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Socialization in Changing Cultural Contexts: A Search for Images of the "Adaptive Adult".

In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the significant roles of culture and socialization in child development. The conceptual framework presented in this article is derived from the fields of cross-cultural child development, immigration, and ethnic minority studies. The article focuses on the relationship between cultural contexts and images of an "adaptive adult," which is proposed as a guiding metaphor in the organization of child-rearing ideologies and practices, which in turn are influenced by the values, experience, culture, and behavior of socializing agents within a given culture. The article explains how this concept is rooted in past and future time orientations and in the duality of public and private cultures. The article also explores changes in images of the adaptive adult in interaction with ecological components. Examples from the authors' research in Israel, as well as the research of others, are cited. The article concludes with a general discussion of the potential contribut ion that this framework can make to social workers dealing with immigrant, migrant, and ethnic minority children and families.

Key words: adaptive behavior; cultural change; cultural context; ethnic minority families; socialization

Social workers in multicultural societies often assist families in cultural transition. Transition processes are experienced, for example, by immigrant families adjusting to a new country, by migrant families adjusting to a new setting in the same country, or by indigenous families who strive to preserve their ethnic identity. In their attempt to help families cope with transition, social workers frequently encounter differences and conflicts between the host culture's social norms and policies related to children's health, education, and welfare; and socialization ideologies and practices within diverse ethnic groups (Burstow, 1991; Chau, 1992; Weaver, 1998). Mainstream Western developmental psychology, which serves as an important source of social work knowledge, often fails to provide theoretical and practical tools to deal with this challenge. Rather, it relies primarily on the individual as a unit of analysis and focuses on universal laws of behavior while neglecting cultural diversity (Kagitcibasi, 1996).

This article proposes a conceptual framework derived from a growing body of studies on cross-cultural child development, immigration, and ethnic minority families, which is applied to social work practice. Three major orientations in the above-mentioned fields, which acknowledge the contribution of varying sociocultural contexts to family dynamics, provide the basis for the proposed framework. The first is an ecological or anthropological approach focusing on the environment in which children develop. The second focuses on child-rearing beliefs, ideologies, and practices of parents and socializing agents, which influence developmental goals for children's socialization. The third orientation focuses on changes in the ecological and cultural contexts as a result of immigration, historical, or ideological changes and their effect on the goals of socialization.

The field of child development has been characterized by a major shift in perspectives and approaches toward the role of the environment in child development. This shift has had important implications for theory and methodology and has generated new models of the environment as a context for child development (Bronfenbrenner, 1995; Gardiner, Mutter, & Kosmitzki, 1998; Goodnow & Collins, 1990; Greenfield, 1994; Harkness & Super, 1996; Kagitcibasi 1996; Rogoff, Mistry, Goncu & Mosier, 1991). A similar shift has been observed in anthropological research in terms of perspectives on the effect of culture on child development. According to Super and Harkness (1986) this shift is reflected in the transition from concepts such as "child training" (Whiting & Child, 1953) to "learning environments" (Whiting & Whiting, 1975) and "acquisition of culture" (Schwartz, 1981).

A growing body of research indicates that parental child-rearing ideologies and practices vary across cultural groups and are affected by culture (Bornstein, 1991; Bornstein et al., 1992; Goodnow & Collins, 1990; Honig, 1989; Valsiner, 1989). This domain of research also has been inspired by the changing conceptualizations of "environment" described earlier. The search for "universals" in the determinants of parents' beliefs and practices is being replaced by research on the contextual effect of the ecology of the family, society, and culture on these characteristics (Bornstein). An important contribution to the study of the role of context in child development is drawn from studies that investigate the effect of changing ecological contexts on socialization of children and families, with special emphasis on children from immigrant and ethnic minority groups. In this connection, increasing knowledge has accumulated on cross-cultural differences in child-rearing ideologies and practices (Greenfield & Cocking, 1994; Harrison, Wilson, Pine, Chan, & Buriel, 1994; Kagitcibasi 1996; Ogbu, 1981; Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1993).

