September 2015 Spotlight, Kim Tsai, Ph.D.

SRCD Asian Caucus is excited to announce our new initiative to connect caucus members. We will be sending out monthly highlights of our wonderful members who have made outstanding contributions to their research fields.
As our first scholar highlight, we are delighted to introduce Kim Tsai, Ph.D. ( at California State University San Marcos. Dr. Tsai is an assistant professor of psychology at California State University San Marcos. Her area of specialization is in developmental psychology. Her research centers on how culture shapes family relationships and ethnic identity development among adolescents from ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds. She investigates which facets of family relationships are sources of strength and which are challenges for adolescents’ socio-emotional development and health. Dr. Tsaiemploys diverse methodologies including daily diary checklists and longitudinal designs in her research.

Kim Tsai

Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians,Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.

Growing up in an Asian immigrant family provided me countless opportunities to reflect upon the ways in which my family life differed from what was portrayed in mainstream American media. However, I also learned that differences went beyond Asian Americans versus other ethnic/racial group comparisons – there were also many ways in which my experiences were different from my fellow Asian American peers. Through adolescence and especially the transition to college, it became more evident how socioeconomic factors (e.g., parental education, employment status) shaped the types of opportunities and resources afforded to Asian American adolescents, which in turn, contributed to different socialization experiences at home, school, and other contexts. Even within the Asian American community, there is a lot of within-group variation in how immigrant children experience adolescence and the transition to young adulthood, which have important implications for their concurrent and long-term psychosocial adjustment and health. As such, research that allows for explorations of cross- and within-ethnic group comparisons are critical in contributing to our knowledge about the experiences of ethnic minority and immigrant children and families in the U.S.

Research Spotlight

We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.

Family cohesion and support is central to the lives of many children from Asian and Latino immigrant families in the U.S. Although it is well documented that Asian and Latino immigrant adolescents adhere to strong family obligation values and practices centered on the importance of supporting and respecting their families, less is understood about how adolescents come to develop such strong orientations towards the family. In my recent work with Mexican-American parent-adolescent dyads, I examined the types of familial conditions that support the transmission of cultural values and behaviors across generations (Tsai, Telzer, Gonzales & Fuligni, in press, Child Development). We found that parents’ cultural socialization efforts to instill knowledge about their ethnic heritage to their children and the quality of the parent-child relationship both play a significant role in adolescents’ endorsement and practice of family obligation values. Specifically, we found that under positive conditions characterized by high levels of parental support and low levels of conflict, parents’ cultural socialization efforts were linked to adolescents’ strong sense of family obligation and high rates of family assistance. This work highlights the importance of examining the intersection of culture and family dynamics in advancing our understanding about child development among immigrant populations in the U.S. In future projects, I will examine cultural variation in how family dynamics may serve as sources of strength and stressors for adolescents from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

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