As expats come and go to Beijing, they bring with them their culture, which brings more diversity to the already exciting and colorful Chinese capital. However, celebrating multiculturalism here in China is easier said than done.
You may have seen or heard of local online articles that talk about racism or prejudice in China, both on the sides of foreigners and locals. There are polarizing opinions on that issue, but it becomes contentious once it reaches the vulnerable minds of children whose identities and perceptions of the world are still being formed.
For this edition of Doctor’s Corner, we invited Dr. Mike Mehrvarz, a child and adult psychologist at the International Medical Center (IMC), to talk about multiculturalism and its links to the mental health of children.
How do you define a multicultural child?
Dr. Mehrvarz: A multicultural child could be either a child born with parents from different nationalities with cultural uniqueness, or a child spending the most part of his or her life growing up overseas and exposed to local culture.
What are the issues associated with multiculturalism and what effect do they have on the emotional and mental health of children?
Dr. Mehrvarz: Aside from the parenting style, which is important for children’s normal psychological development, multiculturalism can become quite challenging for children. Of course, this highly depends on the mode of parenting, especially when parents make their children feel comfortable in a new culture and themselves comfortable as well. It’s hard for a child to accept a diverse culture if his/her parents themselves don’t feel comfortable and often complain or bring up negative issues about the local culture they are living in.
Childhood is quite a challenging journey, and if you add multicultural factors such as the child not feeling they are accepted, this could lead him/her to develop anxiety and depression. Sometimes, such emotional manifestations can lead to a learning difficulty, anger, fear, behavior problems, and more.
What kinds of issues do mixed-race or multicultural children face?
Dr. Mehrvarz: Human beings sometimes have a tendency to become part of a group of similar people and may, deep inside, reject other groups based on race, habits, and cultural issues, among many other factors. This might be due to the universal sense of insecurity humans may feel. And in order to feel strong and safe, we need to join groups whose members have similar experiences to ours. Of course, in our current civilized world, some try to change that tendency, but one cannot deny that its results exist almost in every culture. The mode of rejection, in this case, is due to racial issues which can lead to what we call “prejudice”. Now, children who are exposed to such resistance or prejudice from other groups obviously may develop a wide range of emotional difficulties such as low self-confidence, depression, anxiety, and possibly even learning difficulties. However, if the parents of these children are emotionally secure, psychologically grounded, have a healthy sense of self, and teach their children such attributes, then these kids would be far less impacted emotionally.
What kind of issues do Chinese children experience when they start living abroad?
Dr. Mehrvarz: From my experience living in China for over two decades, some children are not psychologically prepared and or not old enough to deal with culture shock, isolation, and the struggle to fit in, which every child can face when suddenly living in a new culture. Children need to live with their parents till the age of 18 to develop a healthy sense of self, identity, and happiness. Otherwise, these children may develop a wide range of emotional problems, which includes low self-confidence.
What kind of opportunities can we derive from multiculturalism?
Dr. Mehrvarz: The positive issues which can derive from multiculturalism can include the child becoming part of the global human race, meaning they feel comfortable with various cultures and habits, and enjoy the positive factors which derive from all these colorful cultures. In adulthood, these children can adventure to any corner of the globe feeling comfortable, excited, and able to face the many challenges they encounter.
This article appeared in the beijingkids May 2019 Identity issue.
Photos: Markus Spiske Temporausch.com via Pexels; courtesy of Mike Mehrvarz