Life Problems of Young Adolescent Immigrant Boys in Australia

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  • Life Problems of Young Adolescent Immigrant Boys in Australia I

    B Y A. G. DOCZY


    In the past four decades considerable research has been devoted to the problems, worries and interests of adolescents (e.g., Connell, et al., 1957; Douvan and Adelson, 1966; Harris, 1959; Symonds, 1936). The area of study is of obvious importance to both the researcher and to those who are responsible for the welfare of children: teachers, coun- sellors, youth leaders, etc. Of special interest are the problems encountered by the ado- lescent whose family belongs to a minority group. According to Bernard, some adolescents suffer the double handicap of being in both the adolescent category and in religious, ethnic, or colour minority (Bernard, 1957, p. 115).

    The present paper is mainly concerned with young adolescent boys who are members of ethnic minority groups. It reports an analysis of the salient problems and difficulties of such boys, as those problems and difficulties were seen by peer-group judges. The analysis has been extended to a comparison of these judges views with views implied in two conceptual approaches to the study of assimilation (Richardson, 1961 ; Taft, 1965).

    The samples

    The main characteristics of the samples were as follows : Both immigrant boys (European-born children of European-born parents; N -59) and

    Australian boys (Australian-born offspring of Australian-born parents ; N -81) partici- pated in the assessment of their peers problems. The boys were (a) non-Jewish, (b) of 14-15 years of age, (c) enrolled in the second form of four Metropolitan high schools and (d) living in intact families (i.e.> with both natural parents). The immigrants were of various ethnic origins [2] and had been in Australia between six and 13 years (Mean=9.63; standard deviation ~ 2 . 0 8 ) . The groups did not differ to a statistically significant degree in age, intelligence level, age of parents, age-difference between father and mother and fathers occupational status. [3] They did differ with respect to religious affiliation. [4 ]


    The subjects were asked to answer two open-ended questions:


  • (1) What are the main problems and difficulties that boys of your age have to face in Australia?

    (2) What are the main problems and difficulties that New Australian boys (from Europe) of your age have to face?

    This method was preferred to the structured-questionnaire method (e.g. Douvan and Adelson, 1966) or to the ranked-check-list method (e.g., Harris, 1959) for two reasons. First, the writer did not wish to restrict the potential response range nor to suggest problem areas which would not have occurred to the subjects without prompting. Second it was thought, that, as the responses were not anonymous, ego-defensive reactions to questions referring to the subjects own problems might result in invalid responses.

    For the classification of the responses Symonds (1936) list of fifteen areas of human concern was used as a general guide. Where the list was not applicable, new categories were added.

    Problems of boys in Australia

    The more general question (the first question) had two functions. First, it was thought to be capable of yielding valuable information on its own merit. Second, it was supposed to pave the way to the second question relating to immigrant boys, i.e., to facilitate the subjects task of eliminating problems to Australian boys and problems shared by the hosts and the immigrants, thus sorting out problems specific to immigrant boys.

    The analysis assigned the responses to the following 10 broad categories : Problems relating to school and education (referred to by 94 of the 162 boys; 58.0 per cent). Problems involving parents (34.6 per cent). Problems concerning social interaction outside the home (30.2 per cent). Employment problems (29.0 per cent). Problems pertaining to recreation (24.7 per cent). Financial problems (23.5 per cent). Problems relating to social control (21.6 per cent). Problems concerning interaction with girls (19.8 per cent). Personal problems (11.7 per cent). Problems relating to daily schedule (7.4 per cent).

    There were very few non-classifiable responses. These were : problem with transport; worry about the future of the world; being wrongly blamed; work (unspecified); getting used to the suburb just moved to; and not being allowed to smoke (without reference to the prohibiting agency). Each of these was mentioned once. It seems noteworthy that problems relating to health, safety and religion which have been reported as problems of adolescents in the United States (e.g., Harris, 1959; Remmers and Radler, 1957; Symonds, 1936), were not mentioned by any of the subjects of the present study.

