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Ethnic identity as a predictor of problem behaviors among Korean American adolescents.

Youth violence, delinquency, and emotional problems such as depression and anxiety have increased during the past two decades (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). The increase in both scope and intensity of adolescent problems has led to increased attention from researchers in a variety of disciplines. However, the majority of studies have focused on family disruption, family structure (i.e., two-parent vs. single-parent home), parent-child relationship stress, parental supervision, peer pressure, and social/economic barriers as contributing factors (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1998; Patterson & Dishion, 1985; Steinberg, 1995). Although these intrafamilial and interpersonal factors are clearly important, this approach overlooks the importance of ethnic identity in minority adolescents' psychological and behavioral adjustment (Phinney, 1990).

The struggle to achieve identity is a universally expected part of adolescence, regardless of cultural and ethnic background (Erikson, 1968). However, for young members of ethnic minorities, identification with their own culture is an additional and important aspect of identity development (Phinney & Alipuria, 1990). Ethnic identity development is particularly critical for minority adolescents since they have, in addition to their ordinary developmental issues, the added burden of exploring the values of both their host society and their original cultures in the process of becoming a member of their own ethnic group as well as the mainstream society. According to Phinney and colleagues (1992), maintaining a positive identification with both one's own and the mainstream culture is an indicator of higher levels of positive psychological outcomes in adolescents. Consistently, other studies also have demonstrated that ethnic identity is crucial to adolescents' self-esteem and psychological well-being as measured in self-worth, sense of mastery, purpose in life, and social competence (Atkinson et al., 1983, Martinez & Dukes, 1997; Phinney, 1990; Rotheram-Borus, 1989; Sheu, 1986). These findings suggest that higher levels of ethnic identity are likely to have a positive impact on the overall psychological outcome, while feelings of role confusion and alienation resulting from ethnic identity conflicts can lead to psychological as well as behavioral problems for ethnic minority adolescents.

The amount of research on minority adolescents over the past two decades has increased steadily. There also has been increasing research into the relationship between minority adolescents' acculturation/ethnic identity and their general psychological well-being (Phinney et al., 1997). However, most studies have focused on African American and Hispanic adolescent populations despite the rapid growth of the Asian American population. The present study therefore sought to (1) examine overall differences in problem behaviors by key demographic variables among Korean American adolescents with immigrant backgrounds, and (2) assess three dimensions of ethnic identity (level of ethnic identity, attitudes toward other groups, and perceived discrimination) as predictors of adolescent problem behaviors. These behaviors were categorized into two types: internalizing (psychological distress) and externalizing (conduct disorder). Specifically, internalizing problems refer to anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints, while the constellation of externalizing problems includes aggressive and delinquent behaviors. It is hypothesized that Korean American adolescents who score higher on levels of ethnic identity and attitudes toward other groups and score lower on perceived discrimination will display fewer problem behaviors than those who score lower on the two former scales and higher on the latter.


Asian Americans represent one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). In 1970 there were fewer than 1.5 million Asians in the United States, accounting for only 0.7% of the U.S. population. In March 2002, there were as many as 12.5 million Asians, comprising 4.4% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). The Asian population is relatively young compared to other ethnic groups. The proportion of the Asian population 18 years of age and under is 26%, whereas the age-matched proportion of the non-Hispanic Whites is 23%. About 88% of Asian/Pacific Islanders currently residing in the United States are either foreign-born themselves or have at least one foreign-born parent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).

The number of Koreans in the United States has also dramatically increased from 69,130 in 1970 to 1,076,872 in 2000, mainly due to the 1965 immigration law favoring family reunion (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Most of the Korean immigrants typically came as adults and brought their children with them. They settled in metropolitan areas including Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, and formed organized ethnic enclaves throughout the nation (Yu, Choe, & Han, 2002). Although Korean immigrants are geographically dispersed in the United States, over 30% of this population is concentrated in California, especially the Los Angeles area.

