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Adaptation of Immigrant Adolescents Within the U.S.

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 5320 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Adaptation of Immigrant Adolescents Within the U.S.


 This research proposal is designed to answer various insufficiencies present in our understanding of the psychology of the adjustment of immigrant adolescents to the U.S. school ecology. The proposed research is expected to cater to aspects such as the impact that immigration into the U.S. has on students at various academic levels in relation to information concerning the mental well-being of this demographic especially in regards to adjustment. The main emphasis of this research will be the assessment of the behavioral, academic, and emotional adjustment of immigrant adolescents, especially among school-going children. The study will evaluate how these students cope in terms of post-migration stress and whether there is a social support system provided in different settings, such as at school and at home. The contributors of this research will be 200 immigrant students from the elementary, middle, and high school education levels. Elements such as varying levels of social support and of stress are expected to be connected with the aspect of poor adaptation in the new surroundings.

Adaptation of Immigrant Adolescents Within the United States

In the last two decades, the United States has experienced a constant wave of immigrants entering the country. The effects of this immigration have been hotly debated, especially in regards to society and the economy. However, a critical aspect that has been largely greatly understated in this discourse has been the psychological and emotional welfare of immigrant adolescents (Adelman & Taylor, 2015). Despite extensive research being conducted on the acculturation of immigrants in general, little is known concerning the adjustment of these school-going adolescents and the challenges they often encounter. These children are often forced to navigate new cultures that often pose unique health issues and in some cases, significant psychological consequences. The integration of these children into the different communities across the country can also have extreme psychosocial impacts on them. Some studies have sought to quantify how stressful the process of adaptation can be to this demographic (Gualdi-Russo, Toselli, Masotti, Marzouk, & Sundquist, 2014). Stress, in this case, arises from aspects such as exposure to a new culture or language and the abandonment of their familiar social context. This study will seek to determine the extent to which the immigrant adolescents struggle to re-establish themselves within the U.S. During this process; this research will also evaluate how the roles of these adolescents in their families are redefined upon entry into the country. The research has also identified several specific areas in need of examinations such as the processes of adaptation, the disruption of the social networks, the impact of the immigration-related stress on the students and the effects of any perceived discrimination or prejudice. Ultimately, this proposed study will provide a broader perspective on the adaptation and adjustment of immigrant adolescents within the United States and the psychological effects it has on these adolescents.

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An overview of the existing literature on immigrants reveals that a large percentage of immigrant adolescents adapt successfully to the social and cultural environment of the United States (Vang & Eckstein , 2015). However, Gualdi-Russo, et al. (2014) discovered that most of these immigrant adolescents were alienated from their non-immigrant peers and had a lower self-efficacy in terms of their acculturation process. In terms of academics, immigrant students also outperformed their non-immigrant counterparts from the same cultural backgrounds. However, it should be pointed out that this aspect experiences divergence across different socio-cultural boundaries. For example, African immigrants do not show the same accomplishment advantage when compared to other cultural groups (Toppelberg & Collins, 2012). On the other hand, academic achievement usually deteriorates as the immigrants continue to reside within the country. This is mainly because the immigrants who hail from poor minority backgrounds often assimilate to the urban culture of their peers which in most cases is antithetical to the goals of the educational establishments.

Literature Review

Various studies concerning the issue of adaptation of immigrants have highlighted potential antecedents that influence the adjustment of the students to the new surroundings. These include mental health, family, coping mechanisms, and contextual factors, among others (Perreira & Ornelas, 2011). However, there are also other influences that are integral to the acculturation of the immigrant students such as the socio-economic status, language difficulties, ethnic and racial prejudice, family and societal expectations, peer values, student-parent conflict, the students’ age, and the stress that results from the immigration process and loss of established social relationships (Guarnaccia & Lopes, 1998). However, the researchers also affirm that most of the current data on the adaptation process of immigrants is inconclusive and insufficient. This aspect explains why recent research has adopted a positivist approach to the adaptation of the immigrants and as a result, has yielded significant information about the risks associated with this experience. For example, aspects such as the bicultural competence which is the ability of the students to function in both the family and school contexts have emerged as a result of the conflict that arises within these cultures.

