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Family obligation may lessen depression symptoms for Chinese American teens

June 4, 2009 |  2:34 pm

Family ties vary with different cultures, with some emphasizing obligation and strong bonds among parents, siblings and extended family members.

Jn1h5dkn Can those ties have further consequences? That's what researchers from San Francisco State University set to find out in a recent study looking at the effect of family obligation on symptoms of depression in Chinese American teens.

Students from two high schools in San Francisco were recruited for the study, with 218 Chinese American adolescents completing surveys to determine their attitudes about family duties and responsibilities, and also their behavior regarding family obligation -- running errands, helping family members, etc. Researchers also gathered information on the students' birth order, gender, number of siblings, and whether or not they were a native of the U.S. or elsewhere. The teens were followed for two years, from age 14 to 16.

Those who engaged in more family obligation behaviors had fewer symptoms of depression, and over time, as behaviors increased, depression symptoms went down. Firstborn children and those with more siblings engaged in more family obligation activities than later-born siblings and those with fewer siblings. Teens not born in the U.S. had stronger attitudes about family obligation than those born here. Researchers also found that although family obligation behaviors decreased over the two years, attitudes about family duty stayed steady. Gender didn't seem to play a role in differences in behavior or attitude.

In the study, which appears in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, the authors write, "There are a number of practical implications for these results. First, programs seeking to promote positive youth development should take cultural background into account. Programs geared toward immigrant youth from cultures where family obligation is central could emphasize youth's collective identity to strengthen ties to their family and culture and, in the process, remind youth of their family obligation."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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