Parents, schools, and neighborhoods are important factors immediately affecting children as they grow up4. However, these relationships may be different for immigrant children as they face disadvantages growing up as immigrants, including the increasing threats against their health. How do parents, schools, and neighborhoods determine how an immigrant child develops, and how do immigrant parents address this issue as they immigrate?
Family provides constant and direct support for children’s healthy development. However, parents may not always be there for immigrant children. Transnational families are growing as families separate when they immigrate1. Losing close support from parents may have negative outcomes for immigrant youth, as those with longer separation duration have been found to experience more depression and anxiety symptoms1. Alternatively relying on friends and family connections in the neighborhood may not provide support as it does not help with developmental outcomes3. Thus, the absence of parents is highly detrimental. Parents should be aware of this if they expect to be separated from their child as they immigrate. However, over time, immigrant children demonstrate less psychological symptoms, suggesting the effects of separation to be short termed and conveying the resiliency and coping ability of immigrant children in the absence of parents1. Knowing this, parents anticipating separation should provide the most long-distance support, such as maintaining contact through messaging and video calling, during the early stages of separation and trust their children to develop coping mechanisms as separation prolongs.
Providing distant support during separation is not the only way immigrant parents can do to foster their children’s development. Academic achievement in school can also yield positive adaptation and future outcomes for immigrant children2. As such, ensuring good academic outcomes, or school success, is important for immigrant youth’s development. School engagement, the children’s efforts and investment in classwork and school, has been found to promote school success, indicating better academic outcomes2. Thus, in order to promote school success and consequent positive developmental outcomes, parents can encourage high levels of children engagement with their schools. This also suggests parents to properly select schools with curriculum and programs most suitable for boosting child engagement with the school. For example, immigrant parents can send their children to schools with diverse teaching faculties, as immigrant students can have better engagement when they have teachers of similar race they can identify with.
Other than the school environment, the neighborhood is also an environment that can influence immigrant children’s development. Neighborhood institutional resources (access to educational, social, and health services) is found to be a large factor in determining how well immigrant children develop through providing adequate resources3. For example, a supper club formed in an immigrant neighborhood provides beneficial social resource for immigrant children, as families gather to share food and connect. Where there are more youth services, immigrant children have fewer internalizing problems (internal negative behaviors)3. In the case where children may face separation that lead to psychological symptoms1, having reliable neighborhood services may provide more support in place of parents. Furthermore, having educational resources translates to schools having quality programs and curriculum that foster school engagement and subsequently academic achievement2. As neighborhood institutional resources play such a large role, immigrant parents should choose to reside in the neighborhood with the most access to such resources to enable healthy development for their children.
In conclusion, aspects of the surrounding environment, parents, schools, and neighborhoods, greatly affect the immigrant child’s development. In the process of immigrating, parents need to pinpoint and intervene in such influential factors on their children’s development. Thus, they should have proper decision making as they commit to separation and select schools and neighborhoods.
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
- Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
- Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424
- Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes.Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development, 1, 993-1028.