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Parenting styles may influence teens' ethnic identity

STANFORD -- The same parenting styles that have been shown to help American teenagers earn good grades and avoid delinquency also may engender ethnic pride in teens who are ethnic minorities.

S. Shirley Feldman of the Stanford Center for the Study of Families, Children and Youth and Doreen A. Rosenthal of the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, examined the relationship between parenting behavior and ethnic identity in Chinese American and Chinese Australian adolescents.

In both countries, they found that adolescents who were most likely to express pride and positive feelings about their ethnic heritage had parents who exhibited warmth and control while permitting their children to express their own views.

These adolescents didn't necessarily participate in more ethnic-group events or demonstrate more knowledge of their ethnic group than children of parents who were more authoritarian or more permissive. Those factors seemed to be associated more with a family's length of time in the new country - first-generation teenagers had greater knowledge and were more likely to participate than the second-generation teens.

The study of Chinese-origin high school students provides more evidence that ethnic identity is not one simple concept with one source, Feldman said. It may be that adherence to values lasts longer than adherence to customs, and that individuals think of those values as individual, rather than ethnic. The researchers, for instance, did not find a difference between first- and second- generation residents in either country on how they felt about individualism versus collectivism, one frequently made distinction between Western and Chinese cultures.

Other studies have indicated that parents' involvement in their ethnic community is directly related to an adolescent's sense of community, but parents' adherence to traditional customs and behavior is unrelated to the teenager's ethnic identity. Strict adherence to customs may even make it more difficult for the developing adolescent to reconcile his or her ethnicity with involvement in mainstream culture.

Developing an individual identity is a complex process for all adolescents, and those who are minorities in another culture have the added task of integrating a racial or ethnic identity with a personal identity, the researchers said in a recent issue of The International Journal of Psychology.

There were few differences in the Australian and American adolescents despite the fact that the American group attended San Francisco Bay Area high schools with Asian enrollments greater than 30 percent, while the Australian students were much smaller minorities in suburban Melbourne schools. The American students, particularly the second-generation Chinese, did draw a greater proportion of their friends from their own ethnic group than did the Australians.

Earlier studies directed by Sanford Dornbusch of the Stanford center established that parenting styles can have a strong influence on high school students' grades and behavior. Warm parents who exerted control and monitored their children's activities but who also promoted self-autonomy were found to have the most positive effect on adolescents.



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