Culture and Socialization

Anthropological, sociological, and cross-cultural developmental research conducted over the past two decades assumes that child rearing and socialization are functional and future oriented. Young members of society are socialized to participate in and contribute toward their communities as adults and to fulfill the social requirements of their culture. (Katz, 1996; Le Vine, 1988). Socialization goals and strategies that parents inculcate in their children derive from cultural knowledge of the tasks children may be expected to fulfill in their future societies (DeVos, 1982; Greenfield, 1994; Harrison et al., 1994; Ogbu, 1981). This cultural knowledge sums up the society's experiences of past generations. Adaptive strategies derived from this knowledge implicitly assume that the future generation will be exposed to similar experiences and that strategies construed as adaptive in the past will remain so in the future. Kagitcibasi (1996) noted that "adaptive mechanisms are invoked to explain why a particular type of development occurs...why self-family-culture linkage gets established in particular ways, showing variability as well as similarity across cultures." (p. 2).

The functional view of adaptive strategies that is apparent in societies in which future goals for socialization are based on past generations' experiences is much more difficult to apply to families in multicultural contexts such as the United States, Canada, Australia, or Israel, which are characterized by a mixture of nationalities, as well as by large groups of immigrants from all over the globe. In Israel the complex mosaic of interactions between groups with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds may serve as an extensive ecological laboratory for the study of adaptive strategies. Israel is a country of immigration, which has numerous ethnic minority groups (Roer-Strier, 1998) but does not have a defined cultural majority group (Della-Pergola, 1998). Immigration policies and attitudes have changed over the years from the "New Israeli" ideology of equality and fraternity through "melting pot" to "cultural pluralism" (Jaffe, 1995). Parents in Israel are exposed to different definitions of "adaptive" be havior through social policies, education, immigration, intermarriage, and the mass media. At the same time a growing number of children are socialized in a mixture of "private" and "public" cultures and are exposed to different socializing agents such as social workers, educators, psychologists, physicians, nutritionists, and others who are likely to maintain different socialization goals and different views of adaptive behavior from those of their parents.

Based on current literature and our investigations in Israel over the past 16 years, this article proposes a conceptual framework that addresses the complexity of ecological change and multiple definitions of adaptivity with respect to immigrating, migrating, and diverse ethnic groups living in a host culture. The main concept--the image of an "adaptive adult"--is proposed as a resource for social workers in understanding and helping families in cultural transition. The framework is clarified by examples from research in Israel.

Conceptual Framework for Exploring Images of the "Adaptive Adult"

The proposed framework focuses on expected outcomes or goals of socialization. "Adaptive strategies" are seen as means that socializing agents, such as parents, use to achieve these goals. The "adaptive adult" concept reflects parents' ideal image of how their children should be as adults. This image serves as a guiding metaphor for describing the organization of child-rearing ideologies, perceptions, and values of socializing agents in a given culture. Parents' child-rearing practices are viewed as a means for socializing children to become adaptive adults.

This framework assumes that culture is one of the main aspects influencing a parent's image of an adaptive adult. However, this image, of which parents are not always conscious, may vary in different cultural contexts, and even in the same culture (depending on the extent of interaction with the host culture) or in the same family. Images also may vary according to different variables such as the child's gender, parents' socioeconomic status, level of education, professional orientation, and so on.

The adaptive adult image may be influenced by the cumulative experiences of a specific cultural group. In traditional, homogeneous societies the image of the adaptive adult remains relatively constant across generations. The image may be less distinct in societies or families undergoing change. For these families the adaptive adult image may be influenced by future-oriented goals based on political ideology, or changes they or their group anticipate in the future. The image of the adaptive adult of immigrants may combine aspects considered adaptive in the past with those perceived as being potentially adaptive in the future. For families undergoing religious change, the adaptive adult may be influenced by images related to the particular values of the desired religious ideology.

We argue that the adaptive adult concept is a dynamic concept. We demonstrate the dynamics and discuss its complexity through the paradigm of the Chrono-system ecological perspective that takes into account the relations of process--person-context and time (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, 1995).

The following discussion of the concept of the adaptive adult addresses and emphasizes the chronological aspect of the ecological perspective. Images of the adaptive adult are discussed according to past orientation, future orientation, duality of private (past) and public (present) cultures, and changes that result from immigration.

