Southeast Asian Refugee Children and Adolescents Research Project Annotated Bibliography

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The book questions how much these reports reflect the reality of Vietnamese families. Family life was found to be an arena of considerable conflict and flux with much redefining of the structure and meaning of family life. The book unravels the reconstruction process. There has been disruption wrought on the family groups and networks. It is very common to find children without parents, husbands without their wives among Vietnamese families in America. They have coped with this by rebuilding family ties through friendships and distant relatives living in the United States. It has also challenged the gender and generational hierarchies. They have found themselves moving from the middle class to a position of subordination as foreigners in the racial hierarchy of U.S. society.

The stakes for children and adolescents doing well in school became very high. It was not only their own future that hinged on their ability to do well at school but also that of other family members. While some were able to meet these standards, others slipped into a pattern of academic failure. This was overwhelming to them, and they felt they let their family down. One twelve year boy reported that his academic failure threatened his family’s fundamental rationale for migrating to this country. They faced many barriers to succeed academically. The biggest one was language difficulties. Prejudice and harassment by other students were other major barriers. When teens did not do well in school, there was the option available of joining gangs or engaging in criminal activities. Unaccompanied minors may have been placed in foster homes, but they usually left and moved to neighborhoods populated by Vietnamese Americans. It was common for these children to become involved in illegal activity. The wayward youth generated a negative image of the Vietnamese in the United States.

Migration to the United States introduced more conflict and distance in the relations of young and old family members. The extent of the generation gap varied enormously depending on the age and family circumstances. Older Vietnamese Americans saw cultural rifts between the generations as a threat to the continued survival and integrity of Vietnamese culture and identity. The relationship of the young to their families and the traditional family system was more complex the elders made it out to be. The young rejected the obligations and pressures imposed on them and looked with longing on the greater individualistic values and egalitarianism found in America. In many cases there was not outright rejection but a desire to work out some kind of compromise between the two cultures. Cooperative and caring relations were found between kin even though there was some rejection and alienation.

Kibria, N. (1998). Vietnamese families. In R. L. Taylor (Ed.), Minority families in the United States: A multicultural perspective (2nd ed.), pp. 176-188. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


With the settlement of 0.5 million refugees from 1975-1985, Vietnamese Americans became one of the largest Asian-origin populations in the United States. Given current growth rates, the Vietnamese are expected to be a significant presence in this country. This chapter provides a descriptive overview of family life of Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. with attention to the migration process on family patterns. Data from historical and demographic studies are supplemented with materials from an ethnographic study, based on in-depth interviews and participant observation of Vietnamese refugees in Philadelphia. A brief description of historical context of settlement is followed by a discussion of the key demographic characteristics of the population and a section on family and household structures and the dynamics of roles and authority in the family.


Vietnam refugees were a diverse group. There are significant differences in the socioeconomic background of the 1975 wave and later arrivals. Levels of educational attainment and language proficiency were lower for the later arrivals often referred to as “boat people.” Differences in social class and ethnic background of Vietnamese immigrants enter into the family patterns in important ways. The fact that it was not possible for all family members to migrate has contributed to family disruption.

A number of conditions have eroded the ability of parents to influence the younger generation. The youthful age structure of the Vietnamese American population and the small number of elderly is a causal factor of this breakdown. The growth of gangs is a reflection of the large number of youth who are in the United States without their parents or guardians. Also the young are in a position of advantage in comparison with the older people because of better language proficiency and opportunities for education and training. Studies document intergenerational clashes within families.
King, K. A. (1999). Fifteen prevalent myths concerning adolescent suicide. Journal of School Health, 69(14), 159.


The myths surrounding adolescent suicide often obscure the issue’s urgency. Popular misconceptions include the belief that teens fail to give warning signs concerning suicide, or that only mental health professionals can dissuade teens from committing suicide. Clues of suicidal intent can range from social withdrawal to morbid ideation, while effective prevention can originate from peers.


Adolescent suicide represents the second leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds. In 1994, 2,270 youth died from suicide. One-to-two hundred attempts occur per youth suicide completion. Suicide prevention programs are being implemented throughout the U.S. Several myths could undercut the effectiveness of these programs. This paper presented 15 myths. Several of these will be highlighted.

  1. Adolescent suicide is a decreasing problem. In truth it has tripled since the 1950s.

  2. Adolescent homicide is more prevalent than suicide. In truth, homicide for this population is the third leading cause of death, just after the suicide rate.