Research has well documented a wide cultural gap between the foreign-born parents who are likely to adhere to their traditional values and the U.S.-born or U.S.-raised adolescents who are exposed to conflicting mainstream values (Lee, 1997; Rhee, 1996; Ying, 1998). Overshadowed by the popular model minority image of Asian American students and high levels of academic achievement among a portion of this group, their problem behaviors have often been overlooked in educational as well as research communities. Emotional difficulties are particularly pressing issues for many Korean American adolescents who face the challenge of successful psychosocial adjustment to their host society and, simultaneously, are expected to value and maintain their heritage culture through socialization with immigrant parents and members of their ethnic community (Rhee, 1996). Consequently, Korean American adolescents often experience serious identity crisis problems and with frustration, which has some bearing on a variety of emotional and behavioral difficulties. Studies have reported an increasing rate of depression, school dropout, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency among Asian American adolescents including Korean youths (Kim & Goto, 2000; Kuo, 1984; Lorenzo et al., 1995; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Tamaki, 1998; Yu, 1986).

Several researchers examined the relationship between ethnic identity and adolescent development from both developmental and acculturation perspectives. Within developmental psychology, ethnic identity has been conceptualized as an individual's sense of self as derived from his or her membership in an ethnic group, which involves a sense of belonging and commitment to one's own group. Phinney's (1990) ethnic identity formation model, which is based on Erikson's (1968) ego identity theory, views the formation of ethnic identity as a developmental process involving exploration and commitment. This model holds that, as a part of identity formation, ethnic minority adolescents tend to explore issues related to becoming a member of an ethnic group. In the process of exploration, comparable to the process of ego identity formation, adolescents go through different stages of ethnic identity achievement depending on the degree to which they explore and resolve ethnic issues. The important aspect of ethnic identity appears to be the level of ethnic identity achievement as characterized by the strength of ethnic group belongingness, and positive attitudes toward one's own group, not biological ethnic group membership itself. According to Phinney (1993), a high level of ethnic identity achievement indicates a secure sense of self as an ethnic group member, which is crucial to the development of adolescents' self-concept. It is likely, therefore, that a high level of ethnic identity contributes to the positive psychological well-being of ethnic minority adolescents, whereas a low level of ethnic identity characterized by negative evaluation of or negative attitudes toward one's group could cause some psychological problems and distress, such as a sense of marginality, low self-esteem, and depression. The view that ethnic identity has a mitigating effect on a broad range of problem behaviors for ethnic minority adolescents has been supported in a number of studies (Phillips, 1994; Phinney, 1992; Phinney et al., 1992).

In addition to attitudes toward one's own group, attitudes toward other groups also influence the way ethnic individuals develop their ethnic identity. The concept of other-group attitudes, which has often been used interchangeably with ethnic identity in the literature, plays a central role in the acculturation approach in its conceptualization of acculturation modes (Berry, 1984, 1990). In this approach, ethnic identity is affected not only by one's sense of ethnic belonging, but by the way in which one relates to other groups and to the larger society. Research based on this approach has found that a strong sense of ethnic belonging accompanied by positive attitudes toward other groups, which is indicative of integration, contributes to healthy psychological adjustment of minority adolescents. On the other hand, a weak sense of ethnic belonging with little adaptation to (or negative attitudes toward) other groups and cultures, which is indicative of marginality, has a negative impact on their psychological as well as behavioral adjustment (Berry et al., 1989; Berry & Kim, 1988; Phinney et al., 1990).

Several studies have addressed the psychological and behavioral problems of Asian American adolescents in relation to acculturation attitudes. For example, in a study with Korean American adolescents, Kim (1994) found that adolescents with integrationist identity demonstrated the highest self-esteem, while those with marginal identity exhibited the lowest self-esteem. Yu and Kim (1983) also addressed the adolescents' indecisive feelings toward both their ethnic group and mainstream society as a source of alienation among Korean American adolescents, which contributes to their psychological distress and dysfunction. Sheu (1986), in a study of juvenile delinquency in San Francisco's Chinatown, found that delinquent adolescents were more likely to be marginalized and who both deny their ethnic group membership as Chinese Americans and exhibit negative attitudes toward mainstream society. In addition, Chae (1990), in his study of Korean American juvenile delinquency, found that adolescents who suffer from ethnic identity conflict due to acculturation differences between themselves and their parents, tend to turn to drug use or to deviant peers as ways of resolving their feelings of marginality.

