SF State News {University Communications}

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New findings on depressive symptoms in Chinese youth

April 1, 2008 -- SF State psychologist Linda Juang spent three years studying a group of Chinese American teenagers and their parents, shedding new light on the mental health of Chinese American adolescents in her latest study.

Juang found that Chinese American teenagers who are adjusting to U.S. culture at a different rate than their parents are more likely to suffer symptoms of depression.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, examines how different generations' attitudes toward parenting affect the mental health of teenagers. "We focused on parental control because it is a dimension that is very different in Chinese and American culture," said Juang, associate professor of psychology. "In American culture, strictness and warmth are often seen as opposites, whereas Chinese families see strict parenting as a way of being loving and protective."

Photo of Associate Professor of Psychology Linda Juang.

Associate Professor of Psychology Linda Juang

Despite data from the National Center for Health Statistics (1994) that shows Asian American girls aged 15 to 24 have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all ethnic groups, mental health among Asian Americans is an under-studied area.

Juang surveyed 166 Chinese American teenagers and their parents in San Francisco. Ninth and 10th graders completed a survey measuring symptoms of depression such as feeling sad, lonely or misunderstood. They also responded to a series of statements about parental control, rating to what extent they agreed with such statements as "children should follow parents' wishes about dating" and "girls over the age of 18 should be allowed to move away from home and go to college or take a job." Parents completed identical surveys about attitudes to parenting.

Juang found that in families where parents and children differ sharply in their attitudes toward parenting, adolescents are more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms. She also identified that the conflict resulting from these differences leads to mental health problems.

"Having different views from your parents is particularly problematic in Chinese families where the culture emphasizes respect for parents and family harmony," said Juang, whose own parents immigrated to Minneapolis from Taiwan. "These differences may be less acceptable and more disturbing to Chinese American adolescents, especially if they erupt into conflict."

There was one surprise in Juang's results: "The assumption that parents are always more traditionally Chinese is a myth," she said. "We found a wide variation of attitudes between parents and children, and this means that practitioners and counselors need to look at the pair -- both the parents and the adolescents -- to understand mental health problems in Chinese American teenagers."


-- Elaine Bible


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