  3. Most adolescent suicides occur unexpectedly without warning signs. In truth, 9 out of 10 give warning signs to others: depressed mood, substance abuse, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, decreased activity levels, decreased attention, distractability, isolation, withdrawing from others, sleep changes, appetite changes, morbid ideation, offering verbal clues, and giving possessions away.

  4. Adolescents who talk about suicide do not attempt or commit suicide. In truth, this is the most ominous sign. They should be taken seriously.

  5. Most adolescents who attempt suicide fully intend to die. In truth, most do not want it to happen. They feel torn between wanting to end their psychological pain and wanting to continue living. This is communicated through verbal statements and behavior in 80% of youth suicides.

  6. Educating teens about suicide leads to increased suicide attempts. In truth, if the issues are taught in a sensitive context. Educational programs help identify peers at risk and help them receive the help they need from other friends.

  7. No difference exists between male and female adolescents regarding suicidal behavior. In truth, females are more likely to have thought about suicide and to have attempted it. They are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to report experiencing suicidal ideation and 3-4 times more likely to attempt suicide. Males are 4 to 5.5 times more likely to complete an attempt. Females complete one of every 25 attempts; males complete one of every three attempts.

  8. Female attempts should not be taken as seriously. In truth, one of the most powerful predictors of completed suicide is a prior attempt. All attempts should be taken seriously.

  9. Drug overdose represents the most common method. In truth, guns are the most frequently used method. They accounted for 67 % of all completed adolescent suicides.

  10. All adolescents who engage in suicidal behavior are mentally ill. In truth, most adolescents are relatively rational and coherent at the times of their deaths.

  11. If adolescents want to commit suicide, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it. In truth, if the warning signs are identified, responses may be very effective.

  12. It is inherited. In truth, no gene has been identified. Parenting style and family environment may play a larger role.

  13. Only a mental health professional can help. In truth, most adolescents contemplating suicide are not seeing a mental health professional. Most approach a family member or friend. Displaying concern as well as making a referral to a professional are ways peers and family may help.

Leong, F. T. L., Chao, R. K., Hardin, E. E. (2000). Asian American adolescents: A research

review to dispel the model minority myth. In R. Montemayor, G. R. Adams (Eds.) Adolescent

diversity in ethnic, economic, and cultural contexts (pp. 179-207). Thousand Oaks:

SAGE Publications.

Keywords: adolescents Asian Americans, model minorities


The purpose of this chapter is to dispel the model minority myth by providing a critical review of the research and emerging theoretical issues related to the development of Asian American adolescents. It presents a more realistic and accurate portrait of Asian American adolescents by examining three areas: academic achievement, ethnic identity, and psychological adjustment.


The number of Asian Americans will grow from 7 million to more than 40 million by the year 2050. In addition, there is a larger proportion of adolescents among Asian Americans. According to the 1991 current population reports, adolescents 15-19 years of age constituted 6.8% of the total population but constituted 8.3% of the Asian American population.

Asian Americans have been thought of as the model minority for over 25 years. This has become referred to as the “model minority myth” in which Asian Americans are stereotyped as the most successful minority in adapting to life in the United States. It ignores the bimodal distribution of Asian Americans where many are living at the poverty level and working in “sweat shops.” This myth pits them against other minority groups, presents a false picture of Asian American success and struggles economically, sets up unrealistic standards and expectations, discourages research on a group that is doing well, and encourages policy-makers to overlook the needs of this group.

Asian American adolescents do indeed have higher grade point averages, SAT-math scores, and general achievement scores than other groups in the United States even when accounting for differences in their parents’ level of education and socioeconomic status. They have higher educational aspirations. Empirical evidence shows that 43% of Asian American students aspired to postgraduate education compared to 25% of White students. This was consistent with their parents’ expectations. Six of eight subgroups had higher educational aspirations than Whites. Southeast Asian parents had significantly lower levels than the other Asian groups due to the more recent immigration of these groups. Asian Americans spend more time studying, 20 hours a week compared to 14 hours of White students. They spend less time on nonacademic activities such as dating or working part-time compared to Whites. More Asian American parents tutored their children, 60% compared to 16% of White parents. Regardless of race, students who have high aspirations, work hard at school, have parents who value education, and have sufficient resources such as a place to study, do better in school. As a group Asian Americans are more likely to have these behaviors, values, and resources. However, there are many Asian American adolescents who do not exhibit high levels of academic achievement. When they do not excel, they confront the stereotype and are made to feel that their average performance is very low. Students with academic problems tend to not reach out for help because of shame.

