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Revisiting the “Model Minority”: Peer Discrimination and Academic Adjustment among Asian American Adolescents

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Background. Characterized as “Model Minorities,” Asian American youth are often overlooked in terms of their experiences with racial discrimination, particularly from their peers. Because peers play a pivotal role in youths’ social development and peer groups are often formed in school settings, such experiences may have important implications for youths’ school adjustment. Guided by an ecological framework (Bronfenbrenner, 1989), the purpose of this study is to elucidate how familial ethnic socialization processes may buffer the effect of peer discrimination on school belonging and academic adjustment among Asian American adolescents. Extant literature has found that among Asian American youth, greater peer discrimination is associated with poorer psychological adjustment (Greene et al., 2006; Rivas-Drake et al., 2008). Although it has been shown that general discrimination is associated with lower levels of school belonging and engagement among Korean American youth (Seol et al., 2016), little is known about how Asian American youths’ experiences with peer discrimination influence academic adjustment. Empirical research finds that familial ethnic socialization (FES) is related to more favorable outcomes and may protect youth from the harmful effects of discrimination (Hughes et al., 2006). Accordingly, we hypothesized that FES would buffer the effect of peer discrimination on academic adjustment.

Method. Data were drawn from Wave 1 of a planned multi-site three-wave longitudinal study that examines the influence of youths’ ethnic-racial identity (ERI) on their peer relations and psychosocial functioning. The final sample for this study included n = 277 Asian American adolescents who attend an ethnically-diverse midwestern high school (45.1% female, 64.6% U.S.-born). Adolescents reported on their perceptions of familial ethnic socialization (Umaña-Taylor, 2001; ⍺ = .94) and peer discrimination (Fisher et al., 2000; ⍺ = .74), school belonging (McNeely et al., 2002; ⍺ = .83), and levels of academic engagement (Skinner et al., 2008; ⍺ = .91) and efficacy (Midgley et al., 2000; ⍺ = .92).
Results. Controlling for adolescents’ grade, immigration status, gender, and parent education level, moderated mediation analyses using PROCESS indicated that at higher levels of overt FES, there was no significant indirect effect of peer discrimination on academic engagement through school belonging, b = -0.04, SE b = 0.04, BCa CI [-0.13, 0.02]. In contrast, at lower levels of overt FES, the indirect effect was significantly negative, b = -0.19, SE b = 0.05, BCa CI [-0.29, -0.10]. Similar findings emerged when academic efficacy was examined as the outcome variable in a separate model.

Discussion. FES buffered the effect of peer discrimination on academic adjustment, providing support for our hypothesis. Further analyses indicated that whereas overt FES appeared to have a buffering effect, covert FES did not appear to significantly buffer against peer discrimination. Together, our results suggest that among Asian American families, although implicit forms of FES (e.g., celebration of ethnic/cultural holidays) may help to promote children’s ethnic pride (which has been shown to promote better outcomes; Rivas-Drake et al., 2008), it is the family’s explicit transmission of the ethnic/cultural heritage to children that may buffer against race-related stressors, particularly within the school context.


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