Changes in the images of the adaptive adult that result from immigration are considered in interaction with ecological components at the four levels suggested by the ecological system approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, 1993): the microsystem--that is, the interaction of the individual's biologically and socially determined attributes with their immediate systems; the mesosystem--that is, the reflection of the relationship and connections between immediate settings (for example, family, friends, and education system); the exosystem--that is, settings that indirectly influence the functioning of individuals, including availability and attitudes of agencies; and the macrosystem--that is, the influence of history, values, laws and regulations, aspects of social policy, and customs from the culture of origin and from the host culture.

We argue further that one of the main merits of this conceptual framework is its applicability to social work practice. The concept is particularly useful in cases in which there are conflicting definitions of adaptivity and socialization goals within the family, between generations, or between parents and socializing agents. Social workers frequently find definitional discrepancies such as these among ethnic minority families living in a host society that values a different set of goals.

Chronological Aspects of the Ecological Perspective

Past Orientation: Adaptive Adult in Traditional Societies

In homogeneous traditional societies, the adaptive adult image remains relatively constant across generations. It is primarily influenced by cumulative experiences and thus may encompass adaptive strategies. This orientation is exemplified by the case of Ethiopian Jews, who originated in a unique cultural context in which Jewish tradition was preserved for generations in relative isolation from Western influences.

According to studies about the cultural heritage and identity of Ethiopian Jewry (Kaplan, 1992; Pankhurst, 1992; Weil, 1997), the majority of Jews lived in five major districts of Ethiopia, scattered over a large geographic territory. Their livelihood was based mainly on agriculture, which was supplemented by work as blacksmiths, carpenters, artisans, potters, and weavers. Family life was organized around the extended family in a clear hierarchical structure, which was usually headed by an elder male, and defined gender roles. Until the 1980s, very few Jewish children received formal schooling. (Ben-Ezer, 1992).

In this cultural context the goals for socialization of children focus on the community and on preservation of tradition. The culture highlights human relationships and values mutual help and support (Ben-Ezer, 1992). Important values for Jews in Ethiopia were related to the individual's ability to cope with hardship and other stressful events in life. In contrast to the Western view that pain and suffering can be best dealt with by overt expression of emotions such as talking or crying, Ethiopian culture encourages "silencing of trouble" by ignoring or repressing pain. Ethiopian Jews value the ability to tolerate hardship, offense, and frustration while controlling expression of negative emotions. Strength also is valued in a physical sense, as well as the ability to defend the honor and life of one's family and community when threatened by outsiders.

The image of the adaptive adult maintained by Jews in Ethiopia for generations was one of a hardworking person oriented toward showing respect for elders, preserving traditions, and maintaining self-restraint and self-control. In our studies we found that the three most-desired attributes reported most frequently for members of the older generation after their immigration to Israel were strength, helpfulness to others, and respect of elders and traditions. (Roer-Strier, 1996a)

Future Orientation: Image of a "New Adult"

In societies undergoing social and political revolution or other dramatic changes, the adaptive adult image may reflect perceptions of the future desired and envisaged for that society. Parents and other socializing agents who adopt the new ideology are encouraged to change their image of an adaptive adult in accordance with the new values prescribed by the society. Thus, for example, the pioneers of the early waves of immigration to prestate Israel were mostly young adults in their twenties who rebelled against the traditions represented by the older generation in Europe and sought to transform the Jewish nation. Their goal was to develop an alternative culture based on new beliefs and ideologies, which would differ as much as possible from the culture of the Jews in the diaspora. Their children were expected to become the "New Israelis"--strong, healthy, independent, free, and proud, living in their own land, speaking their own language, and adhering to the ideology of equality and fraternity (Rosenthal, 19 94). This ideal of New Israeli represents an image of an adaptive adult based on the desire and expectations for a better future. All Jewish immigrants were expected to share this image and relinquish the adaptive images accepted in their countries of origin. This notion laid the ground for the "melting pot ideology," which influenced a generation of social workers and educators who worked with immigrant families in Israel. Along these lines the early Israeli pioneers enlisted professional educators to provide guidance and models for cultural socialization of their children. Possibly the most extreme, but also the most representative, example of this trend is the children's homes on the kibbutzim (collective settlements) where children were reared separately, spending only a few hours a day with their parents (Aviezer, Van Ijzendoorn, Sagi, & Schuengel, 1994). Professionals were expected to help parents overcome the "bourgeois" past, and adopt a new adaptive adult image that would lead to the development of t he New Israeli (Levin, 1985).