Another important issue in examining the relationship between ethnic identity and adolescent psychological functioning is adolescents' perception of their ethnic/racial status in the larger society, particularly the awareness of racial prejudice and discrimination against their ethnic groups (Phinney & Kohastsu, 1997). Studies of ethnic identity present contrasting views regarding the effects of perceived discrimination on emotional functioning. As members of ethnic groups, ethnic minority adolescents may be confronted with unfair racial treatment, which may cause tension and conflict in identity formation, which in turn negatively influence their psychological and behavioral development. Historically, it has been argued that the perception and experience of discrimination undermine adolescents' ethnic identity and pride, which may contribute to their psychological distress such as feelings of social isolation, inferiority, and inadequacy (Uba, 1994). On the other hand, other researchers have suggested that the awareness of racism promotes ethnic solidarity among minority members in order to combat racism collectively (Porter & Washington, 1993; Fordam & Ogbu, 1986). Particularly, Fordam and Ogbu (1986) argued that when confronted with racial discrimination, minority adolescents tend to develop an oppositional identity that rejects the dominant society's values. This oppositional identity can be viewed as a racialized identity rather than an achieved ethnic identity, since it is accompanied by negative and rebellious attitudes toward the dominant society. Though their focus was on African American adolescents' academic nonperformance, Ogbu and Fordam's study of an oppositional identity implies a relationship between adolescents' perception of discrimination and their problem behaviors.

A few studies have recognized the perception of racial discrimination as a factor affecting adolescents' psychological well-being. Using data from the National Chicago Survey, Vega (1995) found that the experience of racial discrimination has a significant negative effect on the self-esteem of Mexican American adolescents. Rosenthal and Cichello (1986), in their study of Italian Australian adolescents, also found that the perception of problems arising from minority group membership was a significant factor in predicting adolescents' psychosocial maladjustment. In addition, Asamen and Berry's (1987) study of Japanese American and Chinese American college students found that Japanese American students who perceived more racial prejudice against them were more likely to have lower self-esteem than did those who perceived less racial prejudice. Although research on the relationship between perceived discrimination and adolescents' conduct problems is lacking, Ogbu and Fordam's concept of an oppositional identity that involves feelings of anger and a tendency to denigrate mainstream society makes plausible the case that awareness of discrimination may trigger in adolescents a negative reaction to the society which, at worst, could lead to antisocial behaviors.

In summary, the findings of previous studies on ethnic identity suggest that a high level of ethnic identity, if accompanied by positive attitudes toward other groups, yields positive psychological and behavioral outcomes in minority adolescents. In contrast, ethnic identity conflict, stemming either from acculturative stress or from adolescents' perception of racial discrimination, has a negative effect on adolescents' psychological and behavioral adjustment.



The sample consisted of 217 Korean American students selected from ethnically diverse high schools in the Los Angeles area including Koreatown, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley. Six middle and high schools known to have a significant number of Korean American students were contacted and, with the permission of the schools' principals, a research assistant visited each school to distribute introductory letters to parents and parental consent forms. Within the week, the assistant visited the schools again to distribute questionnaires to students whose parents had consented. Students were informed that their participation in the study was voluntary and that their responses were completely confidential and anonymous. Students filled out the questionnaires during lunch hours or after school. Completion of the questionnaire took approximately 15 minutes.

In terms of gender, 123 (56.7%) were female and 94 (43.3%) were male. They ranged in age from 13 to 18, with a mean of 15.8 years (SD = 1.65). About half (52.1%) were born in Korea and 46.1% were born in the United States. It should be noted, however, that of the respondents who were born in Korea, approximately 50% had immigrated to the U.S. before the age of five. Thus, nearly three quarters of the respondents were raised and schooled primarily in the U.S., while 25% migrated to America with at least some elementary education in Korea. The self-reported mean grade point average (GPA) of the respondents was 3.49 (SD = .56) with a GPA higher than 3.0 making up 77% of the sample. About 14% of the respondents reported their GPA lower than 3.0, while only 1% reported their GPA lower than 2.0. With regard to the parents' educational achievement, 64% of the fathers and 48% of the mothers were college graduates.


Major variables measured include: demographic/social (age, gender, place of birth, level of parents' education, and grade point average), level of ethnic identity, attitudes toward other groups, perceived discrimination, internalizing problem behaviors, and externalizing problem behaviors. The level of ethnic identity, attitudes toward other groups, perceived discrimination, and the demographic/social variables (independent variables) were examined as predictors of internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors (outcome variable) among Korean American adolescents in a model of statistical analysis.