However, ethnographic research on the issue has revealed substantial variations in terms of the circumstances of the immigrant students and their families (Toppelberg & Collins, 2012). The studies have illustrated several psychosocial and educational obstacles and issues that emerge from the process of adaptation. As Schachner (2017) points out, immigrant adolescents often face a variety of exceptional circumstances, especially in relation to their educational needs. Additionally, some of the challenges that are brought about by the aspect of poverty include high residential mobility which affects the students’ ability to cope with the emotional stresses associated with the new institutional environment and their social norms. Therefore, as a result of an inadequate social support system, the process of adaptation often affects the immigrants’ psychological well-being. The psychosocial and educational challenges that arise due to these factors are undoubtedly interconnected and complex.

In the recent past, efforts by various sectors of the society provide interventions that can help support the immigrant population in terms of adjustment which have been crucial to their adaptation to the new environment in the U.S. (Adelman & Taylor, 2015) However, a further analysis of the causal factors that affect the well-being of the immigrant adolescents need to be discovered. The widespread research that has been conducted on this issue has acknowledged the presence of differing perspectives that seek to explain the adjustment outcomes experienced by this demographic. However, recent studies have gone further and incorporated research from countries across Europe and as a result have provided specific acculturative practices that influence the psychological adjustment process (Dimitrova, Chasiotis, & Van de Vijver, 2016). This process has been beneficial to bridging the gaps present and in turn improved our understanding of the different societal contexts involved.

Mental Health

In comparison to the consideration accorded to academic issues, there are few researchers that have assessed the effect of migration on the mental development of the immigrants (Rudmin & Kwak, 2014). As a result, recent studies have begun to address the mental health and psychological adjustment of the immigrant adolescents arguing that such aspects are just as essential as educational-related interventions (Dimitrova, Chasiotis, & Van de Vijver, 2016). Moreover, according to Portes and Rivas (2011), the psychological risks that are posed by the conflict-ridden and unstable environments present in the immigrant students’ background are often intensified by the inability to adjust to their new surroundings. As a result, various mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and other psychosomatic disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder often arise due to the complicated transition process associated with immigration.

Ample evidence has shown that youths are at a greater risk of exhibiting symptoms associated with psychological stress (Gualdi-Russo, Toselli, Masotti, Marzouk, & Sundquist, 2014). The school environment has specifically been highlighted as a source of stress from the immigrant students, especially those that come from minority cultures. According to Schachner (2017), the differences present between the school environment and the family ecology of the minority children are likely to result in the development of stress. This is because minority children have a higher likelihood of experiencing a discontinuity in the different social contexts of development. Consequently, these students often are unable to develop a shared comradery within the academic setting, which is integral for their educational success. Persistent and excessive stress within the school environment can also have severe consequences for the immigrant children’s adjustment into the new culture. Adelman and Taylor (2015) suggested that their existing different ethnic coping strategies that are adopted by immigrant students deal with academic-related stress. These coping mechanisms often isolate this demographic from the support systems present in the school and reduce their ability to connect to this environment.

Coping Mechanisms

Adelman and Taylor (2015) have argued for the adoption of a positivist approach in the assessment of the immigrants, especially when it comes to the coping mechanisms associated with adaptation. The research should, therefore, focus less on the dysfunctionality of the students and examine how this migration process can result in the students adopting a new repertoire of coping skills. These coping mechanisms often broaden the opportunities of the students and also enable the realization of new skills and world views (Vang & Eckstein , 2015). Various studies have acknowledged that immigrant students often possess a rejuvenated form of resilience that improves or sustains their ability to adapt to their new environments. However, for the students who are unable to cope with changes present, the research shows that they are at a higher risk for substance abuse, deviant behavior, psychological distress, and educational failure. Therefore, by putting the positivist and developmentalist models, research can explain the relationship present between psychological distress, adaptation, and migration. Ultimately, this will provide an extensive framework into the analysis of the adaptation experience.


