Acculturation, Peer Relations, and Delinquent Behavior of Chinese-Canadian Youth

By Wong, Siu Kwong | Adolescence, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

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. …

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