Essay: Immigrant Children's Development Children Immigrating

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Immigrant Children's Development

Children immigrating into the United States today represent a particularly diverse range of cultures, and some have had little or no formal education in their native countries. First and second- generation immigrant children are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. child population. Additionally, young immigrants are heavily concentrated in five states; California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois, and 45% of immigrant children enrolled in school are enrolled in California alone. Nationwide, approximately 5 million children currently have at least one undocumented parent, though many of these children are U.S. citizens. There are an estimated 1.7 million undocumented children, many of whom have been living in this country most of their lives and know no other homeland. They have been educated in the country and may speak but barely read or write in their parents' native language. Growing up in American neighborhoods and attending American schools, these children in their hearts often feel themselves to be part of the American community. Complicating matters further, many children grow up in what are referred to as mixed-status families, in which some family members are citizens, legal residents, or in the process of regularizing their status, while others remain undocumented.

Humanistic Perspective of Immigrant Children Development

Over the last several years, as new waves of immigrants have continued to enter the United States, the effects of immigration on the nation's economy and society have been hotly debated. Largely ignored in the debate, however, has been the well-being of immigrant children. Little is known about the adaptation process that these children must navigate, or the unique health, educational, and psychosocial consequences that emerge as they learn a new culture, new community, and often, a new language. Recent research confirms that immigration results in enormous stress for children. The stress may come from leaving a familiar social context and extended family network, from entering a new place, culture, and language, or from harsh conditions endured before or during the transitional journey. Many immigrant children struggle to establish and re-establish themselves in the United States redefining their roles within the family as well as their relationship to a new society without the support of the strong kinship or friendship systems they had at home, and often without the fulfillment of their basic needs.

For adolescent immigrants, the stress can be even more intense. Intergenerational conflict can weigh heaviest on adolescents when parents begin to notice their children's quicker acculturation and to resent what they perceive as a rejection of the family's own ethnic culture. These adolescents have to balance two different worlds and move fluidly between them. Experts agree that being connected and accepted is an important component of adolescent development. Children who do not connect in some meaningful way with their peers, family, or school are at an increased risk of suicide, substance abuse, school failure and drop-out, health problems, and criminal activity. In some cases, the added pressures of the acculturation process may exacerbate these risks. In particular, immigrant children may be alienated from school and rejected by their native-born peers because of their lack of fluency in English or their different cultural practices.

Immigrant families to Canada and the United States can face many issues complicating their adjustment to the new host culture. Often unconsidered is the implications for intra-familial culture clash when children take to the host culture sooner or more wholeheartedly than their parents. Risk of conflict between children and their parents is heightened on issues of socialization with opposite gender friends, developing friends of other cultures, issues of rights and freedoms and expectations for academic performance. Nonetheless, it is widely acclaimed that immigrant families visit America seeking to provide a better life for their children than what might have been available in their country of origin. Hence when these parents come up against conflict with their children owing to adaptation, the conflict can be felt by the parent as tremendous disrespect by the child who doesn't understand the parents' rationale and sacrifice in coming to the new country.

While there are common challenges faced between immigrant parents and children of both gender, risk of pregnancy is a potent issue that can intensify concerns for the well-being of girls. In addition, strong cultural imperatives with regard to dress, deportment and socializing with the opposite sex can at times place greater demands on girls than boys. These differences often culminate into serious fights between daughters and parents. Even when a fight does not erupt, some teenage girls may seek to lead a double-life; keeping secrets about relationships and even their dress when at school or in the community. Other teenage girls may seek to subordinate their feelings to the will of their parents only to find they become depressed and anxious over the difficulty with cultural and family adaptation.

Boys do face cultural imperatives and conflicts too, but the absence of risk of pregnancy can lessen the scrutiny placed upon them by parents. However, the boys may be more subject to high expectations for academic excellence, which may or may not be taken well. If not taken well, boys may come to reject their own family's culture, falling prey to the illusions of freedom from authority by gravitating to counter-culture groups or gangs. This in turn can lead to a risk of conflict with the law and abject academic failure as well as extreme conflict with their family. The challenge is on the parents to adapt and find reasonable strategies to support cultural expectations in view of the greater likelihood that their children will be affected and changed by the new host culture. It is less a question of whether the children will be changed by the host culture, but rather how and to what degree. Further, some immigrant parents may hail from cultures where the norm is to tell a child what to do and expect obedience. This quickly erodes for the children socialized particularly in western culture where individual freedom is valued and rewarded. Thus those parents who adjust and develop strategies that minimize the risk of conflict with their children stand the opportunity to remain more influential in their children's lives than those parents who rely solely upon control strategies.

While not nagging their children, sharing stories as to why parents chose to immigrate and their hopes for their family's future can inform their children as to their family aspirations. Further, when parents invite their children to engage in a dialogue about the differences between their respective lives non-judgmentally; parents and children may be apprised of their respective experiences and may be in a better position to discuss differences between themselves. The challenge here is for the parents to develop skills that rely more upon influence than control. This can also be facilitated by participation and enjoyment of cultural activities and inviting their children's new friends to join in. Co-opting children's friends can serve as a better way of maintaining family integrity than isolating from friends.

Several researches argue that high proportions of the nation's immigrant children are undergoing lengthy periods of separation from their parents. For children who had spent half of their childhood away from their biological parent, they were migrating not only to a new country but to a new family. Not surprisingly, there are often psychological consequences and complications associated with these long separations and the subsequent reunifications. Our data suggest that the longer the parent-child separation, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression among the children. In particular, having parents deported and abruptly separated from their children may result in negative mental health implications. Particularly challenging are cases involving mixed status families, where citizen children of immigrants experience the untenable position of choosing between love of parents and love of country. Based on this, it is imperative that policymakers keep the needs of children in mind as the nation moves forward in reforming the broken immigration system, particularly as it contributes to family separations. Family unification and reunification should be an important part of our immigration policy.

Nevertheless, the impact and process of migration and subsequent acculturation will be largely dependent on a person's developmental needs and issues. It has been suggested many times that children acculturate faster, thereby implying easier, than others do, thus making the age of contact important. However, during the infancy, toddler, and pre-school years, the rate of acculturation is actually more a function of the family's acculturation rate and attitude toward the new culture than the child's actual potential for acculturation. Consequently, during this period their choices are more reflective of their peer group and other institutions. While adults are capable of establishing relationships between two or more cultures, it is difficult for children to do so. Children lack adult's ability to understand that they are integrating two different cultural influences. They also lack the ability to identify the differential influences of these cultures, let alone how to relate to them in a meaningful way. As such, immigrant children may have difficulties in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Immigrant Children's Development Children Immigrating.  (2013, February 23).  Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/immigrant-children-development/5667476

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"Immigrant Children's Development Children Immigrating."  Essaytown.com.  February 23, 2013.  Accessed July 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/immigrant-children-development/5667476.