Feature

It's often said that parenting doesn't come with a manual. That may be especially true for immigrant parents who, in addition to navigating the complexities of child rearing, must do so in a culture that can clash with their own.

Through a multi-pronged psychoeducational intervention, two APF Okura grantees are working to change that. Neha Navsaria, PhD, a psychologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Razia F. Kosi, a social worker and founder of the mental health education organization Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians Inc., or CHAI, seek to ease the parenting process for a group of understudied and underserved immigrants: South Asians from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. This immigrant group is among the fastest growing in the United States, burgeoning from 1.6 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2008, according to U.S. Census figures.

"Our plan is to provide education, resources and guidance for South Asian parents looking for answers about parenting," Navsaria says.

Common questions raised by immigrant parents include how to talk with their children about cultural differences, what kind of attitude to hold toward those differences, and how to consider developmental issues in a bicultural context — what is normal teen behavior in the United States, for example, and how does it differ from what's expected in one's country of origin?

It's important for families to address such issues openly, Navsaria adds. If, for instance, a South Asian child tries to develop a bicultural identity without his or her parents' support, research shows it can lead to increased family conflict, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor school performance. Conversely, South Asian teens who hold values similar to their parents' report higher self-esteem, lower anxiety and less family conflict, studies find.

Navsaria and Kosi are conducting the project with a $20,000 grant from the Asian American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Foundation and the Okura Mental Health Leadership Fellowship. The grant is part of a larger $75,000 donation from the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation, an organization dedicated to strengthening treatment, services and training for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. The grant is the third in a round of three funded fellowship projects: The first two focused on research and training, respectively, while Navsaria and Kosi's centers on service. In March, the foundation announced the funding of a second round of grants (see sidebar).

The project includes several components:

  • An online needs assessment to determine parents' most pressing concerns;
  • Monthly webinars and in-person seminars based on those topics, supported by content experts;
  • Ongoing Web-based information keying off feedback from the webinars and seminars; and
  • Culturally sensitive brochures on parenting topics that the researchers will disseminate nationally through community events, workshops, social media and listservs.

Navsaria and Kosi plan to address issues faced by both first- and second-generation parents, who encounter different kinds of parenting dilemmas based on their upbringings. They'll also target all socioeconomic groups. For example, the webinars will be national in scope and tap educated parents with computer skills, while the in-person seminars will capture parents in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas with populations who may not be as educated or computer literate.

Throughout the intervention, they'll encourage parents to consider the strengths of both South Asian and American cultures and find a balance that works for them, Kosi adds.

"We want to help parents and children navigate the two cultures so they can experience the best of both worlds," Kosi says.


Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.