The questionnaire consisted of two subscales from Phinney's (1992) Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Level of Ethnic Identity, Attitudes toward Other Groups), the Perceived Discrimination Checklist (developed by the first author), and the Youth Self-Report (Achenbach, 1991). Phinney's 14-item Level of Ethnic Identity subscale was designed to assess the degree of ethnic identity among adolescents using a 4-point Likert-type format, ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (4). Phinney reported that overall reliability (Cronbach's alpha) was .81 for high school samples. The scale assesses three aspects of ethnic identity: ethnic belongingness, ethnic identity achievement, and ethnic behaviors. Items such as "I am happy that I am a member of the group I belong to" and "I have a lot of pride in my ethnic group and its accomplishments" measure sense of belonging to the group, while "I have a clear sense of my own ethnic background and what it means to me" and "I think a lot about how my life will be affected by my ethnic group membership" assess ethnic identity achievement. Items like "I participate in cultural practices of my own group, such as special food, music, or customs" and "I am active in organizations or social groups that include mostly members of my own ethnic group" measure ethnic behaviors. The level of ethnic identity was derived by obtaining a mean score from the sum total of the 14 items. A high mean score reflects a high level of ethnic identity, while a low mean score indicates low ethnic identity. The reliability coefficient of the scale with the present sample was .90.

Phinney's 6-item Attitudes toward Other Groups subscale was designed to assess attitudes toward other groups among adolescents and young adults, which has a reported reliability (Cronbach alpha) of .71 with high school students. Respondents were asked to rate such statements as "I like meeting and getting to know people from ethnic groups other than my own," and "I don't try to become friends with people from other ethnic groups." After reversing negatively worded items, the attitudes toward other-group score was derived by summing across the six items and obtaining a mean. A high score indicates positive attitudes toward other groups. Cronbach's alpha for this scale measure was .77 with this sample.

A five-item checklist was developed to assess perceived discrimination. Items asked respondents' perception of the society's unfair treatment of their ethnic group and also the personal experience of unfair treatment by other students, teachers, and other adults outside school due to their ethnic background. Typical items stated "During your high school years, how often have you thought that your ethnic group is negatively stereotyped by mainstream people?" and "During your high school years, how often have you experienced unfair treatment by peers at school due to your ethnicity (e.g., name calling, racial jokes, etc.)?" Responses were rated on a 4-point Likert scale, ranging from almost never (1) to almost always (4). A scale score was obtained by deriving a mean from the sum total of the five items. A high scale score indicates frequent perceptions of perceived discrimination. Reliability for the perceived discrimination scale was .70 for the present sample.

Adolescents' problem behaviors were measured by the 112-Item Youth Self-Report (YSR). The YSR contains subscales to identify five core syndromes of adolescent problems: withdrawal, anxiety/depression, somatic complaints, aggression, and delinquency. Items for all five subscales were rated on a 3-point Likert scale, ranging from not true (1) to very true (3). Achenbach (1991) designated the first three syndromes as "internalizing" problems, and the remaining two syndromes as "externalizing" problems. The internalizing problems were measured by the mean score of items in the withdrawn, anxious/depressed, and somatic complaints scales, while externalizing problems were comprised of the mean score of items in the aggression and delinquency scales. The YSR problem scales were found to be internally consistent, with the alpha coefficients of .89 for externalizing problems and .91 for internalizing problems for high school students. For the present sample, a reliability analysis yielded Cronbach's alpha .82 for internalizing problems and .88 for externalizing problems.


Table 1 presents overall differences in the respondents' ethnic identity and problem behaviors by gender and age. The differences in ethnic identity and internalizing as well as externalizing problems were examined using two-tailed t tests for independent samples. Age, originally measured on interval scale, was recoded into two groups--younger adolescents (13 to 15 years) and older adolescents (16 to 18 years). In terms of three dimensions of ethnic identity, the respondents reported relatively high on level of ethnic identity and other-group attitudes. Unlike these two dimensions of ethnic identity, the respondents reported significantly low scores on perceived racial discrimination. No gender difference was found on level of ethnic identity. However, statistically significant gender difference was found on both other-group attitudes and perceived discrimination. Specifically, the male respondents reported more negative attitudes toward other groups, t(213) = -3.79, p < .000, and higher perceptions of racial discrimination than did females, t(211) = 2.09, p < .05. Age was also related to the level of ethnic identity and perceived discrimination, suggesting that the older respondents achieved a higher level of ethnic identity, t(210) = -2.25, p < .05, but perceived more discrimination than did younger respondents, t(209) = -2.36, p < .05. There was no significant age difference in other-group attitudes.