The literature review also emphasizes the influence of the family unit on the adaptation experience of the immigrant students (Toppelberg & Collins, 2012). One of the most crucial factors that have been established from this research is the significance of the intergenerational clashes present between the children and their guardians. As immigrant families often acculturate at varying degrees, it often leads to conflict due to the establishment of different goals. One of the main factors that often influence this process is the fact that most of these parents rely on the children as their interpreters. This aspect results in problems within the family unit as the parents believe that their reliance on their children erodes their parental authority (Perreira & Ornelas, 2011). Furthermore, it also means that immigrant children are exposed to duties and responsibilities they are not mentally prepared for.

Gualdi-Russo, et al. (2014) revealed in their evaluation of immigrant children that child-parent conflict was one of the most significant predictors of depression and reduced confidence. Additionally, the presence of different gender roles within the United States as compared to their ethnic backgrounds often resulted in conflict because of the adoption of new roles within the family. For example, in some cultures, females are often pressured to follow the traditional paths which generally do not value aspects such as female education. However, in the United States, due to the presence of strict laws, they are forced to change their perceptions (Adelman & Taylor, 2015). As a result, tension often rises between the immigrant children and their parents, especially when they begin to integrate themselves into the new culture of the United States. Such aspects challenge the traditional views of female roles in the family unit and eventually affect the adaptation process of the immigrant students.

Contextual Factors

In relation to the contextual factors, in most cases, the welfare of the immigrants is often connected to their acculturation alignments. This ideally means that the adherence to both cultures by the immigrants is ultimately conducive to their emotional and mental well-being and better developmental outcomes (Schachner, 2017). Additionally, effective policies for the immigrant student’s cultural and ethnolinguistic diversity and integration can have a potential influence on their ability to adapt or adjust. The proximal environments in which most of these immigrant children’s lives are entrenched, such as the societal attitudes present in the United States, constitute essential societal variables for their adaptation. Studies have shown that discrimination of immigrant children is essential when it comes to explaining the different outcomes in their adaptation (Schachner, 2017). Ultimately, the successful adjustment of immigrants relies on their ability to challenge acculturative and development tasks. Contexts that are able to deliver prospects for the investigation and expansion of choices, goals, and abilities often foster ideal results.

Expanded Scope of Research

Review of the existing literature has shown that the research of the adaptation of immigrant adolescents within the United States has mainly focused on academic adjustment, internalizing, and externalizing outcomes (Vang & Eckstein , 2015). In this case, internalizing outcomes refer to the depressive and psychological distress symptoms. On the other hand, externalizing outcomes refer to the conduct behaviors that these children exhibit within the school setting such as the tendency of substance abuse wile academic adjustment outcomes are the attitudes that pertain to school achievement. Conventionally, most of the empirical research conducted on the maladaptive processes associated with adaptation in immigrant children often results in adverse or negative outcomes (Portes & Rivas, 2011). As a result, immigrant adolescents have been reported to exhibit increased levels of adjustment issues when equated to their non-immigrant counterparts from the majority population. This phenomenon is referred to as migration morbidity. Therefore, the research conducted across a variety of contexts illustrates the relationship present between the excessive levels of psychological status and their migrant status of the children (Toppelberg & Collins, 2012). It should also be pointed out that several studies conducted across the United States have documented a rise in immigrant adolescents’ maladaptive behaviors, school difficulties, and disruptive issues especially in the school setting (Adelman & Taylor, 2015).

However, it is unfair for researchers to make the conclusion that immigrant adolescents are doing worse than their non-immigrant counterparts. This notion has often been challenged by studies which reveal that immigrants can convey better adjustment and adaptation abilities regardless of their more inferior socioeconomic status. Within the literature, this phenomenon is known as the immigrant paradox. Most of the evidence has been produced by studies in Canada. Within the United States, this paradox has been established by some of the studies thereby proving its existence (Rudmin & Kwak, 2014). This research has shown that when compared to the non-immigrant population, immigrants convey lower rates of internalizing symptoms like stress and depression. However, due to the influence of their socio-economically disadvantaged background, it becomes more challenging for studies to establish this fact. Similarly, evidence has been produced that support the immigration paradox in terms of academic behaviors and attitudes such that immigrants often reveal better adjustment outcomes within the school setting especially in relation to their self-reported feelings towards education (Adelman & Taylor, 2015). Ultimately, these different studies reveal that the scope of the research on the adaptation of immigrant adolescents within the country should also explore various aspects such as the immigration paradox and the influence of the immigrants’ disadvantaged backgrounds on the results.

