Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Cultural Specificity on Perception towards Educational Environment and Mental Health among Chinese and U.S. Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Cultural Specificity on Perception towards Educational Environment and Mental Health among Chinese and U.S. Adolescents

Article excerpt


This study examined cultural influence on perceptions towards educational environment and mental health behaviors among adolescents in grades 7 and 10 from both China and the U.S. Utilizing the perspective of cultural activity theory, we explored the behavioral patterns with respect to adolescents' perceived school climate (school, teacher and peer), perceived parental involvement, time spent watching TV and using computer, and overall assessment of mental health. The results not only indicated significant differences in these factors including various aspects of school climate, parental involvement, media consumption and self-reported mental health status, but also suggested unique developmental trend among Chinese adolescents. School, teachers, peers and parents were found to be significant indicators of adolescents' mental health. The findings were discussed from the perspective of cultural activity theory, along with limitations and future directions.

Keywords: cultural activity theory, mental health, cross-culture

1. Introduction

There is convincing evidence that the social, political, and economical changes in China have had tremendous impacts on the lives of adolescents today, particularly in the cities where Western culture and Westernization are more common among youth. As suggested by some researchers, this influence of Western cultures on young adults' lives is a direct by-product of economic globalization, and it changes adolescents' interests, lifestyles, and more importantly, some of their values (Larson, 2002). Evidence suggests increasing materialism in adolescents' values and aspirations, with strong emphasis on brand, Western culture, or monetary values. For example, current adolescents in major Chinese cities find it fashionable to be consumers and owners of brand names such as Nike®, Nestle®, Coca Cola®, Polo®, and Levi Strauss® (Larson, 2002). There are many Chinese adolescents who celebrate their birthdays at McDonald's® or Pizza Hut®, spend Valentine's Day with their lovers, dress up for Halloween parties, and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Moreover, wide availability of computer and Internet allows adolescents to access Western media and culture in ways never before experienced.

The implications of the Western cultural influence on Chinese adolescents, particularly the U.S., are profound. On one hand, adolescents are exposed to wide ranges of new information and new ideas; on the other, they may be easily "culturally polluted", i.e., their perceptions about Western lifestyles are likely to be distorted because of their inabilities to filter the appropriate information. Since they have never experienced adolescent life in a Western environment and are limited in their cognitive perceptions, it is possible that they tend to take what they see via media as the reality of Western adolescent life-lots of fun, no need to study, free expression, money, sex, and parties. Although there are quite a few research studies conducted on Chinese adolescents in recent years (e.g., Chen, Greenberger, Farruggia, Bush, & Dong, 2003; Cheung & McBride-Chang, 2007; Ma, Cheung, & Shek, 2007; Wong, Wong, & Mok, 2006), there is still much to learn about the regular social behaviors, activities, and well-being of adolescents in current China, particularly in mainland China, in the context of the profound influence of the U.S. economy and culture. The social and economic transformation of China in recent years may be of particular interest to developmental, social, and cultural psychologists because it may help interpret the considerable developmental and cross-cultural research that has emerged from China over the years. Given the number of societies around the world undergoing a similar transition (Brown, Larson, & Saraswathi, 2002), systematic exploration of the effects of such drastic transition is of even broader significance. The primary purpose of the study was to examine cultural differences or specificity between China and the U. …

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