Similarly, in communist Russia before the break-up of the Soviet Union, the image of "the new Soviet man" (Horowitz, 1989) represented an adult who was expected to create and adapt to a new society that would promote collectivism as a core value. The image of the new Soviet man guided Soviet socializing agents toward encouraging the development of traits and behaviors such as compliance, patriotism, and adherence to communist ideology. The same image encompassed interpersonal values such as politeness and friendship, self discipline, individual modesty, and group orientation (Shouval, Kay Venaki, Bronfenbrenner, Devereux, & Kiely, 1986).

Societies with a "futuristic" image tend to assign a key role and responsibility to educational professionals as socializing agents in the process of molding new adaptive adults. For example, schools in the Soviet Union assumed responsibility for children's education as well as for their health and nutrition. The society offered a centralized and compulsory curriculum and provided academic training for educators and pedagogic coaching for parents (Horowitz, 1989).

Duality of Public (Present) and Private (Past) Cultures

Many children are reared in a dual system of public (for example, formal and informal education systems, media, and literature) and private cultures (based on the cultural heritage of ethnic groups). This dual reality is not limited to the case of immigration, but also is evident in nations that integrate different ethnic or religious groups. Some sociologists have suggested that whereas the Communist revolution in Russia intended to overcome cultural differences, it generated two cultures public and private, which continued to coexist until the era of Glasnost (Horowitz, 1989). The public culture was responsible for creating the "new Soviet man," whereas private culture was based on the cultural heritage of numerous ethnic groups that thrived before the revolution.

Examination of the private culture of Jews in the former Soviet Union in the context of Soviet public culture revealed a context within a context. As a minority ethnic group in the former Soviet Union, Jews were not allowed to practice their religion or learn Hebrew. Thus, transmission of Jewish private culture took place within the family. Economic conditions in the large urban centers created interdependence within multigenerational families. Many of the Jewish families had only one child and shared an apartment with the child's grandparents, who provided economic resources for the young parents as well as care for the grandchild (Mirsky & Prawer, 1992). The value conflicts inherent in the coexistence of the public with the private culture were reflected in some almost contradictory socialization goals espoused by young Jewish parents in the former Soviet Union. For example, as good Communists they valued work and were educated to believe that all types of work were equally important. They also were educat ed to respect authority and to place collective interest before self-interest. At the same time, however, their parents encouraged them to excel in academic studies, especially in the sciences, and to train for professional careers (Shouval et al., 1986). A high percentage of the young immigrant parents from the former Soviet Union that we interviewed in Israel were professionals such as engineers, medical doctors, musicians, artists, and writers (Roer-Strier & Rivlis, 1998; Rosenthal & Roer-Strier, 2001). Some of the major issues concerning both public and private cultures were revealed in these interviews. For example, the grandparent generation's image of an adaptive adult seemed to reflect central Jewish values. The three desired attributes most frequently mentioned in reference to the older generation, were "intelligent," "good hearted," and "fair and sincere." These reports were identical to those mentioned by Israeli-born respondents in reference to parents from Europe and corresponded with the perspec tives of sociologists and Jewish scholars (Aviner, 1992). Similarly, Herz and Rosen (1982) observed the preservation of the value attributed to fostering intelligence and achievement in their children among Jewish families of European origin living in the United States. They explained its adaptiveness in the context of migration: "The high value Jews placed on learning is related to the fact that it was portable and Jews were always on the move" (p. 368). According to Herz and Rosen, these values remained adaptive for both the private and the public culture of the Jews who immigrated to the United States and to Israel.

Changes That Result from Immigration

In this article the case of immigration serves as a central example for the investigation of complexity of the adaptive adult concept. In situations such as immigration or other abrupt sociopolitical transitions, some aspects of the parents' image of an adaptive adult may remain adaptive in the new context, while others may conflict with the host culture's notion of adaptivity. Past studies that we have conducted suggest that some aspects of the adaptive adult image evolve with the changing cultural context, whereas others resist change and persist even when they cease to be functional or adaptive to the new context (Frankel & RoerBornstein, 1982).