With regard to problem behaviors, the Korean American respondents experienced slightly more internalizing problems than externalizing problems in general. The most frequent internalizing problems reported by the respondents was withdrawal syndrome, whereas the most frequent externalizing problem was aggressive behavior. Females reported a significantly higher score on the internalizing problem scale than did their male counterparts, t(213) = - 1.94, p < .05, while males reported to have experienced more externalizing problems, t(212) = 2.37, p < .05. Although the older respondents experienced overall more internalizing and externalizing problems, the age difference was not statistically significant.

The primary objective of this study was to examine the relationships between three dimensions of ethnic identity and adolescents' problem behaviors. As an initial step in the process of examining the relationships, correlations among demographic, ethnic identity, and problem behavior variables were examined to establish the statistical significance of the bivariate relations independent of other variables. As shown in Table 2, level of ethnic identity was moderately negatively correlated with both internalizing problem (r = -.160, p = .02) and externalizing problem behaviors (r = -.205, p = .003), demonstrating that high levels of ethnic identity were related to lower levels of adolescents' problem behaviors. More specifically, adolescents with a high level ethnic identity were less likely to experience internalizing as well as externalizing problems. Other-group attitudes also showed a significant negative correlation with externalizing problems (r = -.218, p = .001), indicating that positive other-group attitudes were related to lower levels of externalizing problems. However, interestingly, there was no significant correlation between other-group attitudes and internalizing problems.

Table 2 also reveals significant correlations of perceived discrimination with both problem behaviors. The respondents with high perceptions of racial discrimination were more likely to engage in both internalizing (r = .263, p = .000) and externalizing problems (r = .369, p = .000). Furthermore, perceived discrimination was found to be more strongly correlated with both problem behaviors than the other two dimensions of ethnic identity variables--ethnic identity and other-group attitudes. As expected, gender is significantly positively correlated to other-group attitudes (r = .256, p = .000), and negatively correlated to perceived discrimination (r = -. 145, p = .034) and externalizing problems (r = -.162, p .017). More specifically, female respondents showed more positive other-group attitudes than did male respondents, while they demonstrated lower perceptions of racial dis crimination and experienced less externalizing problems than did the male counterparts. Interestingly, age was significantly correlated only with ethnic identity level, demonstrating that older adolescents displayed higher levels of ethnic identity achievement.

Students' academic performance, as measured by GPA, was found to be highly correlated with both internalizing problems (r = -. 158, p = .027) and externalizing problems (r = - .373, p = .000), and all three dimensions of ethnic identity-ethnic identity level (r = .204, p = .004), other-group attitudes (r = .275, p = .000), and perceived discrimination (r = -.347, p = .000). The findings showed that high GPA was related to lower perceptions of perceived discrimination and fewer incidents of adolescent problem behaviors. In contrast, GPA was positively correlated with level of ethnic identity and other-group attitudes, demonstrating that the respondents with higher GPAs showed higher levels of ethnic identity and more positive attitudes toward other groups than did those with lower GPAs.

Regression analyses were conducted separately for internalizing and externalizing problems using six predictor variables--gender, age, GPA, level of ethnic identity, other-group attitudes, and perceived discrimination. A hierarchical regression model was employed to control for demographic variables, and thereby measured the net effect of ethnic identity variables. Three demographic variables (gender, age, and GPA), which revealed significant relationships to outcome variables in the bivariate analysis, were entered in the first block as control variables, followed by the second block of three dimensions of ethnic identity variables--level of ethnic identity, other-group attitudes, and perceived discrimination. Parents' educational level was not included in the control variables due to its lack of relationships with any of the ethnic variables or problem behavior variables in the descriptive analysis. Tables 3 and 4 present results of regression analyses for the internalizing problems and externalizing problems, respectively.

