Southeast Asian Refugee Children and Adolescents Research Project Annotated Bibliography

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The author shares his view that object-relations theory seems to be the most appropriate theory to bridge the vast differences in cultures because it is built on universal conditions. He applies the theory to the developmental processes, intergenerational conflicts, and identity struggles. These struggles do not have to be manifested as pathologies but may be potential opportunities for growth. The Eastern “familial-self” may be blended with the Western “individual-self” as an “expanding self.”

Adolescence is a mere by-product of Western culture’s discontinuity. It does not exist in Asian cultures. As they resettle in America, this transition phase becomes a harsh reality in which the youth deal with individuation and separation from their parents. They have to integrate their families values with new extrafamilial identifications to function in a Western society. Often this process takes grief work during the adolescent’s development. Not only are they grieving the loss of the dependency on their family but a larger unresolved cultural loss from the immigration experience. The loss experienced by parents is often not dealt with. It is important that therapeutic work should target both teens and their parents.
Saenz, R., Hwang, S., Auirre, B. E., & Anderson, R. N. (1995). Persistence and change in Asian identity among children of intermarriage couples. Sociological Perspectives, 38(2), 175.


Current intermarriage trends suggest the weakening, if no the dissolution of the Asian American community within one or two generations. Empirical evidence suggests that children from Asian- Anglo backgrounds represent the largest segment of multiracial children in the nation. This article describes an attempt to uncover the extent to which Asian ethnic identification persists and the extent to which new identities arise to capture the reality of having parents from different ethnic groups as well as different racial groups.


Asian Americans have experienced high levels of structural assimilation. They are however marrying outside of their ethnic group. Findings of the study suggest the majority of children of mixed Asian-Anglo couples tend to be identified by Anglo ethnic identities. This pattern provides support for the Anglo-conformity model in which the Anglo identity is preferred over minority identities. However, a significant number (38%) are viewed as Asian. The cultural-pluralistic model also receives some support. Children with an Anglo identity tend to be born in the U.S. with a foreign-born Asian parent who is second generation, have mothers who are Asian, and have more educated Asian parents. The data were provided by parents and not the children, serving as a proxy for the children’s identity.

Segal, U. A. (2000). Exploring child abuse among Vietnamese refugees. Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 8(3/4), p. 159-191.


This explorative pilot project sought to determine what one group of Southeast Asian refugees, Vietnamese, perceived were areas of difficulty in their adjustment to the United States. The study sought to see if child abuse is prevalent among this population. A history of Vietnamese migration was provided with a review of the literature on child abuse indicating that child abuse is not culture-specific. The pilot study was done in the St. Louis metropolitan region with an exploration of views on the acceptability of corporal punishment and the sanctity of the family.


The article addresses the perception that Asians are viewed as a model minority and how this obscures the plight of many Southeast Asian refugees. Most of them live below the poverty line and have low levels of literacy, education, and skills. The skills they had in Vietnam are not transferable to the new setting leaving them dependent on public aid longer than anticipated. The adjustment to resettlement is a lengthy process. They are having to come to terms with the causes of forced exit from their country and separation from family members. They experience stress from loss and grief. There is often a change in their social status and culture shock in coming to America. Forty million of the world’s refugees have been reported to experience increased levels of depression, anxiety disorders, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Western concept of adolescence and the establishing of one’s psychosocial identity during this time is absent from Southeast Asian culture. One moves from childhood directly into adulthood. The children/youth are viewed merely as an extension of their parents. In coming to America, there is a disruption of the extended family structure. The children undermine in America the authority of the elders in the family and community by learning English. This is a threat to the value of filial piety. An increase in child maltreatment has been attributed to a breakdown in traditional values. There is a unique problem facing refugees that is affecting the parent/child relationship. The refugee child is no longer a producer for the family but a consumer. They are no longer assets but are liabilities. With acculturation comes an increase in tension, alienation of the generations, gang membership, drug use, juvenile delinquency, and running away from home. The parents often resort to physical punishment. Studies have shown that physical abuse is more prevalent in poverty conditions. When there is financial stress, the family members have less an escape and are less inhibited to express and discharge aggression. There is greater cultural approval for harsh discipline. Parents are unable to help their youth navigate safely through poor educational systems, street crime, unemployment, racism, and intolerance. The parents have lost the status of knowledgeable elder.