Consistency, Resistance to Change, and Cultural Lag in Images of the Adaptive Adult. Research findings suggest that parents tend to preserve some old beliefs and values even when they are no longer adaptive in the new cultural context (Honig, 1989; LeVine, 1988). Goldman (1993) has used the term "cultural lag" to describe the resistance to change in some cultural values. Marfo (1993) distinguished between "pragmatic values," which are likely to change in contexts of social and cultural transition, and central "core values," which resist such changes. Both types of values constitute the interactive image of the adaptive adult.

It can be assumed that in processes of cultural transition such as immigration or drastic social change, components of the adaptive adult image, which are based on core values, will be more resistant to change than those based on pragmatic values. Consistency across generations in the process of cultural transition may occur with regard to attributes that continue to be seen as adaptive within the private culture but jeopardize adaptation to the public culture. Differentiation between private and public cultures, and adherence to values viewed as adaptive by the private culture occurs when social conditions are conducive to preservation of community cohesiveness and the private culture of parents in that community. The circumstances that preserve community cohesiveness may evolve from inside the group's core values or religious persuasion. An example is a heated public debate in Israel regarding obligatory army service from which Jewish ultra-orthodox young adults who study in religious institutes are exempt . The ultra-orthodox community has preserved over generations the high value placed on studying religious texts and becoming talmid haham (learned scholar) and argues that Jewish learning is a crucial part of encouraging spiritual growth, ensuring national survival, and maintaining community cohesiveness. Host culture members who call for equal contributions to the nation through military service often fail to acknowledge the cultural logic of this argument. The circumstances that preserve community cohesiveness also may result from the ethnocentricity of the host culture, which leads to discrimination and segregation on the basis of religion or skin color. This point is best demonstrated by results of studies conducted among Ethiopian parents. The cohesiveness of this group, as well as its private culture, is maintained by both the sense of community support and by the fact that the Ethiopian community, differentiated on the basis of skin color, faced external pressures for segregation. In our studies we fou nd cross-generational consistency in adherence to core values, attributes, and expectations, such as respect for elders, marriage within the community, and physical and emotional strength. (Roer-Strier, 1996a)

In sum, aspects of the adaptive adult may be preserved within private culture despite changes in the public cultural context. These circumstances influence the cultural lag, which is maintained when the old image of the adaptive adult is seen as adaptive within the context of the private culture, even though it is not considered adaptive in the context of the public culture. The lag is diminished and change occurs when the image or some aspects of it are no longer perceived as adaptive in either culture.

Changes in Images of the Adaptive Adult in Interaction with Ecological Components

According to the ecological perspective, many interrelated and interdependent factors [are] related to changes generated by the immigration process, the ecological components of the host and of the culture of origin, and individual factors that affect the image of the adaptive adult held by immigrants. Our argument is that the nature of change in the images is complex and multivariate and far beyond a simple classification or categorization. However, the ecological perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, 1993) as a heuristic framework may aid us in conceptualizing some dimensions of this multidimensional complexity.

The following are a few examples of changes in the adaptive adult image at each of the four levels suggested by the ecological perspective.

1. The microsystem level--At this level changes in the adaptive adult image are likely to interact with individual characteristics of children such as age, temperament, gender roles, and so on. One example emerging from our studies is the change in differential patterns of socialization for boys and girls among immigrant mothers and fathers from Ethiopia. Most of the Ethiopian Jews interviewed in our Israeli study came from rural areas. On their arrival in Israel, they lived in immigration sites and learned Hebrew. Whereas some men worked as unskilled laborers, others were retrained in a variety of occupational fields. Contrary to the traditional domestic female role that they would have fulfilled in Ethiopia, Ethiopian women were encouraged to receive vocational training and find work outside of the home to supplement the family income. In this connection the Ethiopian parents we interviewed reported substantially different adaptive images of men and women than their parents did. In Ethiopia, boys were expec ted to assume "male" roles such as farmers and artisans, whereas girls were expected to assume the "female" roles caring for the home and children. Both the mothers and fathers changed some aspects of their adaptive adult image of boys, reflecting the transition from a traditional farming society to an industrial society. As for the girls, the young fathers maintained a traditional image of an adaptive adult, whereas the young mothers, whose role in the family had changed considerably following their work outside the home, expected their daughters to be more independent and educated.