As shown in Tables 3 and 4, the model explained 15% of the variance in internalizing problems (R = .388, [R.sup.2] = .151, p = .000), and 24% of the variance in externalizing problems (R = .492, [R.sup.2] = .242, p = .000). Two ethnic identity variables--level of ethnic identity and perceived discrimination--were significant predictors of both internalizing and externalizing problems, when demographic variables were controlled for. On the other hand, other-group attitudes was not found to be a significant predictor. As expected, level of ethnic identity was inversely related to both internalizing and externalizing problems, suggesting that the respondents with higher levels of ethnic identity were less likely to experience frequent problem behaviors. In contrast, perceived discrimination showed a strong positive effect on both problem behaviors, demonstrating that adolescents who perceived high levels of racial discrimination were more likely to engage in both internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors. The findings demonstrate that achieving a high level of ethnic identity has a positive implication for adolescent behavior, while experiencing discrimination is harmful to adolescent development.

Among the demographic variables, gender was a significant predictor of internalizing problems but not of externalizing problems. Apparently, females were more likely to experience internalizing problems than were males. Interestingly, GPA was found to be a significant and strong predictor of externalizing problems but not of internalizing problems. This finding suggests that Korean American adolescents with high levels of academic performance are less likely to experience externalizing problems.


The results of this study demonstrate the importance of level of ethnic identity, perceived discrimination, and academic performance as significant predictors of adolescent problem behaviors. Ethnic identity, assessed as a sense of belonging and positive attachment to one's ethnic group, was a significant predictor of both internalizing and externalizing problems for Korean American adolescents in this sample. The results show that for Korean American adolescents, the higher their sense of belonging to their ethnic group, the lower the problem behaviors. The finding of significant relationships between ethnic identity level and adolescent problem behaviors provides empirical support to previous studies that addressed the mitigating effects of ethnic identity on a broad range of adolescent problems (Phinney et al., 1990, 1992; Rotheram-Borus, 1989).

Perceived discrimination, on the other hand, emerged as a strong positive predictor of both internalizing and externalizing problems. The results suggest that the prevalence of problem behaviors is strongly associated with adolescents' perceptions of racial discrimination. The observed relationship between perceived discrimination and adolescent internalizing problems is consistent with the existing social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, (1986), which suggests that society's negative view of one's group is a contributing factor to an ethnic individual's negative self-evaluation. However, some explanation is required as to why adolescents' perceptions of discrimination have a stronger positive relationship with adolescents' externalizing problems than with internalizing problems. Perhaps, the respondents who were involved in externalizing problems such as juvenile delinquency and aggressive behaviors may have been subject to multiple acts of discrimination as if they were inferior, second-class citizens and thus developed low self-esteem and a strong sense of anger and frustration toward our multiethnic environment at an early age. The number of studies focusing on relationships between perceived discrimination and juvenile problems among Asian American adolescents is very limited. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Korean American adolescents' perceptions of racial discrimination may be a risk factor for developing deviant behavioral problems in this population. In ethnocultural interviews conducted with Korean American adolescents by the authors, unpleasant racially based experiences were frequently mentioned as a part of their problems. Those adolescents described their embarrassment and resentment when they were pulled over by police for no specific reason except that they were of Asian descent, or when they were mistreated or stereotyped by school personnel and other majority-group students. The current finding of a strong relationship between perceived discrimination and adolescent conduct problems can be explained by Ogbu's (1981) ecological theory of adolescent development, which postulates that the behaviors of individuals are influenced by their perceptions of social reality, and thus, adolescents' externalizing problems may represent negative responses to unfair racial treatment. This finding is also consistent with Pinderhughes' (1982) theory of a "victim system," which viewed discrimination as an ultimate breeder of crime and other pathology for minority youths.

Other-group attitudes made no significant contribution to either of the problem behaviors. However, since other-group attitudes were shown to have a strong negative correlation with perceived discrimination, it may have played a mediating role in the relationship between perceived discrimination and adolescents' problem behaviors. Findings for gender indicated that females reported experiencing significantly more internalizing problems than did their male counterparts. In contrast, females reported less frequent externalizing problems than did males, but the difference was not statistically significant. Although some researchers noted that the observed gender difference in problem behavior patterns may be universal across cultures (Weine et al., 1995; Rohner, 1976), it may also be partly due to acculturation differences between males and females. In the present sample, the female respondents consistently scored higher on other-group attitudes and lower on perceived discrimination than did the male respondents, suggesting that the level of acculturation to the mainstream society is higher among females than males. If females become more acculturated to American culture, it is very likely that they experience more cultural conflicts especially in the area of gender typing and gender role expectations within the family.