Implications for social work include the awareness that a focus in the literature has been on a clinical population which may not reflect the general refugee population. All assessment tools being used in measuring problems in this population are not appropriate. Workers need to make special efforts to establish rapport and trust in gathering data or delivering services. The resistance to help from practitioners by Southeast Asian refugees emerges from their shame and guilt associated with the need to reach out for help from strangers. Privacy of the family is paramount. The worker must explore the general and specific refugee experience and the culture. Self disclosure must be used to increase the worker’s authority and credentials. The worker should be more directive with this population to be effective. They are expecting the use of authority from a professional. If conducting research, it is important for the worker to convey that they are concerned about the welfare of the refugee population. The study recommended that it is better to use group interviews in focus groups which meet several sessions rather than individual interviews. The best way is to use single gender focus groups facilitated by a same gender worker. Children should be interviewed separately from adults.

Sells, S. P. (1998). Treating the tough adolescent: A family-based, step-by-step guide. New York: The Guilford Press.


This book offers a sensible and strategic approach to resolving the family problems of difficult adolescents. It is concerned with changing the hierarchy of families in trouble when the troubled adolescent is taking the role of controlling the family. Research data support the approach presented by the author. Empirically-tested family interventions are introduced. It is a book about changing the behavior of problem young people who engage in a range of extreme behaviors that become destructive to themselves and others. . His approach is accessible and useful to the layperson in understanding what steps to take to bring resolution of difficult problems.


When parents try to restore their authority, the difficult adolescent will often use one of the “five aces”: running away, truancy/poor school performance, suicidal threats or behaviors, threats or acts of violence, and disrespect. These have been common reasons that other approaches have failed in working with the family. The book offers tips on how to neutralize these aces. The parents must institute consequences severe enough that the youth would rather give up the extreme behavior than continue to suffer the consequence. Some parents appear abusive because they are feeling helpless and out of control. If the parent is given a clear set of procedures for confronting the problems, the violence suddenly stops and the household becomes less chaotic. The book gives detailed suggestions for effective consequences to use with each of the five aces. Drawing from approaches used in family therapy, such as Jay Haley’s “24-Hour Watch Strategy” from Strategic Family Therapy, these techniques have been shown to work. Suicidal behavior should never be ignored or taken lightly by parents or counselors, but when used chronically as one of the five aces, a creative approach works better than giving in to demands.

Simons, R. L., Chao, W, Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (2001). Quality of parenting as mediator of the effect of childhood defiance on adolescent friendship choices and delinquency: A growth curve analysis. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 63(1), 63-79.


Social scientists agree that childhood antisocial behavior portends adolescent delinquency, but there is little agreement regarding the theoretical processes that account for this behavioral continuity. Latent growth curve modeling was used to test latent trait and social influence explanations for this association. The analysis used data collected annually over a 4-year period from a sample of 149 boys, 157 girls, and their parents. Contrary to latent trait theories, the study found no direct association between oppositional/defiant behavior during childhood and a trajectory of increasing involvement with deviant peers and delinquency during adolescence. Rather, early oppositional defiant behavior undermined effective parenting styles. The latter, in turn, predicted an increasing affiliation with deviant peers and delinquency during adolescence. Improvements in parenting during adolescence decreased delinquency indirectly by reducing affiliation with deviant peers. Overall, the results support a life course development model in which difficult behavior during childhood increases the probability of adolescent deviant behavior because of its disruptive effect on quality of parenting.

Keywords: adolescence, adolescent-peer relationships, child antisocial behavior, delinquency.

Oppositional/defiant behavior was strongly related to ineffective parenting during late childhood. It predicted increases in affiliation with deviant peers and involvement with delinquency. Difficult behavior during childhood increases the probability of adolescent deviant behavior because it tends to be associated with ineffective parenting. Parents of conforming children demonstrated high levels of monitoring and discipline during late childhood but then relaxed their control as the children moved through adolescence. The relaxation is a result of the adolescent having established that he or she could be trusted. The parents of oppositional/defiant youth engaged in little monitoring and discipline during late childhood and then tended to exert more control in adolescence. This was in response to the youths’ antisocial behavior. A reduction of control was associated with increases in an adolescent’s affiliation with deviant peers but not to increases in delinquent behavior. Changes in parental behavior during adolescent years did not have a direct effect on the development of delinquency. The decline in the quality of parenting on the growth of delinquency was indirect through its effect on the friendship choices of the youth.

The results suggest a more optimistic view of continuity of antisocial behavior than that advanced by other approaches. There is little that can be done to divert a child from graduating from troublesome behavior during childhood to adolescent delinquency if his/her antisocial behavior simply represents the unfolding of a trait. If the quality of parenting can mediate the association between childhood defiance and adolescent delinquency, such escalation might be prevented. The parents need to be helped to sustain effective parenting practices in the face of troublesome child behavior. Parenting during late childhood influence friendship choices. The effectiveness of interventions with parents of delinquents might be augmented by emphasizing strategies for restricting their adolescents’ interaction with other antisocial youth.

