Christy Y.Y. Leung, M.A. (May 2009)
(Mentor: Charissa S.L. Cheah)
An extensive number of studies show that preschool children with aggressive or reticent behaviors experience difficulties with peer acceptance and prolonged school adjustment problems. Preschool children of immigrant Chinese parents may encounter additional challenges when learning a new set of social norms at school. Nevertheless, the potential predictors of aggression and reticence in these preschoolers merit further study. Parenting has long been recognized as a significant factor in the development of children’s social behaviors during the preschool period. In the Chinese culture, a estrictive and controlling parenting style is perceived as a natural extension of love and care. Chinese parents have been shown to be more authoritarian than their Western counterparts; however, there is controversy whether an authoritarian parenting style is associated with negative developmental outcomes in young Chinese children.
According to acculturation and immigration research, the social and cultural contexts of the home country and the host society play an important role in the parenting style of immigrant parents. Foss’s model of parenting focuses on the contextual factors encountered by the immigrant families and examines how these contextual factors contribute to culturally-determined effective or ineffective parenting. Specifically, social and economic environments include parents’ social networks and the social support available in the receiving country. Given the collectivistic-oriented Chinese culture, primarily having families and extended relatives as support network members (kinship networks) is a common adaptation strategy of Chinese immigrants.
However, maintenance of family ties within the network may not necessarily mean that there are supportive interactions, especially among immigrant families who are separated across different countries. Moreover, exclusive dependency on kinship is speculated to be an indicator of poor social adjustment and isolation from the mainstream society. Immigrant parents may have a high proportion of kin within their social networks but perceive that they have limited support due to the accessibility of these individuals. Thus, the impact of kinship networks on the authoritarian parenting of immigrant Chinese mothers may change depending on the amount of social support these mothers perceive to have. Furthermore, the interaction between maternal kinship networks and social support is expected to contribute to preschool children’s social skills through its impact on the authoritarian parenting style of immigrant Chinese mothers.
The overall goal of the current study was to investigate the role of the social context in the parenting style of immigrant Chinese mothers in order to identify the potential predictors of maladaptive social behaviors in their preschool children. There were three specific aims in the present study: (1) to examine the correlations between the mothers’ authoritarian parenting and their preschool children’s aggressive and reticent behaviors; (2) to test the interaction between kinship networks and social support in predicting maternal authoritarian parenting; and (3) to examine the roles of kinship networks and social support in predicting preschool children’s aggression and reticence through maternal authoritarian parenting.
Participants included 78 first-generation immigrant Chinese mothers with preschool-aged children residing in small Chinese communities in Maryland. Mothers reported on their kinship networks, perceived social support, and authoritarian parenting style (physical coercion, verbal hostility, and non-reasoning). Preschool teachers rated the child’s aggressive and reticent behaviors. Contrary to the hypotheses, no significant associations were found between the variables of interest. Descriptive statistics of the parenting variables revealed a minimum endorsement of the authoritarian parenting by the immigrant Chinese mothers towards their preschool children, reflecting the Chinese belief that the use of strict, harsh discipline is considered as developmentally inappropriate for young children before reaching the stage when they are capable of understanding and reasoning. Moreover, data examinations in the present study provided specific, practical directions for future research in terms of conducting more appropriate, advanced statistical analyses in order to validate the measure of aggressive and reticent behaviors in preschool children of Chinese immigrants.
Follow-up analyses, however, revealed that support for the parenting role provided by the spouses uniquely predicted less reported verbal hostility in the mother, whereas kin support (from other family members) for the parenting role uniquely predicted less physical coercion in immigrant Chinese mothers. Interestingly, non-kin support for the parenting role (e.g., friends and neighbors) did not predict mothers’ parenting style. Findings of the current study demonstrated the importance of the distinct function of support for the parenting role as opposed to the general support network and the significance of kin for decreasing negative parenting behaviors of immigrant Chinese mothers. These findings can inform community agencies about the significance of spousal and kinship support for immigrant Chinese families, and thus help them to serve these families in a more culturally sensitive manner.