As Whiting and Edwards (1988) suggested, gender role is an integral component of children's socialization process in the family. In the immigrant Korean family structure, which is heavily influenced by Confucian gender ideology, male and female children are treated differentially in terms of family expectations and responsibilities. Male children are expected to be more assertive, outgoing, and are allowed to be more involved in outside the home activities, while females are expected to obey, comply without self-assertion, and are more restricted in outside social activities. This gender typing is often played out in conflicting ideas between parents and female children in the areas of dating, socializing, dress, and career choices. In addition, females are expected to do more family chores such as cooking, cleaning, and even taking care of younger siblings. As Asian American adolescent females become assimilated into more egalitarian American culture and society, the contrast between the traditional family and the outside home context could become a possible source of psychological distress such as depression and anxiety. Males, on the other hand, being granted more freedom to participate in outside social activities, are likely to learn the behaviors of the host society more rapidly. If not well monitored, they may easily get involved with delinquent peers, which increases the probability of engaging in socially unacceptable behaviors.

Quite unexpectedly, academic performance, indicated by self-reported GPA, was found to be a significant and strong predictor of externalizing problems. Adolescents who reported higher GPAs tended to have less externalizing problems. Apparently, this finding is remarkably consistent with other research findings, which showed a positive relationship between Asian American students' academic performance and their greater adaptive behaviors (Chen & Stevenson, 1995; Sue & Okazaki, 1990). These studies offered evidence that high academic performance enhances adolescents' self-esteem and personal efficacy by providing them with more adaptive means of handling personal or contextual challenges and obstacles. However, it should be noted that the highly competitive journey toward academic excellence can also adversely contribute to significant psychological distress for some Asian American adolescents as a result of the tremendous amount of stress and pressures from their families and teachers (Lee, 1994). Despite this popular perspective that Asian American students' high academic achievement has heavy psychological costs, the present study affirms that involvement in academic activities promotes their psychosocial adjustment and is likely to prevent a variety of maladaptive deviant behaviors. According to Chen and Stevenson's recent study (1995) conducted with a large sample of a cross-cultural project, there was no evidence that high-achieving Asian American students experienced a greater frequency of maladjusted symptoms than did Caucasian American students.

The present study results provide valuable insights into factors that are likely to contribute to the development of Asian American adolescents' problem behaviors. A fairly well-developed sense of ethnic identity, minimal exposure to discrimination, and adequate academic performance are clearly important factors in shaping Asian American adolescents' psychological well-being and their adaptive behaviors. The findings suggest that Asian American adolescents are in need of attention from both educational institutions and community mental health programs. Educational institutions appear to be highly influential in fostering understanding of diverse ethnic cultures by incorporating ethnic community and history courses into multicultural curriculum and in-service training for teachers and school administrators. Additionally, school settings need to provide a variety of opportunities for increased interactions among ethnically diverse students and faculties by mandating cultural diversity workshops. It also seems crucial that educational institutions, especially in ethnic communities, need to diversify their personnel by hiring more ethnic minority teachers, counselors, administrators, and school board members to provide more positive role models for minority students and to aid in the development of ethnic pride. The promotion of multiculturalism rather than narrowly defined Americanism in the wider society, and more positive portrayals of ethnic minority groups and cultures would help minority students achieve a more positive sense of ethnic identity.

The present findings--ethnic identity significantly predicts internalizing problems including depression, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms--have important practice implications. School counselors, mental health practitioners, peer support group facilitators, and family members should pay particular attention to the importance of bicultural identity development for Asian American youths' successful psychological adjustment. Recent immigrant adjustment research suggests that biculturalism, characterized by adapting to American culture while retaining ethnic connections and identity, is a significant predictor of psychological well-being and life satisfaction for immigrants (Feliciano, 2001; Kim, 1996; Lu, 2001). It is crucial for practitioners to help Asian American adolescents understand that bicultural youths who effectively integrate into the immigrant community and mainstream society, and thus draw resources from both cultures are an ideal model of successful immigration adjustment.