Spencer, M. B. (1999). Social and cultural influences on school adjustment: The application of an identity focused cultural ecological perspective. Educational Psychologist, 34(1), 43-58.


This article investigates social and cultural influences on children’s school adjustment. The relationship of social-cultural risk factors and coping strategies to stress alleviation, sense of self and adjustment is explored. It provides a theoretical framework of identity-focused ecological perspective on school adjustment and addresses the implications of cultural diversity to school adjustment.


A theory-driven identity-focused ecological cultural (ICE) perspective was introduced as a way of understanding cultural and social influences on school adjustment and a strategy of explaining and linking youth’s coping methods and responses to the quality of context character and cultural traditions. An under girding framework was introduced called the Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST) which demonstrated the mechanisms for the relations between risks, stressors encountered, coping strategies employed, emergent identity patterns, and subsequent coping or outcomes. A theme integrated throughout was how changes in the context character either exacerbate or diminish the perceptions of risk and school-associated experience of stressors that require adaptive coping. The impact of increasing immigration and unresolved tensions between American subordinate groups and Whites were explored. The roles played by a sense of people hood as a collective were analyzed and their contribution to ethnocentrism was considered. The article considered the role of culture in the youths’ affective developmental processes along with the role of the unavoidable cognitive processes. The contribution of context was linked to the expression of cultural tensions and to individual perceptual processes, reactive coping methods and responses, academic experiences, and school adjustment.

Qualitative data suggest that African American male adolescents demonstrate the same values concerning school, religious beliefs, church attendance, and family caring expected more generally in society. Emergent identity is linked to particular stressors and reactive coping methods. Reactive coping methods such as aggressive attitudes and hypermasculine identity may be a way of responding to a perceived high-risk environment (negative peer and teacher perceptions) and an inferred undervalued sense of self. These coping methods may not be adaptive in the long run but only increase the high-risk nature of the context in subsequent situations. There may be a lack of individual-context fit, in which the individual’s values do not fit with the untoward experiences. These further compromise school adjustment and reinforce marginalization, cultural dissonance, and academic disaffection. Youngsters at the same time profess values concerning education, family, and religion are deemed desirable by society. The descriptive data indicate that youths have learned that the most important and significant adults for the attainment of their states goals are their parents. They have a lack of trust of the learning context, which affects their school adjustment. They do not have the advantage of learning opportunities that require that one take intellectual risks that occur in trust-generating environments. The model explored the predictive power of several stress variables and coping methods for male hypermasculinity. The findings indicate that having an aggressive attitude, conceptualized as a reactive coping method, is the most significant and maladaptive contributor to a hypermasculine coping response style.

This information is important from the perspective of program development and teacher training. No matter how marginal academic performance appears, inferred teacher evaluations matter to young people. Negative teacher perceptions are a source of stress and are contributors to reactive and maladaptive coping strategies. Parental monitoring is a highly significant contributor to low hypermasculine coping responses. Both represent important opportunities for intervention efforts. This is especially important for parents with whom a close relationship is valued, as suggested by the qualitative research portion of this project. Also, teachers can be trained to communicate less negative feedback. Using more clinically-oriented teacher training methods, educators would benefit from more constructive support. To reduce youths’ aggressive attitudes and hypermasculinity as maladaptive (reactive) coping methods and coping responses, teens must readjust their coping responses to reflect their espoused values and valued relationships. The context must be altered in ways that support youth development. New supportive strategies can be implemented that make the perceptions of stigma and disapproval less a barrier. Better theory and structural strategies are of critical importance for youths’ school adjustment. They should a) improve teacher training and classroom strategies, b) enhance youth perceptions of school settings as trust-deserving contexts, and c) facilitate youths’ academic engagement, coping strategies, and life-course options.

Stern, S. B. (1999). Anger management in parent-adolescent conflict. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27(2), 181.


This study is the first outcome investigation of the role of anger management in parent-adolescent conflict. Eighteen parent-adolescent dyads were randomly assigned either to a conflict resolution group treatment (CR Alone) or a combined conflict (anger) management and conflict resolution group treatment (CM + CR). Although parents and teens in both conditions significantly increased communication and problem-solving skills and reduced conflict at home from the pre-test to post-test, the findings suggest that CM + CR parents and teens were able to manage their anger significantly better than their CR Alone counterparts. Results are discussed in terms of the potential efficacy of anger management and of small group treatment for parent-adolescent conflict and the need for further research.


