Chinese International Students' Messages on the Family Forum: Topics, Objectives, and Types of Assistance

Chinese International Students' Messages on the Family Forum: Topics, Objectives, and Types of Assistance

Chenwei Wu, Lynne M. Webb
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1856-3.ch009
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We content analyzed the online messages of Chinese international students who are currently studying and living in the United States. We examined messages within the students' ethnic group as they sought and provided assistance to each other in understanding and acculturating to family life in the United States via a popular online forum. We randomly sampled 50 recent, original posts and their accompanying threads (147 pages of text containing 108,723 words). Thematic analysis indicated that students use the forum to achieve three objectives (seeking informational/emotional support, offering information/emotional support, offering topics for discussion) across a wide variety of family issues (e.g., conflict, child rearing/education, appropriate behaviors for husbands and wives). Users provided multiple types of assistance (e.g., informational/emotional support, topics of discussion, questions based on the original posts, self-disclosure, positive feedback, and negative feedback) to the posters.
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Emerging Adult Theory argues that a distinct life stage exists between adolescence and adulthood, a time when individuals “have not yet settled into the long-term choices and life-paths that make up adulthood” (Bigham, 2012, p. 533). As originally conceived by Arnett (2000, 2015), this life stage extended from late teens through the 20s when individuals address the challenging tasks that typically accompany the transition into adulthood. Munsey (2006) identified five features of emerging adulthood:

  • Identity exploration concerning life styles and believe systems (religion, politics).

  • Instability: Individuals may change residents frequently, moving frequently for education, work, and/or family reasons. They may change intimate partners and friends frequently as well. The challenge for emerging adults is to find stability including negotiating on-going, positive interpersonal relationships and moving along a chosen career path that allows life in primarily one location. Particularly relevant to this research report, emerging adults must redefine family relationships to work functionally as adult-adult relationships including relationships with siblings (Brockhage & Phillips, 2016; Halliwell, 2016) and parents (Hays & Metts, 2015; Milevsky, 2005; Padilla-Walker, Nelson, & Knapp, 2014; Willoughby, Olson, Carroll, Nelson, & Miller, 2012).

  • Self-Focus: Given the above described instability and focus on identity exploration, emerging adults remain self-focused until they begin making commitments to a specific career path and to significant others—commitments that lead to adulthood.

  • Feeling in Between: Individuals know they are not children or teenagers any more, but often do not see themselves as adults yet.

  • Endless Possibilities: This time of exploration and confusion leaves emerging adults with a sense of incompleteness but also with a sense of wonder and endless possibilities. That experience of endless possibilities can lead to a sense of empowerment or feeling overwhelming by too many options.

The Theory of Emerging Adulthood is not without its critics (Hendry & Kloep, 2007). Some adherents have argued that tying the definition of emerging adulthood to its challenges rather than specific ages is more sensible, given that individuals complete development tasks at differing paces (Bigham, 2012). Additionally, researchers argue that ethnicity (Munsey, 2006) and culture (Arseth, Kroger, Martinussen, & Bakken, 2009; Badger, Nelson, & Barry, 2006; Nelson, Badger, & Wu, 2004) may influence how individuals experience this life stage. Finally, a new line of research attempts to examine how emerging adulthood plays out in online behaviors (Davis, 2012; Stephenson-Abetz & Holman, 2012; Sumter,Vandenbosch, & Ligtenberg, 2017).

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