The total variance accounted for by the key variables in the present study was relatively small, suggesting that other variables may contribute to adolescent problem behaviors. It is possible that adolescents' immediate environment such as family, peers, and schools can be significant antecedents of adolescents' problem behaviors. Future research on ethnic minority adolescent problem behaviors should investigate the effects of these ecological environmental factors in combination with ethnic identity variables in order to understand the wider range of factors that are likely to contribute to ethnic minority adolescents' emotional and behavioral adjustment.
Table 1

Means and Standard Deviations for Level of Ethnic Identity,
Other-Group Attitudes, Perceived Discrimination, Internalizing
Problems, and Externalizing Problems by Age and Gender


 Male Female

 M (SD) M (SD) t

Level of Ethnic Identity 3.01 (.51) 2.99 (.56) .18
Other-Group Attitudes 2.83 (.60) 3.12 (.56) -3.79 ***
Perceived Discrimination 1.90 (.75) 1.68 (.75) 2.09 *
Internalizing Problems 1.51 (.33) 1.61 (.38) -1.94 *
Externalizing Problems 1.61 (.42) 1.49 (.32) 2.37 *


 13-15 16-18

 M (SD) M (SD) t

Level of Ethnic Identity 2.91 (.49) 3.08 (.57) -2.25 *
Other-Group Attitudes 2.98 (.55) 3.02 (.62) -.41
Perceived Discrimination 1.65 (.69) 1.89 (.80) -2.36 *
Internalizing Problems 1.54 (.37) 1.58 (.36) -.76
Externalizing Problems 1.51 (.36) 1.55 (.37) -.81


 M (SD)

Level of Ethnic Identity 3.00 (.54)
Other-Group Attitudes 2.99 (.59)
Perceived Discrimination 1.78 (.76)
Internalizing Problems 1.57 (.36)
Externalizing Problems 1.54 (.37)

Note. Scores for the problem behaviors range from 1 to 3, and scores
for ethnic identity, attitudes, and discrimination range from 1 to 4.

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Table 2

Bivariate Correlations among Demographic Variables, Three Dimensions
of Ethnic Identity, and Internalizing and Externalizing Problem

 Level of
 Gender Age GPA Identity

Age -.101
GPA .151 * -.046
Level of Ethnic Identity .001 .151 * .204 **
Other-Group Attitudes .256 *** .039 .275 *** -.034
Perceived Discrimination -.145 * .119 -.347 *** .034
Internalizing Problems .134 .031 -.158 * -.160 *
Externalizing Problems -.162 * .022 -.373 *** -.205 **

 Group Perceived Internalizing
 Attitudes Discrimination Problems

Level of Ethnic Identity
Other-Group Attitudes
Perceived Discrimination -.316 ***
Internalizing Problems -.059 .263 ***
Externalizing Problems -.218 ** .369 *** .50 ***

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Table 3

Summary of Hierarchical Multiple Regression of Internalizing Problems
with Demographic Variables and Three Dimensions of Ethnic Identity

Variables B [beta] [rho]

Gender 5.588 .240 .001
Age .257 .037 .602
GPA -2.126 -.105 .175

Level of Ethnic Identity -.399 -.141 .049
Other-Group Attitudes -.035 -.012 .880
Perceived Discrimination 1.248 .250 .001

Predictor Partial Part Cumulative
Variables r r [R.sup.2]

Gender .241 .228
Age .048 .046
GPA -.101 -.093
Level of Ethnic Identity -.145 -.135
Other-Group Attitudes -.011 -.010
Perceived Discrimination .235 .223
Model Summary: [R.sup.2] = .151, F(6, 181) = 5.353, p = .000

Table 4
Summary of Hierarchical Multiple Regression of Externalizing Problems
with Demographic Variables and Three Dimensions of Ethnic Identity

Variables B [beta] [rho]

Gender -1.042 -.045 .509
Age .079 .011 .865
GPA -5.355 -.268 .000

Level of Ethnic Identity -.458 -.164 .017
Other-Group Attitudes -.188 -.062 .394
Perceived Discrimination 1.107 .224 .002

Predictor Partial Part Cumulative
Variables r r [R.sup.2]

Gender -.049 -.043
Age .013 .011
GPA -.263 -.238
Level of Ethnic Identity -.178 -.157
Other-Group Attitudes -.064 -.056
Perceived Discrimination .224 .200
Model Summary: [R.sup.2] = .242, F(6, 179) = 9.517, p = 000

The authors would like to thank Thanh V. Tran, Ailee Moon, and Janet Chang for their insightful comments on the statistical analyses.


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