Date of Award:

1998

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Susan L. Crowley

Abstract

The literature indicates that, in comparison to children of other ethnic minority groups, Native American children may be at greater risk for a variety of emotional and behavioral Ill disorders and negative psychosocial conditions. Many may also struggle to resolve issues related to cultural identity. Understanding how Native American children and families relate to the cultures within which they live is a critical aspect of preventing and treating childhood mental disorders. Although Native children and families face persistent social pressure to adapt to a multicultural world, no systematic research exists examining the relationship between families' experience of acculturation and their children's social, emotional, and behavioral functioning.

This study described features of acculturation among Native American children and families, and explored the relationship between these cultural features and children's functioning. The study relied primarily upon the perceptions of 186 children and parents from an American Indian tribe of the southwestern United States, each reporting on their own traditionalism, and their perceptions of the child's social-emotional competencies and problems. Child and parent perceptions were augmented by parent report of other family characteristics.

Consistent with the literature, factor analytic and psychometric findings indicated that traditionalism is a multidimensional construct that can be measured reliably among children and adults. These findings are especially significant because few psychometrically adequate instruments exist to assess traditionalism or acculturation among Native American children.

Few relationships were found between child emotional and behavioral problems and acculturation. A consistent pattern of relationships indicated an association of parent- and child-reported traditionalism with lower perceived levels of child social and behavioral competencies. Exceptions to this pattern included the tendency of children to see themselves as more socially competent if they were involved with traditional ceremonies. Parent reports indicated an association between biculturalism and positive perceptions of child competencies.

These findings must be cautiously interpreted in conjunction with the specific cultural and historical context of these families. Characteristics of the data placed some limits on multivariate analyses, and most study findings should be viewed as exploratory. Recommendations are included for further research required to adequately understand relationships between family acculturation and child functioning.

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