    The quantitative findings on the problem categories with respect to which the opinion of Australians and immigrants differed are summarized in Table 1. As that table reveals, the two response frequencies differed to a statistically significant degree in three categories :


  • Table 1 . Differences between the response frequencies of immigrant and Australian boys

    Problem Category Immigrants Australians Chi P Square *

    f % f %

    Parents 30 50.8 19 23.5 10.41 < 0.01 Social control 20 33.9 10 12.3 8.48 < 0.01 Social interaction 14 23.7 32 39.5 3.88 < 0.05

    * Yates correction applied.

    (1) problems involving parents, [5 ] (2) problems relating to social control [6] and (3) problems concerning social interaction outside the home. [7] The findings on these three problem categories will be discussed after the responses to the crucial question (Question 2) have been dealt with.

    Problems of immigrant boys

    The analysis of the responses to the question, What are the main problems and diffi- culties that New Australian[8] boys (from Europe) of your age have to face? resulted in 13 broad categories. These included all but one of the 10 categories which emerged from the analysis of the responses to the first question. The odd man out was problems relating to daily schedule to which no immigrant-specific response was found. The four new categories were the following: ( 1) Language problems (no sub-category). ( 2) Problems of adjustment to the new culture (Australian way of life). Sub-categories :

    (a) Australian (or new or strange) way of life (unspecified); (b) customs; (c) adjusting to new types of food; (d) adjusting to new style of clothes.

    ( 3) Problems of adjustment to the new physical environment : (a) climate; (b) finding way around.

    ( 4) Problems involving the immigrants country of origin: (a) missing the old country, old friends; homesickness; (b) not wanting to forget, but forgetting, the old country and language.

    The categories, in descending order of response frequency are listed below. (See also Table 2.)

    ( 1) Problems concerning social interaction outside the home. Immigrant-specific sub- categories: (a) problems relating to mixing with Australians; (b) being teased, bullied by Australians ; (c) being regarded as inferior to Australians ; (d) being criticized, scorned by Australians.


  • Language problems. Problems of adjustment to the new culture. Problems relating to school and education: (a) adjusting to different type of edu- cation; (b) difficulties with education due to being an immigrant. Employment problems: (a) immigrants cannot get good (decent, well-paid) jobs; many bosses do not like immigrants; (b) difficulty in adjusting to new set of working conditions. Problems relating to social control: learning new set of laws, h e s , regulations. Problems of adjustment to the new physical environment. Financial problems : (a) learning new currency; (b) learning new ways (mechanics) of trading and business; (c) adjusting to new standard of living (different handling of money). Problems concerning interaction with girls: girls do not like immigrant boys; girls prefer Australian boys. Problems pertaining to recreation : (a) learning new kinds of recreational activities (hobbies, pastimes); (b) learning Australian sports (or new kinds of sports). [9] Problems involving parents : (a) immigrant parents are different from Australian parents; immigrant parents do not assimilate; (b) difficulty of the immigrant boy with getting along with his parents; (c) immigrant parents representing an em- barrassment, a social handicap (some Australian boys do not like immigrant parents, so they do not mix with New Australian boys). Problems involving the old country. Personal problems: worry about skin colour (e.g., Italians worry about their dark skin).

    There were no unclassifiable responses. There was only one problem category on which the immigrant and Australian response

    proportions differed to a statistically significant degree. Problems relating to school and education were mentioned by nearly half of the immigrants (45.8 per cent), whereas less than one-fifth of the Australians (18.5) included such problems in their responses (chi-square= 10.80; Yates correction applied; p

  • Table 2. Responses relating to New Australian boys problems

    Problem Category Immigrants Australians TOTAL

    f ;4 f / o f /, 0 ,

    Non-family social interaction Language Cultural adjustment School and education Employment Social control Adjustment to physical environment Finance Girls Recreation Parents Country of origin Personal problems

    55 93.2 40 67.8 33 55.9 27 45.8 12 20.3 9 15.3

    8 13.6 6 10.2 6 10.2 6 10.2 3 5.1 3 5.1 3 5.1

    80 98.8 72 88.9 43 53.1 15 18.5 10 12.3 9 11.1

    I 8.6 9 11.1 7 8.6 7 8.6 I 8.6 1 1.2 0 0.0

    135 96.4 112 80.0 76 54.3 42 30.0 22 15.7 18 12.9

    15 10.7 15 10.7 13 9.3 13 9.3 10 7.1 4 2.9 3 2.1

    that such problems exist. This finding is in harmony with several others which emerged from the analysis of interview and structured-questionnaire responses. All the findings point to the remarkable trend that immigrant children, though recognizing the differences, sometimes vast ones, between their and their parents norms, do not worry about those differences but take them for granted. In other words, even the otherwise poorly assimi- lated children are free of culture conflict in the psychological sense, i.e., in the sense of a tension between the immigrant and his child, an emotionally disturbing, more or less enduring experience for the marginal individual.

