Striking a new Path to Study the Adaptation Processes of Immigrant Adolescents: Changes in Language use and Family Interactions


Lara Aumann, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany
Peter F. Titzmann, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany
Richard M. Lee, University of Minnesota, USA


There is a growing body of research that aims to understand the acculturation process of immigrant and minority youth and their families. Despite a broad consensus that acculturation is a dynamic, developmental process of change, scholars have noted that the adherence to cross-sectional and between-group study designs remains one of the greatest challenges of acculturation research. This study addressed this challenge and applied two recently introduced concepts of acculturative change in adolescents’ host language use and its relation with family interactions (child disclosure, acculturation-related family hassles): pace (the speed in which one acculturates) and relative timing (one’s acculturation level relative to coethnic peer acculturation levels).


Data were taken from a large multidisciplinary and multiinformant longitudinal research project comprising three waves of data collection spanning 3 years. To investigate our hypotheses, we used adolescent data from all three waves and additional parental data at T3. The adolescent sample consisted of 378 ethnic German immigrant adolescents from the former Soviet Union. At T1, adolescents’ mean age was 15.7 years (SD = 2.3, range = 10–19 years), and 62% were girls. The educational level of the adolescents’ parents (85% mothers, Mage: mothers = 44.7 [SD = 6.5], fathers = 46.5 [SD = 6.3]) was high, with the majority of participating parents holding a degree from a college of higher education or university (50%). Most of the parents were married (80%). Parents reported being at least partly able to read and write German language (M = 4.5, SD = 1.0, range = 1–6).

We applied latent True-Change models to assess acculturative pace of host language use and family hassles, and used regression analysis to model relative timing of host language use. Associations of timing concepts of host language use with changes in family hassles and levels of child disclosure at T3 were analysed with structural equation models.


Structural equation analyses revealed that acculturative pace (the speed in which adolescents adopted the host language) was the strongest predictor for both changes in family hassles and levels of child disclosure and predicted family interactions over time: Pace between Wave 1 and 2 predicted higher levels of child disclosure, pace between Wave 2 and 3 increased acculturation-related family hassles. Associations between pace of host language use and family interactions were stronger among recently immigrated families, a finding that was replicated in parental and adolescent reports. By contrast, relative timing did not predict either family outcome.


The present study has investigated a new set of theoretical and analytic models to study acculturative change by empirically validating concepts of acculturative timing introduced by Titzmann and Lee (2018). The study is among the first to examine two of these concepts (pace, relative timing), which have been shown to have the potential to advance the understanding of the individual acculturation process over time as well as the adaptation of immigrant youth in general. The findings are strong proof of the dynamic character of acculturation and an example how intraindividual acculturation processes should be investigated and understood in the future. In addition, the results highlight that understanding the dynamics in immigrant adolescents’ acculturation can explain differences in family functioning. Thus, insights into individual acculturative change trajectories have the potential to broaden current knowledge about immigrants’ adaptation processes in general.


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