2. The mesosystem level--This level refers to changes in relationships and influences within the child's immediate settings (for example, family, friends, education system, and so forth). It has been argued that changes in immigrants may be related to the availability of social support, either from the extended family or from the ethnic community (Landau-Stanton, 1990). Our studies suggest that the image of adaptive adult held by single parents from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel without their extended family or supportive communities were more likely to be influenced by the host culture than those who immigrated with family or community.

The influence of extended families in the conservation of images is also evident in small rural communities in Israel, where big families (clans) of Yeminite or Kurdish origins settled together, compared with families of the same cultural background who resided in big cities far from their extended families (Frankel & Roer-Bornstein, 1982).

Olmedo (1981) noted the influence of available opportunities for education. Parents who take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the host culture are more likely to become familiar with the values and ideologies shaping the image of the adaptive adult in the host culture. Familiarity increases the parents' awareness and enables them to choose the aspects of their adaptive adult image that they would like to change. In a study of immigrant parents and educators (Roer-Strier, 1999), we found that Ethiopian mothers trained as early childhood educators were more willing than other mothers who were not trained to change some aspects of their adaptive adult image to help their children succeed in school and were better able to articulate the logic of those changes.

3. The exosystem level--At this level changes in the adaptive adult image often are related to the interaction of parents with the political, legal, welfare, medical, and religious institutions and policies. Landau-Stanton (1990) referred to the general level of harmony or similarity between the cultural contexts of the immigrant and host culture institutions. The greater the similarity between contexts, the less they have to change their image of the adaptive adult.

In a study of illegal non-Jewish Latin American guest workers Roer-Strier and Olshtain-Mann (1999) found differences in the images of the adaptive adult for parents who resided in Jerusalem and parents who resided in Tel-Aviv, cities that are only 60 kilometers apart. Because of exosystem restraints and differences in municipal policies, guest workers in Jerusalem received educational and welfare services from Spanish-speaking Christian churches, whereas in Tel Aviv they received municipal services in Hebrew and attended schools where the focus was on a Jewish national curriculum. Although in both cities the communities tended to preserve community cohesion, higher levels of preservation of religious and ethnic values were found in Jerusalem.

4. The macrosystem level--This level refers to cultural laws, customs, and values. For example, parents immigrating from traditional cultures often do not regard children as having rights equal to those of adults. They expect children to be respectful toward their elders, and physical punishment is a common means toward achieving that goal. Many immigrant parents, not familiar with laws forbidding physical punishment, run into legal confrontations on charges of child abuse.

The differences in attitudes and policies of the host culture for integration of immigrants and the effects of these differences is gaining attention in the literature concerning cultural change (Berry, 1997, 1998; Goldman, 1993; Horenczyk, 1996; LaFromboise, Goelman, & Gerton, 1995; Sabatier & Berry, 1994) The different attitudes and policies are likely to have a considerable effect on changes in the immigrant parent's image of the adaptive adult.

LaFromboise et al. (1995) called attention to five models that have been used to conceptualize the process of change that occurs within, between, and among cultures:

* In the assimilation and acculturation models, the host culture expects to resocialize immigrant children according the majority's image of adaptive adult. In the assimilation model, the host-culture approach promotes the maintenance of a single adaptive adult (that of the host culture), whereas in the acculturation model, immigrant parents may hold to their image of adaptive adult as long as their children are socialized according to the majority's image.

* In both the alternation model and the multicultural model, the images of adaptive adult from the immigrants' original culture are expected to be preserved. However, whereas the alternation model promotes biculturalism and thus implementation of the adaptive adult image of both cultures, the pluralistic multicultural model tolerates the exclusive preservation of the original image of adaptive adult held by the immigrants.

* In the fusion model similar to the "melting pot" ideology, the host culture wishes to create a new tradition, a new single adaptive adult image, which contains elements of all groups.

