6). Hypotheses 3 and 5 imply that acculturation has an indirect positive effect on delinquency through increased association with delinquent peers, whereas Hypotheses 4 and 6 imply that acculturation has an indirect negative effect on delinquency through attachment to peers.
Youth of Chinese descent in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, served as the sample. The sampling procedure began by drawing 2,000 single-syllable Chinese-like names from the city telephone directory. These households were contacted by telephone, and family members aged 10 to 20 with a Chinese background were identified - a total of 477 eligible subjects. A questionnaire was then mailed (up to four times), yielding a sample of 315 after refusals and nonresponses.
Acculturation refers to the adoption of the traits of another group. Here, acculturation was viewed as an adaptation strategy or adjustment process. The Behavioral Acculturation Scale (BAS; Szapocznik et al., 1978) was used to measure the extent of acculturation. Lue and Malony (1983) administered the BAS to a sample of Caucasian-Americans and first- and second-generation Chinese-Americans and reported that the scale was able to discriminate between the subsamples. The BAS has eight language items, three customs items, four items on recreation-related habits and lifestyle, and nine items on behavior preferences. For the present study, "way of relating to fiancee/fiance" and "dances" were replaced by "way of relating to friends" and "games," respectively. The modifications were necessary because Chinese dances are usually regarded as an art form rather than as personal recreation, and most respondents, at the age of 18 or younger, were not engaged to be married. One preference item, "way of celebrating weddings," was also replaced.
There were five possible responses to each BAS item, ranging from Chinese all of the time or completely Chinese (1) to Canadian (English) all of the time or completely Canadian (5). Mean scores were calculated for the total scale and its components.
A comparison of the Canada-born (native) and foreign-born youth is shown in Table 1. On the Behavioral Acculturation Scale and its components, both the native and foreign-born youth had average scores higher than 3.00 (3 = Chinese and Canadian/English equally). That means their customs, habits and lifestyle, preferences, and use of language tended to be more Canadian than Chinese. Moreover, the native youth had much higher scores than did the foreign-born youth on the BAS and its components, as expected. To that extent, the scale showed a reasonable degree of validity.
Table 1 Results for Native (n = 152) and Foreign-Born (n = 163) Youth Canada Foreign Variable Born Born t Behavioral Acculturation Scale 4.07 3.42 10.56 Language 4.41 3.77 9.45 Customs 3.99 3.17 9.92 Habits and Lifestyle 4.10 3.36 9.33 Preferences 3.80 3.24 7.98 Association with Chinese Peers 2.00 3.04 -7.34 Proportion of Friends Chinese 2.25 3.21 -6.10 Proportion of Friends Speaking Chinese 1.77 2.88 -7.49 Association with Delinquent Peers 1.59 1.44 2.23 Attachment to Peers 4.27 4.13 1.44 Index of Delinquency 11.31 9.10 1.70 Serious Offenses 2.77 1.48 2.84 Minor Offenses 8.04 7.23 .90 Age 14.92 16.62 -4.59 Sex (Percent Male) 56% 47% 1.65 Note: [absolute value of t] [greater than or equal to] 2.00 corresponds to a significance level of [Alpha] [less than or equal to] 0.05.
The youth were asked to indicate how many of their close friends were Chinese or Chinese-Canadian and spoke Chinese on a regular basis, which served as the measure of association with Chinese peers (see Table 1). Responses ranged from none (1) to all (6). On average, the native youth had only a few Chinese or Chinese-speaking friends, whereas for the foreign-born youth, the proportion was about half (mean = 2.00 and 3.04, respectively; 2 = a few and 3 = about half).
The youth indicated the proportion of peers who had been involved in various delinquent activities, such as running way from home, truancy, vandalism, theft, joyriding in a stolen car, and shoplifting, and this served as the measure of association with delinquent peers. Responses ranged from none (1) to all (6). Mean scores were 1.59 for the native youth and 1.44 for the foreign-born youth (1 = none and 2 = a few).
To measure attachment to peers, the youth were asked how often their friends encouraged them to do well in school and how often they would like to be the kind of person their friends are. Responses ranged from never (1) to always (6). Mean scores were 4.27 for the native youth and 4.13 for the foreign-born youth (4 = fairly often).