The study of ethnic identity provides evidence for questioning the myth. Marcia derived four ego identity statuses based on Erikson’s theories of adolescence as a period of exploration and experimentation that eventually leads to decision making and commitment. The first is “diffuse,” in which the individual has not engaged in exploration nor made a commitment. The second, “foreclosed,” involves the adolescent who has made a commitment but without engaging in exploration. The individual in the process of exploration but has not made a commitment is in the “moratorium” status. The “achieved” status is one who has made a commitment following exploration. The individual comes to a deeper understanding of what their ethnic identity means.

This chapter reviews the ethnic identity models of several theorists in addition to the above. There has been some criticism that these stage models are too linear and do not consider the complex nature across multidimensional ethnic identity.

Acculturation theory has been developed by Sue and Sue (1971) with three distinctions: traditionalist, marginalist, and Asian American. “Traditionalists” are foreign-born or first generation immigrants and prize the cultural values of their parents and socialize only with members of their ethnic group. A “marginalist” rejects Asian values in favor of assimilating into American culture. “Asian Americans” have achieved a balance in their identity by feeling pride in their ethnic group while at the same time combining the values of the dominant group. Adolescents tended to identify themselves as “assimilated” more often than did other ethnic minority groups.

Research on ethnic minority adolescents is beginning to find links between ethnic identity and levels of self-esteem. Asian American females score lowest on the Rosenberg Serf-Esteem Scale of any of the ethnic-gender groups. Perhaps evaluations of the self involving global qualities are problematic for Asian Americans, particularly for females, in that they are more self-effacing.

A number of studies seem to indicate that Asian American adolescents may experience more conflicting attitudes and feelings around their ethnic identity. They reported less ethnic pride in comparison to Blacks and Hispanics as well as less cross-ethnic contact than other groups. They were more concerned about pressures to achieve in school.

There is some clear evidence that Asian American adolescents may face more challenges in the development of their ethnic identification that are not evident for other ethnic-minority youth. This provides further support for dispelling the model minority myth.

One of the negative consequences of the model minority myth is the belief that most Asian Americans are psychologically well adjusted and free from mental health problems. Asian American adolescents experience conflict in resolving their ethnic identities and stress from trying to meet academic expectations. They have been shown to underuse mental health services. This may reflect avoidance of seeking help in this way.

Using an archival data set from Los Angeles, Asian American males were diagnosed more often with conduct disorders and nonpsychotic disorders. Females were diagnosed more often with affective disorders and major depression. More ethnic differences were found in the female group than the male group. They found that Asian American adolescents were more frequently diagnosed with nonpsychotic disorders than White American adolescents. Newer immigrants may be subject to more pervasive and chronic stressors, which, in turn, can influence diagnosis. There is a need to increase the cultural sensitivity in the provision of mental health services for Asian American adolescents and to increase the accuracy of psychiatric diagnoses. This may be accomplished by hiring more bicultural-bilingual therapists and designing culturally sensitive assessment tools. The literature on the psychological adjustment of Asian American adolescents revealed that they exhibited either similar or lower levels of psychological adjustment that their White counterparts.

Lewin, L. M., Davis, B. & Hops, H. ( 1999). Childhood social predictors of adolescent antisocial behavior: Gender differences in predictive accuracy and efficacy. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27(4), pp. 277- .

Keywords: antisocial behavior, childhood social behavior, longitudinal.


This study examined the ability of several childhood, school-based, social variables to correctly classify antisocial adolescents. Children (N = 314; 163 boys, 151 girls) in the 3rd-5th grade were assessed on academic and social variables (peer rejection, aggression, withdrawal, and low prosocial behavior) and followed forward for 6-7 years until the 9th and 10th grades. Adolescent antisocial outcomes included a consensus measure formed from diagnostic interviews, contact with juvenile authorities, adolescent self-report, and mothers’ reports. The gender-differential predictive accuracy and efficacy of the early predictor domains to a consensus measure of antisocial behavior were compared with the same estimates found for adolescent self-report of antisocial behavior. Both gender and criterion-method differences were found. For girls, regardless of the measure of antisocial behavior, early academic problems were the strongest predictors of future problems. For boys’ self-reported antisocial outcomes, peer rejection was the strongest independent predictor. For consensus-reported antisocial outcomes, both early fighting-anger and withdrawn behavior displayed equally strong predictive relations. For boys, the combination of early fighting-anger and disruptive and withdrawn behavior was the strongest set of predictors for the consensus measure of antisocial functioning. Predictive accuracy and efficacy estimates are discussed in terms of predictive strength as well as the cost-benefit of misidentification.


