December 2018 Spotlight, Craig H. Hart, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Craig Hart ( as our member in spotlight. He is a Zina Young Williams Card professor in School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and now serves as the Director of the BYU Faculty Center.Dr. Hart’s scholarship focuses on linkages among family processes, parenting practices, and children’s social development in cultural context. His research also encompasses developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood education.

{filename base} Craig Hart Portrait 1806-62 Craig Hart Portrait June 22, 2018 Photo by Leah Kelson /BYU BYU Photo

1) what drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

I grew up in a farming community where many Asian Americans resided. Through friendships with many of these wonderful people I developed an early appreciation for their rich cultural heritages. At age 19, I had the opportunity to spend two years in Japan doing volunteer service. Living amongst the people, observing children and families, and learning the language increased my desire to learn more about Asian cultures and how cultural values and traditions that are integral to interpersonal relationships are transmitted across generations. This led to undergraduate coursework in Asian Studies, Psychology, Family studies, and Early Childhood Development at Brigham Young University (BYU).

By the time I started graduate school, my educational training and experience had motivated me to focus my efforts on studying how parenting, early education practices, and family dynamics are related to children’s development. This was further refined in my doctoral training with Dr. Gary Ladd and other leading scholars at Purdue University in the 1980s who helped me specialize in studying how young children’s social development, social cognitions, and peer relationships are associated with parenting, family processes, and early educational experiences.

This line of research flourished during my years at Louisiana State University. However, the cultural piece that I had wanted to connect with this research program didn’t enter in until I returned to BYU as a faculty member. Opportunities have abounded at BYU for international scholarship which lead to applying much of my content expertise to Australian, European and Asian cultural settings in an effort to understand commonalities, differences, and nuances within and across cultures. Colleagues from Beijing Normal University who were on sabbatical at BYU when I arrived teamed up with me to launch a series of studies on parenting and children’s social/emotional development in mainland China starting in the mid-1990s. The cultural comparative work involving Chinese, Russian, and U.S. samples stemming from these projects has been particularly intriguing. Working with students, BYU, and international colleagues in this research endeavor has been enriching as I have come to better understand how important cultural values and traditions are for expanding our knowledge of human development.

2) What is your current research project? What makes your excited about it?

Given my early interest in Asian American families stemming from childhood associations and building upon some of my prior research in China, it has been a privilege to recently work with Dr. Charissa Cheah and her students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on a longitudinal study involving Chinese and Korean immigrant families with 3-5-year-old children. This research focuses on (1) community and social resources available to these families, (2) parents’ adaptation, well-being and acculturation, and (3) their culturally-specific parenting beliefs, practices, styles and behaviors as related to (4) their preschool children’s social emotional development, physical health, academic competence and transition into American society. These constructs are examined using a variety of methodological approaches (surveys, interviews, observations, and experimental paradigms). I am excited about the number of published studies this project has yielded that have helped us better understand the complexities associated with rearing children in the U.S., as well as the strengths that Asian Americans apply to this endeavor that stem from their cultural heritages.

This research is connected to another project titled, Parents and Children in Families and in Cultures – PACIFIC, which is a multi-cultural study focusing on how family interactions and parenting behaviors affect preschool children’s social and emotional development in a number of Eastern cultures—China, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Turkey. In collaboration with BYU colleagues, and faculty at Asian universities we are studying both universal and culturally indigenous patterns of parenting and family life in these cultures. My primary responsibility in this research program is Japan.

These cultures have provided opportunities to gather data in countries with varying political structures and different religious cultural contexts (e.g., secular China; Japanese Buddhists; Muslim Malay majority, and Chinese Buddhist minority). We are comparing families in these cultures with each other and with a sample of Asian American families from Dr. Cheah’s project in order to further contribute to our understanding of similarities and differences in Western and Eastern cultural child socialization practices.

The primary focus of the project revolves around observed parenting and family influences associated with preschool children’s development as these factors tend to have lasting influence across the lifespan. Parenting beliefs, practices, and marital factors, as well as the personality of children and parents, are being considered in the prediction of many positive and negative social behaviors and emotional adjustment that children display at preschool and kindergarten. Types of aggression, shyness, and prosocial behavior and peer group adjustment in preschool children are of particular interest. Data has been gathered on over 2,300 families (300 – 350 families in each cultural context) and we are in the process of preparing to start the analysis phase.

Although I have been in significant department, college, and university administrative positions for most of the past 18 years at BYU that have resulted in diminished time for research, I am grateful for wonderful colleagues who have encouraged and helped me stay involved in these exciting projects that I believe will inform our understanding of Asian children and families in the diversity that exists across Asian groups.

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