Impact of intergenerational differences on Chinese Americans in family therapy; a qualitative study

Date

2008-08

Authors

Wong, Michael

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine how intergenerational differences in worldviews impact Chinese American family relations, and to open a window into the context in which conflicts arise, and discover possible ways to resolve them. The participants were fifteen teenagers between fifteen and nineteen years of age and their parents who attended two Chinese churches in the northwestern United States. The participating parents were born in China and had emigrated with their children before their children began formal schooling. The investigator found that the most challenging sessions in therapy were with families whose intergenerational conflicts were related to their functioning in the multicultural context of being both Chinese and American. Dissimilarities in value systems and social norms between different generations of Chinese Americans provoke arguments over which culture should be the basis for family rules of conduct. Certain conflicts stem from conforming to different behavioral standards and values of dissimilar cultures. In this research, the norms that are at odds in the participants are those from China, their country of origin, and the United States, their new home. The study focused on differences in values and meaning making processes of daily living, which then flowed over into expectations and family functions. The use of a

phenomenological approach allowed this qualitative study to elicit the intricate and experiential nature of family life. It enabled the researcher to transform the received experiences of family members into clusters of meaning and themes. Through analysis of data collected from in-depth interviews with parents and teens, the researcher identified areas in which they encountered pervasive challenges that were unique to Chinese American families. The result was a coherent picture of intergenerational differences and their impact upon the fifteen families interviewed. The identified themes were organized into five categories. The categories were: (a) academics, (b) allocation of time and attitude towards leisure activity, (c) attributions to cultural influences, and (d) authority and parenthood. These were subsumed under (a) parents' perspectives, and (b) teenagers' perspectives, in order to facilitate the comparison and contrasting of intergenerational differences.

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Keywords

Chinese-American families, Family therapy, Intergenerational differences, Immigrant families

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