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Volume 51, Number 15   December 1, 2003         

    Announcements    Events    News    People on Campus    Newsmakers

People on Campus

Linda Juang: Understanding acculturation & adolescents
Photo of Linda JuangEven when she came home from college as a 21 year old, Linda Juang had to follow a strict curfew set down by her parents, who had immigrated to Minneapolis from Taiwan.

In the culture of her Taiwanese parents, a young woman would never keep late hours. But this was America. "My friends couldn't believe that I needed to be home at a certain time. I had to explain that the culture for Taiwanese people who grew up in Taiwan is very different and it sometimes creates differences in the family," said Juang, assistant professor of psychology.

Things have changed. There's no longer a curfew when she returns home and her mother has even become a big fan of pop culture psychologist Dr. Phil, but those early conflicts moved Juang toward a career studying adolescent development psychology with an emphasis on acculturation and well-being among young Chinese Americans.

"In many Chinese American homes with parents who grew up with traditional Chinese values and behaviors, children are often pulled in two directions -- being Chinese and being American. What does that do to their self-esteem? It is a question that we don't know much about," she said.

John Kim, chair of the Psychology Department, praises Juang's detailed work on the development and well-being of adolescents with a special focus on ethnic minorities and immigrant families.

"What makes her work special among psychologists working in this field is her thoughtful analysis and study of complex issues such as well-being, ethnicity, acculturation and assimilation. Not all researchers in this field treat such issues as very complex, even though they clearly are," Kim said. "And Dr. Juang does a wonderful job of bringing her depth of understanding of these issues to students taking her classes and to students working with her in her laboratory, and also to students and professionals through her many journal publications and her recently co-authored textbook on culture and psychology."

Juang, who received her bachelor's degree from University of Minnesota, earned her master's and doctorate in developmental psychology from Michigan State University. She then studied at University of Jena in Germany on a post-doctoral fellowship in the late 1990s. During that time, she developed her research interests in parenting and family factors contributing to adolescent development and the effects of social change on individual development.

Since joining the Psychology Department in fall 2000, Juang, who often travels to Germany and speaks German, has focused her work on research that could have lessons for other ethnic immigrant families as well.

Up to now, Juang said, most research on acculturation among Chinese American adolescents has focused on school achievement levels. Her research, however, examines acculturation as it relates to family and parenting, and psychosocial well-being.

Juang is exploring those issues in her three-year longitudinal study, "Chopsticks and Forks: The Experiences of Chinese American Teenagers." Funded by a grant of nearly $100,000 from the National Institutes of Health, the study looks at what factors contribute to the emotional well being of first and second-generation Chinese American adolescents within their family, community and a cultural context.

Juang, working with SFSU psychology students, started her study by collecting data from ninth and tenth graders and their families at two San Francisco high schools through self-report surveys and individual interviews. Part of the survey looks at family conflict and asks students their feelings on statements such as "Your parents argue that they show you love by housing, feeding and educating you, but you wish they would show more physical and verbal affection" or "Your parents expect you to behave like a proper Chinese, but you feel your parents are too traditional."

Her findings show that adolescents reported higher levels of acculturation of U.S. values and behavior than their parents, who reported higher levels of association with Chinese values. However, Juang cautions, these are just averages. Her research has also found that there can be great individual family variation -- in some families adolescents are more Chinese than their parents and some parents are more Americanized than their adolescents. "The greater the difference in acculturation concerning Chinese values leads us to predict lower self-esteem in adolescents and more family conflict and less cohesion," Juang said.

While she continues her research -- she is now in the third year of collecting data from adolescents who are currently high school juniors and seniors--Juang and her students are taking their findings back to the schools to talk with counselors, parents and the students.

"Our research is something that the community can use. The community -- the adolescents, the parents and the schools -- helped us shape our questionnaire and we want to share what we have learned," said Juang, who with her students have discussed the findings at workshops, wellness sessions and Parent Awareness Nights.

Juang says some parents fear that if their children become "Americanized," they won't care about their family anymore. However, Juang explains, "In this study we're finding that the adolescents can have a very strong sense of family obligation, regardless of whether they are very 'Americanized' or not."

Much of the study's initial success can be credited to Juang's students in psychology, she said. "Our students have been extremely helpful in making all this work. They have been an important part in helping to frame the research as well as collect and analyze data and go into the schools with me," said Juang, whose students regularly present their research work at national conferences.

Juang's devotion to her students is amazing, said senior Jen Ibardolaza. "Linda has always been generous with her time, energy, and resources to the many students she mentors. For example, she stayed late into the evening on a Friday night to help 10 students in her lab submit proposals to the APA (American Psychological Association) convention," said Ibardolaza, a budding scholar in the Career Opportunities in Research Program funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Miyuki Takagi, a graduate student in psychology, said of Juang: "I am impressed with her continuous effort to apply her research works to the needs in the community. With her active role in research, community, and great support for her students, Linda is certainly a role model for a student like me whose aim is to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology in future."

-- Ted DeAdwyler

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