American society has experienced a growing immigration population with an estimated number of 39.9 million immigrants. These immigrants arrive primarily from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean with diverse levels of education, skills, values, and customs1. These immigrants face multiple challenges which includes: unfamiliar customs, language, economic burdens, and discrimination. This can result in stress to the family as they seek to overcome these barriers. This process of adjusting to a new culture is referred to as acculturation. Developmental psychologists must gain an increased understanding of acculturation in order to understand its impact on the immigrant family and more importantly on a child’s development. Acculturation is impacted by both the individual’s ability to cope and the attitudes of the receiving society. This interactive process can also be referred to as proximal processes, reinforcing the importance of the interaction between the individual and their environment and its impact on development3.
The level of stress experienced by the family, particularly children, is directly impacted by discrimination. For Developmental psychologists, an understanding of this is critical as children are faced with the burden of discrimination while attempting to meet the expectations of adolescence. Although discrimination is not a new phenomenon, the growing differences between the immigrant population and society increase the likelihood of discrimination1. The negative view of immigrants is reinforced by daily depictions of immigrants in the current media as dangerous, uneducated, and threatening to American values. Immigrants are perceived as competing for employment, available community resources, and an overall financial burden to society1. It is noted that the existence of barriers such as discrimination will impact a child’s development and the ability to meet their developmental expectations4. Therefore, Developmental psychologists must be proactive in increasing their knowledge of the impact of acculturation and in providing culturally sensitive services to minimize negative outcomes. One such intervention is to promote intergroup relationships amongst adolescents which can increase understanding and reduce the likelihood of discrimination7.
A key developmental task in adolescence is the development of attitudes particularly towards different groups such as immigrants. Interactions amongst immigrant children and nonimmigrant peers can also reduce fear and isolation in the immigrant child, reducing the possibility of psychological distress4. An educational effort was recently noted when action was taken by Starbucks to retrain its employees following an incident of discrimination which occurred in Philadelphia6. Although this intervention targeted adults, it did reinforce the importance of aggressively intervening to reduce discrimination through educational efforts6. Developmental psychologists must support opportunities for education which target parents, children, and institutions which interact with the immigrant population5. A particular area of concern that requires further exploration is how individual characteristics can influence a child’s development of attitudes such as discrimination7. Therefore, psychologists must develop programs that are individually tailored to increase tolerance in early education before adolescent attitudes are firmly established. Such an effort was noted in a recent article in US News and World Report that discussed how to raise tolerant and inclusive children. The author recommended that elementary school educators and professionals increase a child’s exposure to individuals of different races and cultures while exposing them to more diverse ideas. This early intervention was felt to increase the existence of tolerant and inclusive behaviors2.
As the numbers of immigrants are anticipated to continue to rise, both Developmental psychologist, educators, and the public must work together to reduce discrimination and its negative impact on the immigrant family, child, and society. Discrimination impacts the physical and emotional well-being of both the immigrants and the receiving society, resulting in both short term and long term consequences1.
- APA Presidential Taskforce on Immigration. (2013). Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Journal of Latina/O Psychology, 1(3), 133–148. https://doi.org/10.1037/lat0000001
- Borba, M. (2018, April 13). How to raise tolerant, inclusive kids. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/2018-04-13/how-to-raise-tolerant-inclusive-kids
- Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin (Ed) (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10518-046
- García Coll, C., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., & Garcia, H. V. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67(5), 1891–1914. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131600
- Gniewosz, B., & Noack, P. (2015). Parental influences on adolescents’ negative attitudes toward immigrants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(9), 1787–1802. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0291-3
- Lardieri, A. (2018, April 17). 8,000 Starbucks stores will close to conduct racial bias education. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-04-17/8-000-starbucks-stores-will-close-to-conduct-racial-bias-education
- Zalk, M. H. W., & Kerr, M. (2014). Developmental trajectories of prejudice and tolerance toward immigrants from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1658–1671. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0164-1