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  January 29, 2001

Harwood to Study Migrant Experience Through
Research on Child Rearing Practices

Two rapidly growing yet understudied migrant populations are to be the research focus of an associate professor of family studies.

Robin Harwood, with a $1 million, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, will examine the parenting beliefs and practices of first- and second-generation migrant and host culture mothers in two countries: Puerto Rican and Euro-American working-class mothers in the United States, and - for purposes of comparison - Turkish and German mothers in Germany. All the mothers have children between the ages of 18 and 30 months.

"We want to know more about what relates to the development of biculturalism, or the capacity to negotiate well both the culture of origin and U.S. culture," Harwood says.

Examining both Puerto Ricans in the U.S. and Turks in Germany will allow her to compare factors associated with cultural change and the development of a bicultural identity among migrant groups, and to gain a greater understanding of the migratory experience, she explains. The research will include interviews with mothers about their beliefs, child-rearing practices, experiences of the migration process and social networks. Their children will be observed in the home.

Harwood says her research is important because Latinos are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the U.S. today. "In 1990, roughly one out of every 11 Americans was Latino. By 2050 it is expected that one out of five Americans will be Latino," she notes.

"Much of social science research on Latinos has assumed a deficit model - that is, it has tended to focus on problems," Harwood says. "Unfortunately, this has served to perpetuate stereotypes about Latinos. We are trying to correct this by doing normative rather than problem-focused research."

The Turks are an analogous group in Germany because they are the largest foreign population in Germany and are also the object of a great deal of prejudice and discrimination, Harwood says.

The observation portion of the study will focus on the child. "We're interested in the way that children spend their time, the kinds of activities they engage in, and the amount of time they spend on various activities, including mealtime," she says. Observing children eating a meal is important "to get an idea of how mealtime is structured in different families, which varies a lot culturally, especially at these ages."

Mothers will be asked to describe their own beliefs and practices relating to their children's feeding, sleeping, and playing, as well as their own and their children's social networks. "First generation mothers will be asked to describe their experiences during the process of migration how they feel it affected their own child-rearing beliefs and practices,"

Harwood says. "Both first- and second-generation mothers will be asked to describe which aspects of their culture of origin they want to preserve in their children, and which aspects

of the host culture they want their children to adopt."

Harwood's research has several implications for social policy in the U.S. "As the number of Latino families and children continues to rise," she says, "it becomes increasingly imperative for teachers, health care providers, and other professionals to understand the parenting within this population. For example, in order to be successful, primary prevention efforts such as school-based social competence promotion and parenting programs must be grounded on a solid knowledge of a variety of minority groups, including Latinos.

"As the U.S. becomes increasingly multicultural, the importance of addressing and correcting popular misconceptions of Latino culture and processes of cultural change can only grow," Harwood says.

"In this age of expanded global interdependence and mobility, the likelihood of encountering migrant families and their children in a variety of personal and professional contexts multiplies for all people, highlighting the value of a deeper cultural change and the migratory experience."

Sherry Fisher