Summary and Conclusion

Much of the empirical research highlighted in this literature review in reference to the immigrant adolescent adaptation has focused on the influence of various socio-cultural factors and how they influence the ability of this demographic to adjust. However, more research needs to be conducted on the shaping power of the immigrants’ expectations and aspirations and how it can ultimately affect the adaptation process. Psychologists and sociologists have also provided consistent evidence that highlights the impact of the new environment emotional welfare of immigrants. Therefore, the underlying rationale, in this case, can be perceived as straightforward. The focus of this research should be on the behavioral and academic adjustments of the immigrant children in relation to various factors such as exposure to family strains, mental health problems and the availability of a social support system that facilitates the process of adjustment. The hypothesis of this study will be that lower levels of social support and higher levels of family stress are directly associated with poor immigrant adjustment or adaptation. Causes of stress that will be investigated in this study include economic hardship, acculturation conflict, perceived prejudice, and aspects such as overall life stress.


Due to the complexities associated with the development of adjustment measures within the immigrant population, this formative research proposal will use a qualitative design to examine and analyze the scope of the adaptation process. Semi-structured interviews will be convened with a select number of immigrant adolescents to help reveal gaps in the research methods used. This qualitative research will be beneficial in the discovery of the extent to which there is a direct relationship between an immigrants’ socio-cultural background and their ability to adapt to the new social environment. Typically, it will be challenging for complex human behaviors to be established using quantitative research. Therefore, statistical inference will also be used to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the data produced. However, it should be noted that statistical reference will not be the main objective of the research. By relying on in-depth interviews that rely on open-ended questions, this research will provide a variety of information for analysis. Despite the long-standing significance of using comprehensive cognitive-behavioral analysis to examine the mental health of the participants, this study will opt for a different approach to identify the mental well-being. Such an approach will provide more insights about the patients and improve the perceptions of the research.


The sample involved in the research will be comprised of 350 immigrant students (175 boys and 175 girls) at different educational levels (middle schools and high school. The participants of the research will be selected randomly from different schools and will consist of newly immigrated school entrants. In order to affirm the validity of this study, informed consent shall be acquired from the students’ guardians. Additionally, all the students will be required to sign assent forms. In order to guarantee confidentiality, the participants’ names will be excluded from the interview during the process of statistical entry. As a result, the participants will only be identified by randomized number codes. The school staff, parents, and any other involved personnel will be advised not to disclose any information about the individual participants. The interviews will distribute consent forms to the guardians of the participants who fulfill the criteria of involvement required by the study. The guardians will send the forms through the post. Ultimately, the participating students will all be presented with gifts for their contribution to the investigation.


The initial interviews of the participants will happen before the summer of the participants’ initial year. Thereafter, follow-up interviews will be conducted after a period of two years. The participants will be individually assessed within the school premises at isolated settings. Each interviewer will be linked with a student according to aspects such as language and cultural background. After this process, each interviewer will be randomly assigned according their respective designated students across different grade levels. The restriction present in this case is that the interviewers are deemed accountable for specific participants by their education level or gender. Towards the end of every academic year, the teachers will provide the rating of the students’ school adaptation among other aspects such as psychological adjustment. Educational indicators in terms of performance, will also be acquired from the students’ personal academic records


Majority of the proposed measures within this study have been employed in previous studies. This means that these methods have excellent psychometric values. In order to be completely efficient, the measures will be translated according to each participant’s language, which will be then verified by the relevant professionals.

