• Understanding American Muslim Youth of Arab and South Asian Ancestries: An Exploratory Study on the Factors Related to Risk Behaviors among Child Immigrants and Children of Immigrants

      Mirza, Fatima; DePanfilis, Diane (2014)
      Literature about the relationship between health risk behavior and identity among South Asian and Arab Muslim American adolescents is limited. Past studies suggest that cultures of origin, social support, and high religiosity may serve as protective factors while trauma, poor mental health, and social stigma may encourage engagement in health risk behaviors. The primary aim of this dissertation was to describe risk behaviors among Muslim American youth of Arab and South Asian ancestry and to explore the degree to which risk behaviors were related to demographics, personal history factors, identity, social support, trauma, religiosity, and/or spirituality. Fifty-seven 12 to 17 year old youths recruited from Muslim communities on the East Coast completed an in-person, computer assisted survey that explored life experiences, identity, social support, mental health, religiosity, spirituality, and behavior. The majority of participants were masjid-affiliated (mosques). Respondents reported low engagement in health risk behaviors. The number of trauma experiences was positively related to self-reports of risk behaviors, while pride in American identity and racial/ethnic identity were related to fewer self-reports of risk behaviors. No other variables were significantly associated with risk behaviors. None of the youth reported clinical levels of depression, anxiety, or trauma symptoms. When all findings were examined together, they indicated that young people who were more isolated, had experienced more stressors and had parents who immigrated with less social support were more likely to engage in health risk behaviors. Social Workers are uniquely equipped to identify, assess, and respond to factors related to youth engagement in risk behaviors. Results may support using Problem Behavior Theory, specifically the Protection-Risk Model, to conceptualize risk behavior among Muslim American youth. For example, findings confirmed a relationship between both high support protection and low vulnerability risk with low self-reported risk behaviors. However, findings of this dissertation study are limited due to its small, convenience sample. Future studies should continue to explore factors related to health risk behaviors among Muslim American youth. In particular, studies should recruit youth unaffiliated with mosques, Muslims of other ethnicities, and Muslims who have been in the United States for multiple generations.