SF State News {University Communications}

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After 18, family influence still key to ethnic identity

February 4 , 2010 -- Parenting doesn't stop when children reach age 18 according to a new study by Linda Juang, associate professor of psychology. Juang's research found that even when young people have grown up and flown the nest, their families continue to have a significant influence on whether young adults will embrace their ethnicity and take pride in their roots.

Photograph of Associate Professor of Psychology Linda Juang

Associate Professor of Psychology Linda Juang

The study included more than 200 SF State students from diverse ethnic backgrounds and found that young adults whose families continue to teach them about their ethnic background have a greater sense of ethnic identity.

"During college, young people have a lot of stimuli that might prompt them to explore who they are and where they come from, such as classes about different ethnicities and meeting peers from a range of backgrounds. But we found that even in these new surroundings, young adults still take their cues about their ethnic identity from their parents," Juang said.

Individuals whose families celebrate ethnic holidays, such as Chinese New Year, or whose parents share cultural traditions with them, reported feeling more attached to their ethnic group and spent more time exploring their heritage.

"These results highlight the fact that cultural education is an important aspect of parenting," Juang said. "The influence of the family continues to shape young people's ethnic identity beyond adolescence. The findings should encourage parents that when they celebrate the holidays and talk to their children about their background, the message does get through."

Juang found that the family has a greater influence on young people's exploration of their ethnicity than whether young adults adopt their ethnic group's values. "Parents may be effective in prompting their children to find out more about their culture, but they can't necessarily instill the values of their culture," Juang said.

The study included students between the ages of 18 and 30, including Asian Americans, Latinos, white individuals and those of mixed ethnicity. Early adulthood is thought to be a critical time for identity development. Psychologists are particularly interested in how ethnic identity develops since having a strong ethnic identity has been linked to greater self esteem, increased happiness and lower rates of depression. 

The study was recently published online in the Journal of Adolescence.


-- Elaine Bible


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