The youth were asked to report the number of times they had committed delinquent acts in the past twelve months, ranging from skipping classes and cheating to assault and robbery. Most of the items in this index of delinquency have been used in other research, such as the Rochester Youth Development Study (Thornberry et al., 1991), the National Youth Survey (Elliott, Huizinga, & Ageton, 1985) and the Denver Youth Survey (Huizinga, Esbensen, & Weiher, 1991). The sample as a whole reported committing a total of 3,037 offenses, or about ten offenses per person. However, the majority of these offenses were trivial, such as truancy (417 incidents), violation of copyright laws (800 incidents), uttering threats of assault (283 incidents), and pushing and shoving (293 incidents). Nonetheless, more serious offenses, such as assault (327 incidents) and theft (191 incidents) were not uncommon. For the analysis, 8 items were treated as serious offenses (e.g., assault, vandalism, theft, and robbery) and 11 items were considered minor offenses. About 85% of the youth claimed that they had committed at least one of the 19 listed acts in the past year, and 40% admitted to having committed at least 10. On average, native youth reported committing 2.77 serious offenses and foreign-born youth reported 1.48. Native youth reported an average of 8.04 minor offenses and foreign-born youth reported 7.23. These differences may have been due to the slightly higher proportion of males among the native youth (56%) as compared with the foreign-born youth (47%).
Results for the regression of delinquency, serious offenses, and minor offenses on acculturation and the peer-related variables are presented in Table 2. Behavioral acculturation had a significant positive effect on minor offenses ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .01), but no effect on serious offenses [Mathematical Expression Omitted]. The effect of behavioral acculturation on the composite measure of delinquency was also positive and significant ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .05). [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] Thus, the greater the acculturation, the more likely the youth were to have engaged in delinquent acts and to have committed minor offenses. This finding is consistent with Hypothesis 1, which stated that Chinese youth who are acculturated to North American society would be more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than would those who adhere to Chinese culture.
The second hypothesis stated that the greater the association with Chinese peers, the lower the delinquency. However, the effect of association with Chinese peers was positive rather than negative for both the composite measure of delinquency ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .05) and minor offenses (even stronger at [Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .001). These observed effects are counterintuitive; they suggest that the stronger the association with Chinese friends, the more likely it is for youth to engage in delinquent behavior. (Using a sample of 47 students from public schools and Chinese language classes, a similar positive relationship between association with Chinese peers and delinquency was observed; thus, the present findings do not seem to be the result of statistical or sampling problems.)
The third hypothesis proposed that association with delinquent peers is positively related to delinquency. The findings support this hypothesis. In fact, association with delinquent peers was the strongest predictor of both minor and serious offenses ([Mathematical Expression Omitted] and .49, respectively, p [less than] .001). Youth who had more delinquent friends were more likely to have been involved in delinquent behavior. The observed effect is consistent with both differential association theory and findings from studies of other ethnic populations.
The fourth hypothesis stated that attachment to peers is related to decreased delinquency. In fact, attachment to peers had significant negative effects on the composite measure of delinquency ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .05) and minor offenses ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .05). Control theory suggests that peers who care about each other disapprove of their friends' misconduct, regardless of their own conduct. The results lend support to this theory, as there was a lower level of involvement in delinquent acts for the more strongly attached youth.
Hypotheses 5 and 6 proposed that association with delinquent peers and attachment to peers are positively related to acculturation. Results for the regression of association with delinquent peers and attachment to peers on behavioral acculturation and association with Chinese peers are presented in Table 3. Behavioral acculturation had positive effects on both association with delinquent peers ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .001) and attachment to peers ([Mathematical Expression Omitted], p [less than] .01). Those who were more acculturated to North American society were more likely to have deviant friends and felt more attached to their friends. These findings lend considerable support to the hypotheses.
Six hypotheses were tested and five of them were supported by the findings. It was found that acculturation and association with delinquent peers were related to increased involvement in delinquent behavior (Hypotheses 1 and 3), whereas attachment to peers was related to decreased delinquency (Hypothesis 4). Moreover, behavioral acculturation was related to increased association with delinquent peers and attachment to peers (Hypotheses 5 and 6). However, the evidence did not support the notion that association with Chinese peers is related to less involvement in delinquent acts (Hypothesis 2). Overall, the results demonstrated the importance of both cultural and interpersonal factors to an understanding of delinquency.
