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Strong family ties lower depression in Chinese youth

June 17, 2009 -- A strong sense of family obligation in Chinese-American homes may prevent symptoms of depression in adolescents, according to a new study by SF State psychologists.

Photograph of Jeffrey Cookston

Associate Professor of Psychology Jeffrey Cookston

Photograph of Linda Juang

Associate Professor of Psychology Linda Juang


Associate Professors of Psychology Linda Juang and Jeffrey Cookston surveyed hundreds of Chinese-American teenagers in two San Francisco high schools. They found that 14-year-olds who expressed a greater sense of family obligation reported fewer depressive symptoms by the time they reached 16.

"The findings suggest that family obligation may be protective against depressive symptoms," said Cookston. "It could be that a greater sense of family obligation in the early teenage years provides teenagers with a strong family bond that makes them feel secure even when they move through adolescence and become more autonomous."

The study followed 218 Chinese-American teenagers over a two-year period, and measured changes in their behaviors and attitudes in relation to their families. As the teenagers decreased their activities in support of their families and became more involved with their peers, their attitude and respect toward their families remained stable. This pattern suggests to the researchers that immigrant adolescents continue to endorse traditional cultural values even when their behaviors suggest they are becoming less traditional.

"This interesting finding speaks to the immigration cultural divide," Cookston said. "Parents may see their children being less and less Chinese but in fact the teenagers' attitudes and beliefs that family obligation is important and valuable remain very consistent through adolescence."

The study was conducted by Linda Juang in collaboration with Jeffrey Cookston, and was published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

-- Elaine Bible

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