Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Mediators of the Relation between Acculturation and Adolescent Mental Health*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Mediators of the Relation between Acculturation and Adolescent Mental Health*

Article excerpt


This study of 175 Mexican-origin families examined a mediational model linking the linguistic acculturation of mothers and adolescents with a wide array of family mediators and adolescent mental health outcomes. Family linguistic acculturation, a latent construct based on maternal and adolescent acculturation, was positively related to increased family and interparental conflict but was not related to maternal parenting practices. Family conflict mediated the link between acculturation and two adolescent outcomes, conduct problems and depressive symptoms. Family acculturation showed a complex pattern of positive, indirect (mediated) and negative, direct effects on adolescent depressive symptoms. Findings are discussed in relation to traditional cultural values of Mexican heritage families and prevailing theories about why more acculturated Mexican-origin youth are at increased risk for problem behaviors.

Key Words: acculturation, adolescence, conduct problems, depression, family conflict, Mexican, parenting.

Considerable evidence supports a pattern of increased risk for externalizing behavior problems among more acculturated Latina/o adolescents when compared to their less acculturated peers. Markers of acculturation, such as generation status and English language use, are consistently related to a range of externalizing outcomes including conduct problems, juvenile arrests, alcohol and substance use, and early sexual activity (see Gonzales, Knight, Morgan-Lopez, Saenz, & Sirolli, 2002, for review). Although there is some evidence for a link with depressive symptoms as well, these relations have only rarely been explored and the findings have been inconsistent (Hovey & King, 1996; Katragadda & Tidwell, 1998; Rumbaut, 1995).

Advancing understanding of whether and why more acculturated Latina/o youth experience increased psychological problems is critically important because this population is currently the largest ethnic subgroup in the United States, and it is expected to grow to nearly 25% of the U.S. population by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Because a large proportion of this growth will occur through immigration from Mexico, research with adolescents of Mexican national origin is especially critical. The term Mexican origin will hereafter refer to individuals of Mexican national origin currently residing in the United States, including recent immigrants and later generations.

Acculturation, Family Adaptation, and Adolescent Risk

Acculturation involves changes that result from sustained contact between two or more distinct cultures (Berry, 1980). Although many individuals retain aspects of their ethnic culture when they adapt to mainstream culture, the majority learns English and gradually incorporates the values and norms of the dominant society (Rogler, Cortes, & Malgady, 1991). A number of overlapping hypotheses have been offered to explain why more acculturated Latina/o adolescents display higher rates of problem behaviors. Explanations include increased exposure to discrimination and negative cultural stereotypes, increased susceptibility to deviant peer models, decreased family cohesiveness and parental authority as families lose traditional cultural values, and increased conflict between more acculturated youth and their parents (Gil, Vega, & Dimas, 1994; RotheramBorus, 1989; Szapocznik, Kurtines, Santisteban, & Rio, 1990). The current study examined the latter two of these pathways by testing family processes as mediators.

The processes of adaptation to ethnic and host cultures are called, respectively, enculturation and acculturation (Gonzales et al., 2002). Although contemporary theory suggests these processes contribute independently to family and individual adaptation (Cuéllar, Arnold, & Maldonado, 1995), the current study focuses only on acculturation. Although many cultural dimensions are expected to change as individuals acculturate (Marin, 1992), the current study was conducted with a data set that only included a language-based measure of acculturation. …

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