Table 3 Standardized Regression of Attachment to Peers and Association with Delinquent Peers on Behavioral Acculturation and Association with Chinese Peers Association with Attachment Regressor Delinquent Peers to Peers Age .36(***) -.02 Sex (1 = Male; 2 = Female) -.05 .28(***) Behavioral Acculturation .25(***) .22(**) Association with Chinese Peers -.07 .09 n 311 312 [R.sup.2] .17 .10 * p [less than] .05. ** p [less than] .01. *** p [less than] .001.
The connection between acculturation and association with delinquent peers (Hypothesis 5) gives the impression that non-Chinese peers were more delinquent than were Chinese peers. This was not supported by the data, however. Results from the regression analysis revealed that association with Chinese peers had no significant effect on association with delinquent peers (see Table 3). That is, the proportion of delinquent peers was not related to the ethnicity of peers.
An interesting finding was the significant effect of association with Chinese peers on delinquency. It was predicted that such association would restrain delinquency, under the assumption that Chinese youth are more conforming as compared with non-Chinese youth. Contrary to expectations, association with Chinese peers was found to be related to increased delinquency. What is more intriguing is the fact that the regression models had already controlled for the effects of delinquent peers and attachment to peers. Thus, the positive effect of association with Chinese peers could not be explained by deviant peer association or weak attachment. In addition, there was no evidence that Chinese peers, as compared with non-Chinese peers, were more delinquent, as it was shown that association with delinquent peers was independent of ethnicity of peers. More research is therefore needed in order to verify the generalizability of this anomalous finding and to arrive at an explanation.
Assuming that association with Chinese peers does cause involvement in delinquent activities to increase, there is the question of whether youth of Chinese descent should be encouraged to extend their friendships beyond the ethnic circle. To answer this question, the interethnic ties the youth already had must be examined. As Table 1 shows, the average native youth had only a few Chinese or Chinese-speaking friends. For the foreign-born youth, about half of their friends were Chinese or spoke Chinese. In other words, most already had more non-Chinese friends than Chinese ones. In terms of establishing friendships outside the ethnic circle, the youth had already been quite successful. Thus, reducing the number of Chinese friends and increasing the number of non-Chinese friends would not seem to be an effective way to lower delinquency.
For immigrants, association with peers from the same ethnic group may be a stage in the adaptation to a new social environment. Taft (1979) found that immigrant children in Australia preferred their friends back home even after two years in the host country. In the present study, the observed relationship between delinquency and association with Chinese peers highlights the struggles and problems immigrant and minority youth often experience. Even developing friendships with those of similar ethnic background, a seemingly harmless thing, can put them at risk for delinquency.
The results have illustrated the dilemma immigrant and minority youth often face in regard to cultural orientation. Youth who tried to adopt North American customs, language, habits, and lifestyle put themselves at higher risk for delinquency, while those who tried to maintain ties with Chinese friends suffered a similar predicament. It seems that both cultural orientations presented problems.
The findings from this study are in sharp contrast with the notion of the Chinese as a "model minority" (Toupin & Son, 1991; Wong, 1985). Chinese youth, like their counterparts in many other ethnic minority groups in North America, have to deal with the demands of different and sometimes conflicting cultures. The emotional distress and disorders these youth consequently experience are well documented (Aronowitz, 1984; Chang et al., 1995; Hisama, 1980; Huang & Ying, 1989; Kingsbury, 1994; Sue & Sue, 1973). Results from this study have helped to identify two important areas, acculturation and peer relations, that may give rise to difficulties. The relationship between culture and behavior is complex, especially in multicultural societies such as Canada and the United States, and more research is needed to obtain a clearer picture.
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Publication information: Article title: Acculturation, Peer Relations, and Delinquent Behavior of Chinese-Canadian Youth. Contributors: Wong, Siu Kwong - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 34. Issue: 133 Publication date: Spring 1999. Page number: 107. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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