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SF State research yields new data on depressive symptoms among Chinese American youth

Depressive symptoms in teenagers linked to culture gap between parents and adolescents, and divergent attitudes toward parenting


SAN FRANCISCO, March 6, 2008 -- 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 according to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescence.

The research by San Francisco State University Professor Linda Juang looks at 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.

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, this remains an under-studied area of research.

Juang surveyed 166 Chinese American teenagers and their parents in San Francisco. Parents and children rated to what extent they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about parental control, including whether teenagers should have a say in family decisions and whether they should be allowed to choose whom to date.

The ninth and 10th graders in the study also completed surveys measuring symptoms of depression such as feeling sad, lonely or misunderstood.

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 it is the conflict resulting from these differences that leads to mental health issues among teenagers.

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

One surprise in Juang's results is that it is not always parents who hold more traditionally Chinese attitudes. Eighty-one percent of teenagers disagreed with the level of control endorsed by their parents while 19 percent endorsed stricter parental control than their parents.

"Parents and children are adapting to the culture around them: some in sync with each other and some not," Juang said. "With such variations, practitioners and counselors need to look at the pair -- both the parents and the adolescents -- to understand mental health problems in Chinese American teenagers."

The study was published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Adolescence. It is the first in a series of papers based on a three-year longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Juang led the research in collaboration with former SF State graduate students Moin Syed and Miyuki Takagi.


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