Study Dispels Image of Strict Asian Dads
Prof organizing conference on immigrant children
BY DAVID DICENZO
|Prof. Susan Chuang says her studies of immigrant Chinese fathers have been eye-opening. Photo by Martin Schwalbe|
There's a bit of irony in the research Prof. Susan Chuang, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, is doing on fatherhood in Asian families. Little work has been done on this subject, but what's out there cites Asian fathers as controlling and restrictive.
That's not what Chuang experienced in her own home growing up in Brampton. She proudly refers to her dad, a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan and practising physician, as “the best father in the world.”
“He was like a little kid,” she says. “He would always play with us. He planned his work hours so that we could have all our meals together.”
A graduate of the University of Toronto and the University of Rochester, Chuang arrived at U of G in July from Syracuse University, where she taught for three years. Prior to that, she held a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md., working with Michael Lamb, known as the “father of father research.”
She is currently conducting a study of 70 Chinese immigrant families in the Toronto area that have one-year-old children. In two-day intervals, the parents individually track every moment of their interaction with the child. The results have been eye-opening, she says.
“My research is actually finding that immigrant Chinese fathers are highly involved. These fathers do take care of their children, they do play with their children, and these are significant roles that they see for themselves. It breaks away from the ‘strict father' image. They are involved in their children's lives.”
As a developmentalist, Chuang wants to observe these parenting patterns over time. She saw a need for this research because Asians represent one of the fastest-growing ethnic populations in North America, yet little is known about how they parent.
Eventually, she wants to expand the scope of her research to encompass other ethnic groups.
She's also interested in the mental health of adolescent Chinese immigrants. In this second line of research, her preliminary findings revealed that these young people were depressed, despite the stereotypical perception that they work hard and excel in school.
“What's more intriguing for me is not those who do well but those who don't and what happens to these kids,” she says. “We tend not to talk about it. There's not a lot of literature that looks at the negative issues with Chinese adolescents or families. It's always a spin on the positives. It's a narrow understanding of what we know about Chinese parenting. We need to go more in depth to find out the positive and negative outcomes for children.”
Chuang is currently organizing an international conference on immigrant children, to be held at Guelph next October. A spinoff from a similar event she hosted at Syracuse on immigrant fathers, the conference will be one of the first to focus on the various issues surrounding immigrant children.
Her interest in immigrant families isn't just academic — she also does some hands-on volunteer work with Asian families in the Toronto area, helping them adjust to life in Canada by offering advice on things as simple as writing a résumé.