    The findings, in general, seem to indicate considerable agreement between the boys views and views implied in the conceptual approaches to the study of assimilation which have guided the present writers research orientation.

    Tafts revised model of the assimilation process (Taft, 1965) may be briefly described as follows: (a) (b) The main facets are:

    Assimilation is seen as a multi-facet rather than a unidimensional process.

    Facet 1 : skills). Facet 2: into the new group). Facet 3: norms).

    Acculturation (in the sense of the acquisition of cultural knowledge and

    Social interaction (interpersonal contacts, social acceptance, integration

    Identification (membership identity, adoption of and conformity to


  • Immigraiit Boys atteizdirzg Art LesJons it1 ari AiiJtr.aliui2 Stole School

  • Richardsons stage-analysis approach (Richardson, 1961) yielded three stages, including two similar to Tafts Facet 1 and Facet 3, respectively. The modal first stage of the process as revealed by Richardsons analyses is Satisfaction.

    As has been seen, problems relating to acculturation and social interaction assumed prominence in the boys responses. Satisfaction, while due to the nature of the question asked, not explicitly mentioned, may be looked upon as a main background theme: the presence of problems and difficulties may be assumed to lead to various degrees of dissatisfaction. It may be contended, then, that of the facets and stages, Identification is the only one that did not emerge as a problem category from the responses. It may, of course, be argued that some instances of the subjects recognition of differences between Australian and immigrant problems may be taken as oblique references to identification problems. However, the complete absence of direct references (e.g., difficulty of thinking like Australian boys think) is perplexing, even if one considers the distinct possibility of inadequate conceptualization for the purpose of communication, on the part of the subjects, of the complex unconscious process of reference-group identification. The in- visibility of the identification facet (without employing special social-psychological research techniques) may be taken as one of the reasons for the view frequently expressed by laymen (including teachers of immigrant children) and occasionally aired by re- searchers that immigrant children assimilate rapidly and completely.

    The degree of agreement between the two groups concerning the nature of the salient problems of their immigrant peer-group was very high (rho=0.95). Agreement on the problems of boys in Australia was considerably lower, although also highly significant [lo] (rho=0.74). As has been seen, with respect to the latter the two groups differed significant- ly on problems relating to parents, to social control and to social interaction outside the home. The present writer has not been able to find any plausible explanation for the significantly higher proportion of responses given by immigrants concerning the first of these problem areas. Of course, one might attempt to account for the fact that about 50 per cent of the immigrants mentioned prob!ems involving parents as problems of the Australian peer-group whereas only five per cent as immigrant-specific problems, in terms of projection, in the psychoanalytic sense. However, as reported above, evidence from other sources render this kind of interpretation untenable. With respect to social- control problems: it is possible that in the case of a portion of poorly assimilated immi- grants a kind of negative halo-effect was operative. In other words, such respondents may have considered their unfriendly, immigrant-rejecting Australian peers as being bad in other spheres of behaviour, too, this consideration forming, in turn, the basis of attributing to members of the host group social-control problems.

    Differing frames of reference may account for the finding concerning social-interaction problems. The immigrants, but not the Australians, may have thought in terms of the relative importance of such problems to immigrants and Australians. One example of this might be, again, the immigrants perception of social acceptance problems affecting immigrants to a much higher degree than affecting members of the host peer group.

    As has been seen, problems relating to school and education formed the only New- Australian-problem category on which the immigrant and Australian response propor- tions differed to a statistically significant degree, the immigrants response proportions being much higher. This finding may mean that the majority of Australian boys were


  • not aware of the tremendous prestige value of education for many immi...