The article reviewed several behaviorally oriented systems models for the treatment of parent-adolescent conflict. They focus on modifying the negative interaction patterns characteristic of distressed families and increase the skills of families in resolving conflicts. Some studies have shown inconsistencies in skills acquisition and changes in conflict at home. Negative affect and cognitive distortions have been identified as parent-adolescent conflicts and lack of success in problem solving. Affective conflict management skills may be needed to reduce stress and avoid escalation of conflict in family members before problem solving may work. Rigid beliefs on the part of both parents and adolescents have been found to interfere with the ability to negotiate.

The author reports on results found by Alexander, who developed Functional Family Therapy. He found that high-conflict families made more blaming attributions than less disturbed families. They found that reframing attributions can decrease negative behaviors but not necessary lead to positive communications.
Sue, S., Sue, D. W., Sue, L., & Takeuchi, D.T. (1998) Psychopathology among Asian Americans: A model minority? In P.B. Organista, K.M. Chun, & G. Marin, (Eds.). Readings in ethnic psychology. New York: Routledge.

The prevalence of psychopathology among Asian Americans has been a source of debate. Some investigators believe that the prevalence rate is quite low, whereas others argue that it is fairly high. A review of the literature suggests that at this time, it is not impossible to determine the specific rates of psychopathology. However, evidence does suggest that their rates of mental disorders are not extraordinarily low. Thus, public portrayals of Asian Americans as a well-adjusted group do not reflect reality. Attempts to determine the exact prevalence rates have been hindered by characteristics of the rapid changes in demographics. It is suggested that aggregate research, in which different Asian American groups are combined, is important for policy considerations, broad cultural comparisons, and establishing baseline information. To advance scientific contributions an understanding, studies that examine the correlates and course of disorders within specific Asian American groups are necessary as well.


Certain groups such as Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants have extremely high levels of depression and other disorders. Studies have consistently shown that his group constitutes a high-risk group for mental disorders. One study reported that 70% of their overall Southeast Asian refugee patient sample met DSM-III-R criteria for a current diagnosis of PTSD and 5% met criteria for a past diagnosis. PTSD was diagnosed in 95% of the Mien sample from Laos and 92% of the Cambodian sample. Most of these individuals had experienced the traumatic events 10-15 years prior to the assessment. They found that 82% of the overall sample had suffered from depression, the most common non-PTSD diagnosis and 16% schizophrenia. The elevated prevalence in the refugee community has been linked to repeated exposure to catastrophic environmental stressors such as torture, combat, witnessing the death of family members and friends, and forcible detainment in refugee camps.

These authors believe that the field will advance in a scientific sense by engaging in studies that examine variations within Asian American groups. These differences will work as variables for investigating issues such as experiences of refugees versus immigrants, acculturation effects, and healthy versus pathological functioning in subgroups.
Talbani, A. & Hasanali, P. (2000). Adolescent females between tradition and modernity: Gender role socialization in South Asian immigrant culture. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 615-627.


The study examines the social and cultural experiences of adolescent females belonging to various South Asian immigrant groups in Canada. Applying qualitative research methods, the authors interviewed 22 adolescent girls of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi origin in Montreal. Like other immigrant communities, South Asian families undergo acculturation stress. South Asians tend to integrate secular European cultural elements with their culture, however, family and community structure remain male dominated. The study showed that gender roles were maintained through gender segregation, control over social activities of girls and arranged marriages. Interviewees felt that their parents and communities have more stringent rules for female socialization than other communities in Canada. It also found that they perceived high social costs attached to protest and dissent. They accept prevalent conditions and expect to change social situations gradually. This causes some stress for many of them.


The key concerns of these participants were socialization, going out, parties, and dating. Control over their socialization seemed to be the major problem expressed. They were concerned that they may be forced into an arranged marriage. Resentment was expressed against this. Marriage will remain an important parameter in defining female status and role in the family and community. Responses from the participants included open rebellion, “behind the back,” or suppressed frustrations.

Three key elements were identified: the differential treatment of boys and girls at home, girls are given less decision-making power, and there is more control over their intermingling with the opposite sex. They perceive that greater control is exercised in their culture than in Canada. They expressed that there is a high social cost to being vocal or to express dissenting voices in the community. Many adolescent girls were aware of it, and they decided to seek gradual improvement of women’s status in the community and the family. Various studies have indicated that many adolescent girls in South Asian communities face mental problems. These youth find it difficult to negotiate between cultural control and individual freedom.

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