Social Support

The participants’ social support data will be attained via the Children’s Convoy Mapping Procedure (Schachner, 2017). The interviewees will be required to single out individuals whom they believe are most significant and closest to them within the inner circle of a coaxial circle illustration with individuals less close placed in the middle and outer circle illustration. The participants will be further asked to categorize five persons within their social networks that offer each of the five support functions tapping the domains of support that are quantified in the convoy model.

Acculturation Conflict, Stress, And Perceived Discrimination Measures

The overall life stress of each participant will be quantified using a pre-defined checklist of various strenuous life events that were adapted from (Gualdi-Russo, Toselli, Masotti, Marzouk, & Sundquist, 2014). Supposed prejudice and acculturation conflict will be quantified using measures that were developed by (Schachner, 2017).

Adjustment Measures

Various guides of emotional adjustment will include the Harter Self-Perception Profile and the Children’s Depression Inventory-Short Form. Over the past few years, these measures have established legitimacy and consistency, and this explains why they have been relied upon extensively among school-age children.

The achievement of the students will be examined through standardized achievement test scores and grade reports provided by the school. Other academic scores will be combined to provide a general achievement measure. In terms of psychological well-being, the study does not expect immigrant students to differ significantly from their non-immigrant counterparts. This is mainly because that psychological literature has shown that is often a decrease in the psychological well-being among all adolescent students regardless of their cultural background (Toppelberg & Collins, 2012). However, teachers will also be tasked with completing various behavioral adjustment measures for the children.

Data Analysis Plan

An initial study will be conducted to affirm the scale dependability of the various demographics so as to confirm that the characteristics of the different scales have not violated any statistical test assumptions. Moreover, additional itemization will assess the impact of the different factors that are not covered within the main emphasis of the research, such as the immigrants’ parental background. If necessary, some of these fluctuating aspects could be encompassed as control variables for the final evaluation. Due to the presence of expected attrition within some of the interviews, comparisons will be made before the process of data analysis, to establish if there exist systematic differences. As the hypothesis of this study is lower levels of social support, and higher levels of family stress are directly associated with poor immigrant adjustment or adaptation, multiple regression analysis will be relied upon in the evaluation of the results. The main criterion for this analysis will be adjustment scales for the second year that will be provided by the school. Additionally, an isolated regression analyses will be implemented after every adaptation directory. The predictors of this analysis will comprise of aspects such as stress measures, social support, and student age.

Discussion & Expected Findings

This proposed research will make a substantial contribution by providing a theoretical comprehension of various social support systems and how they influence academic outcomes and the required data on how the educators can cope with substantial and consistent influx of immigrant population. Whenever immigrant adolescents enter schools within the United States initially, they often come across a different setting that poses new strains for adjustment. Additionally, these immigrant adolescents often have a limited ability to communicate and therefore lack the social support system that was present in their native locales. As a result, they often encounter prejudice and grief that they were not accosted in their previous lifestyles. Consequently, their family members are also subject to a range of stressors that are associated with the process of migration which can include acculturation issues, and legal problems. Therefore, this planned research will offer a better comprehension of how immigrant adolescents at different demographics respond in terms of psychology and academics to diverse elements in present in their present environment. Most importantly, the research will offer recommendations that can be used to identify immigrant adolescents, especially within the school setting who are at risk of maladaptive behaviors and outcomes.


The thorough literature review that has been conducted in this proposal has indicated that there exists a gap in understanding the potential psychological effects of adjustments to immigrant adolescents that need to be addressed. The literature suggests the need to examine how various aspects within the ecology of these immigrant adolescents influence the adaptation process within the United States. In most of these cases, the lack of social support during the process results in maladaptive behaviors that are detrimental to the immigrants psychosocial and education outcomes. Therefore, this proposal has present a study that seeks to define appropriate strategies that can determine or establish the ability of different immigrant adolescents to acculturate or adapt to the new social environment. Through a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the challenges facing the immigrants coupled with a practical comprehension of the factors that influence this process, this study will provide a broader perspective on the adaptation of immigrant students within the United States and the psychological effects it has on these adolescents.


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