Obviously, the adoption of any of these approaches would greatly influence legal, welfare, religious, and educational policy. Israel currently is shifting away from the melting pot ideology toward greater tolerance of alternation. However, many of the policies still are oriented toward assimilation, and many of Israeli socializing agents expect immigrant families to integrate rapidly and change their adaptive adult image. In a study of 200 teachers in 1993 in Israel, 65 percent defined their role as main socializing agents "who help children become Israelis" and expected parents to change their image of the adaptive adult accordingly (RoerStrier, 1996b).

The foregoing discussion indicates that consistency and change in the image of the adaptive adult is determined by complex processes occurring at various levels. These interdependent processes prevent prediction of the circumstances that may cause parents to change their image of the adaptive adult or how this image might change.

Practical Implications and Considerations

Public policies and interventions aimed at children and families are directed by host cultures' images of adaptive adult. Social workers in multicultural societies deal with parents of diverse cultural backgrounds in many contexts, including hospitals, child welfare agencies, schools, mental health services, and services for elderly people. The dynamic adaptive adult concept can be used as a basis for interpreting the cultural differences in socialization goals of parents and social workers, as well as for assessing their mutual expectations and possible conflicts resulting from differences in these expectations. The adaptive adult concept may be applied toward training professionals or toward planning and conducting interventions with families. It also may provide an appropriate basis for addressing the evolution of child-rearing ideologies and their potential effect on the definition of developmental goals in different cultural contexts. Moreover, the proposed framework highlights the importance of examinin g the cultural background of immigrant parents and provides insight into how ecological contexts influence parents' socialization goals at various levels, especially in the midst of dramatic cultural transition. An in-depth consideration of the practical implications of the concept of the adaptive adult is far beyond the scope of this article. The following are some general observations and recommendations for the application of this concept to social work practice and in-service training.

In many cultures there are differences between immigrant parents' images of the adaptive adult and those fostered by the socializing agents in the host culture. Thus, immigrant children often receive conflicting messages about values and expectations. Many studies have described misunderstandings and ensuing conflicts in the triangular meeting of immigrant parents, migrant parents, or parents of diverse cultural background, their children, and the human services (Greenfield & Cocking, 1994; Rosen, 1989; Weaver, 1998). Some mention the long-term damage of these conflicts in terms of family functioning (Chau, 1992; Cohen & Yitzhak, 1989), successful integration into the host culture (Hazan, 1987; Horowitz, 1984, 1986, 1989), and development of self-identity among immigrant children (Gitelman, 1982; Gottesberg, 1988; Kahane, 1986; Keats, 1997; Shaked & Dagan, 1977). In many instances, neither the immigrant parents nor the socializing agents in the host culture are familiar with the other party's adaptive adult image. Thus, they cannot appreciate the intrinsic cultural logic and inherent advantages of that image. For example, the adaptive adult image promoted by some Israeli professionals has focused on values, norms, and expectations directed toward developing independence, autonomy, expressiveness, and assertiveness. The adaptive adult image of Ethiopian immigrant parents, in contrast, has emphasized respect for authority and respect for elders, as well as emotional self-control. Thus, when Ethiopian children avoid looking adults in the eye as a token of respect, the Israelis take it to mean that the child lacks an opinion or is acting dishonest (Ben-Ezer, 1992).

Knowledge of the adaptive adult image could help practitioners in understanding intergenerational family conflicts, differences between their own perceptions and those of the parents, difficulties encountered by immigrants in the process of adapting to change, and the cultural lag that causes parents to maintain images that are not adaptive in the practitioner's view. In democratic societies practicing the alternation or the multicultural mode (discussed earlier), there is a growing need for social workers to respect diversity and refrain from imposing their images on clients from different cultures. Thus, in societies that promote pluralistic orientations, cultural lag in the image of the adaptive adult should not be assumed to be undesirable and become a target for intervention. In these societies social workers may advocate for more latitude for practicing different cultural ideas and for promoting cultural understanding when lobbying for families of immigrants, ethnic minorities, or indigenous people. Ho st cultures may benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who come from different cultural backgrounds.

The proposed framework may be used in several ways for in-service training, continuing education, or social work practice. The following are some general directions.

