Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acculturation and Psychosocial Adjustment of African Adolescent Refugees in the United States: The Role of Social Support

By Bellah Kiteki, PhD, LPC


The purpose of this study was to examine the role of social support in psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees during resettlement in a host country. Though a link has been established among acculturation attitudes, social support, and psychosocial adjustment with adolescent refugees in new environments, these aspects have not been examined with African adolescent refugees in the United States. In the Multicultural Acculturation Model proposed by Kovacev and Shute (2004), social support (defined as the positive regard received or perceived from others) from parents and peers were found to be key determinants of psychosocial adjustment of adolescent refugees. Therefore, this study was designed to investigate the roles of parents and peers in the adjustment of African adolescent refugees in the U.S.


Participants were African adolescent refugees resettled in Greensboro and High Point in Guilford County, North Carolina. The adolescents had to have lived in the U.S. for at least one year and no more than ten years, be enrolled in school grades seven through twelve, and have basic understanding of English.

Data Collection Procedures

Participants were informed about the study through a formal presentation by the researcher. Details about the reason they were the target group were explained, the need for parental consent before participation (for those under 18 years) and assent, and each participant receiving $5 Wal-Mart gift card upon completion of all study measures. Time was allocated for participants to ask questions during the presentation. Signed copies of consent forms were returned after two weeks and all participants signed assent forms before they took the measures.


  1. Research Question 1. To investigate relationships among acculturation attitudes, social support, and psychosocial adjustment among African adolescent refugees. Relationships were found between social support and psychosocial adjustment. Parental support had a strong relationship with global self-worth and peer support had a strong relationship with peer social acceptance, respectively. Therefore, for African adolescent refugees in the sample, both parents and peers played an integral role in their adjustment in a new environment. With acculturation attitudes, a relationship was only found between peer support and integration but no relationship was found with assimilation (preference for mainstream/majority culture than original culture), separation (preference for original than mainstream/majority culture), and marginalization (no preference for mainstream/majority or original culture).
  2. Research Question 2. To examine which one of the four acculturation attitudes (integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization) is the best predictor of psychosocial adjustment. Findings indicated that acculturation attitudes failed to predict psychosocial adjustment, that is, none of the four predictors significantly predicted psychosocial adjustment.
  3. Research Question 3. To examine which one between social support variables (parental and peer) is the best predictor of psychosocial adjustment. Results indicated that parental support was the best predictor of psychosocial adjustment followed by peer support.
  4. Research Question 4. To examine mean differences in psychosocial adjustment by gender and duration of time lived in the U.S. Results showed that duration of time spent in the U.S. positively impacted adolescents’ adjustment; the longer they lived in the U.S., the higher their psychosocial adjustment.


Findings in this study may not be generalized to African adolescent refugees in other parts of the U.S. due to the small sample size of participants. Participants in the study were selected from two mid-sized cities in the South East and may not be representative of adolescents resettled in other cities. Also, some countries of origin for participants were more highly represented than others, this difference in numbers also contributed to differences in some of the findings.


Community and school counselors working with African adolescent refugees need to be aware of the strong relationship between parental and peer support in the adjustment of adolescent refugees in a new environment. This knowledge will provide avenues of involvement and collaboratively working with parents either in schools or within the community to enhance positive adjustment of African adolescent refugees. Because of the importance of parents in their children’s adjustment from the study findings, counselors could involve parents as needed in the counseling sessions when working with African adolescent refugees.

Due to the integral role of peers in adolescents’ adjustment, school counselors and teachers could involve mainstream peers (as well as African adolescent refugees who have been in the U.S. for a longer period of time) by fostering peer relationships in helping those who may be relatively new arrivals during their adjustment. Adolescent refugees may be of great help to their peers who are new arrivals because they understand their backgrounds and some of the cultural issues they may have to deal with.

Additionally, community counselors need to be aware that differences in adjustment may arise between adolescents who are new arrivals and those who may have lived in the U.S. for a slightly longer period of time.

School personnel need to be aware of the important role of parents in passing on cultural values and heritage to their children. Therefore, they could involve parents in school activities that their children participate in during the school year. Setting aside days that are solely dedicated to cultural activities and events by students may be an avenue to involve parents in the activities of their children.