The findings have implications from an intervention-prevention perspective. Academic needs of female children may need to be addressed. Academic failure for girls is indicative of an early norm-breaking behavior pattern that is associated with later antisocial behavior. Early academic failure may lead girls into a social network with deviant male children and the development of antisocial behavior. For male children, screening and intervention would need to examine a combination of factors including aggression, social rejection, and social withdrawal. Failure to identify children who will potentially go on to display antisocial behavior with outcomes of incarceration for severe crime is a far greater cost than that of over including children in prevention programs.

Miller, J. J. (1998). Bilingual bullies. National Review, 50(3), 34-37.


The article focuses on the efforts of the US Department of Education in micromanaging bilingual education and its determination to keep children from being taught English. The Education Departments’ Office of Civil Rights is one of the most important forces behind the rise of bilingual education in the nation’s schools. The article is slanted in the belief that the Department is “bullying” the school districts into adopting programs based on the theory that children from other linguistic backgrounds should become fluent in their native language before learning English. This article makes a political statement reflecting one segment of the American public and is not an academic/research-oriented entry. It is included to give context to the issues related to immigration.


This article attempts to persuade the reader that there is a risk facing immigrant children based on policies that require them to receive bilingual education in their native language. The author asserts that this is based on a discredited theory that children from other linguistic backgrounds should become fluent in their parents’ language before learning English. The argument does not take into consideration the research in this area showing that by learning in the native language, the children maintain more cohesive relationships with their families and thus have better social and educational outcomes.

Ngo, D., Tran, T. V., Gibbons, J. L., & Oliver, J. M. (2000). Acculturation, premigration traumatic experiences, and depression among Vietnamese Americans. In N. Choi (Ed.), Psychological aspects of the Asian-American Experience: Diversity within diversity. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Keywords: acculturation, premigration, trauma, depression.


This study investigated the role of acculturation as a potential mediator or moderator for premigration traumatic experiences (PTE)and depression. The mediator effect refers to an effect in which acculturation mediates the negative impact of PTE and depression. On the other hand, the moderator effect signifies an interaction effect in which acculturation buffers the impact of the PTE on depression. The negative impact of PTE on depression is hypothesized to vary according to different levels of acculturation. These two competing hypotheses were tested in a community-based sample of 261 adult Vietnamese Americans aged 25 and over. The sample consisted of 48% males and 64% of the sample were married. The average length of residence in the United States was 7 years. Multiple regression analysis did not support the mediator effect of acculturation, but did support its moderator effect as a buffer of PTE. Specifically, PTE had a much stronger effect on depression among those with lower levels of acculturation than those with higher levels. Implications for future research and clinical practices are discussed.


Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. have been identified as the largest subgroup among Southeast Asians. Substantial mental health problems such as PTSD and depression among this group have been reported. These individuals experienced a multitude of trauma including rape, being lost, hunger, witnessing death and/or murder of loved ones, and torture.

The main objective of this study was to understand the role of acculturation as a mechanism for coping with emotional distress. It was found that refugees who have a higher level of acculturation in the host society tend to experience lower levels of depression than less acculturated individuals. What needs to be examined is what motivates an immigrant or refugee to acculturate or not. This information may help in the prevention of mental health suffering. Interventions at the primary prevention level may have a better outcome with respect to better adjustment and psychological well-being than secondary (early treatment) or tertiary (rehabilitation) levels. Language barriers and cultural differences may interfere with successful prevention programs. There needs to be an effort to train indigenous mental health professionals.

It is not known which treatment modalities might best fit refugees’ religious beliefs and cultural values about treatment and psychopathology.

Nguyen, N. A. (1992). Living between two cultures: Treating first-generation Asian Americans. In L. A. Vargas & J. D. Koss-Chioino (Eds.). Working with culture: Psychotherapeutic interventions with ethnic minority children and adolescents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


The chapter written by a former refugee from Vietnam focuses on Vietnamese and Chinese Americans children and adolescents. It discusses the interaction between developmental and cultural processes that shape the individual’s psychological health and psychopathology. These youth are “living between two cultures” and are more vulnerable to intensified intergenerational conflicts and identity struggles. Effective therapeutic strategies should aim at narrowing the gap in order to integrate the psychological potentials unique to each of these cultures.

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