* Discovering the image of the adaptive adult: The first step is to discover images of the adaptive adult held by social workers and their clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Parallel work can be done with parents. Direct (for example, choosing desired components from a list of traits of the adaptive adult prepared in advance) or indirect methods (such as group paintings or sculpturing an ideal child, discussion of desired traits portrayed in poetry, stories, and proverbs) may enable social workers or parents to discover their image (and possibly their own parents' perceptions of adaptive adults) and debate the cultural logic of the images. This work can be done with a family in therapy session or with an individual social worker in supervision. We recommend working in groups (social workers in training or parents in parent groups) because differences in images arise spontaneously in these meetings.

* Discussing differences in images of the adaptive adult: Spontaneous arguments during creative group work or direct comparisons of images enable social workers or parents to discover similarities and differences between the images held by different group members, between generations, among parents, or between social workers and clients.

* Discussing cultural lag and cultural change in images of the adaptive adult: Discovering the relationship between the images and the cultural contexts (of host and culture of origin) may be followed by a discussion of continuity and change in these images, and the effect of the images on children's development, cultural identity, and future role in their societies.

* Exposing possible conflicts and misunderstandings: The discussion of differences may clarify misunderstandings and identify areas of conflict between images held by professionals in the host culture and parents or between the socialization practices used by the two parties.

* Coping with cultural conflicts: After exploring possible conflicts, social workers or parents may consider ways of coping with these conflicts. An important issue to discuss at that point is how to advise children who are caught in loyalty conflicts between home and the host society. Another central issue is of parents who cope with conflicts that may occur when their offspring adopt an adaptive adult image that is different from that of the parents.

Immigration studies are based largely on the assumption that immigrant clients are at risk because of conflicts, deficits, and other problems. In line with Saleebey's (1992) argument, the current article emphasizes the need to study clients' perceptions, values, beliefs, and ideologies, as well as to appreciate their diverse cultural contexts through an ongoing dialogue and collaboration. When social workers learn to accept different adaptive adult images, they may better understand and accept the child-rearing practices, values, and customs prevailing in different cultures. Both definitions of "risk" and related interventions may change based on such process.

The proposed framework has direct implications for interventions such as culturally sensitive family therapy. The image of the adaptive adult may offer a bridge through the symbolic realm shared by clients and therapists, transcending differences in meaning systems. It may help family therapists resume a role of interpreter of the host culture's codes and expectations regarding socialization of children. Discussing "adaptivity" may provide the therapist with a means to clarify differences and similarities in perceptions. This may help families find ways to preserve core values and heritage of their culture of origin while integrating new components of the host culture. Intergenerational conflicts about child rearing, or conflicts of parents of mixed marriages, may be refrained as cultural differences in images of adaptive adults.

In recent years Israeli social workers have reported that following training programs in which the proposed adaptive adult concept was used, they were able to empathize with immigrant parents and change their judgmental views of them. This alleviated feelings of frustration and encouraged the social workers to assume the role of mediator rather than the role of a change agent. Similarly, it has been found that immigrant parents participating in interventions that used this concept reported less anger toward teachers and social workers in the host culture (Roer-Strier, 1996a). In addition, the adaptive adult images of professionals and policymakers often affect policies concerning the welfare, education, and care of children. Thus, the concept can be very useful in evaluation of social policies in multicultural societies, and in clarifying different attitudes of socializing agents and relative notions such as "quality of care" and "multicultural education" (Rosenthal, 1999).


Cultural transition and change are not limited to the realm of immigration. Because of rapid changes in industrialized societies, it is difficult to anticipate the patterns that will be adaptive for children in the 21st century, when they reach adulthood. Consequently, the adaptive adult image currently maintained by young parents and socializing agents may become confused, incoherent, and inconsistent. This confusion highlights the need to continue elaborating the proposed conceptual framework.

Dorit Roer-Strier, PhD, is a lecturer, and Professor Miriam K. Rosenthal, is director, Graduate Program in Early Childhood Studies, School of Social Work, The Hebrew University, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel 91905; e-mail: msdiri@pluto. Send correspondence to Dr. Dorit Roer-Strier.

Original manuscript received August 3, 1998

Final revision received February 17, 1999

Accepted June 28, 1999


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Author:Roer-Strier, Dorit; Rosenthal, Miriam K.
Publication:Social Work
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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