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Bicultural Families: Stages of Cultural Identity
Children of mixed matches face different issues in the development of their cultural identity in each stage of growing up, psychotherapist Joel Crohn notes in his 1995 book Mixed Matches. Parents can enhance their children’s identity development through honest, respectful discussions of their mixed heritage that address the concerns of the children at each stage, he says.

Early Childhood


ILY: Verdana">• Children between 2 and 4 do not categorize people by color or culture.


ILY: Verdana">• Beginning at about age 4, children begin to realize that people’s skin color will stay the same for their lifetimes. They also begin to grasp that the society uses color, culture and class as a way to identify and divide people.


ILY: Verdana">• At this age, kids strongly identify with their parents and tend to accept their parents’ definitions of religious beliefs and morality.


Preteen


• At this stage, most children are able to accept themselves as being biracial or bicultural.


• Children are aware that their ethnic identities influence, but do not solely determine, who their friends will be and how they define themselves.


ILY: Verdana">• Preteens have begun to develop the capacity to think abstractly and independently. Consequently, they are aware of any contradictions in their parents’ religious beliefs, but they still look to their parents for information and approval. They may experiment with religious identity, taking on the faith of one parent and then the other.


Adolescence


ILY: Verdana">• The peer group becomes very important. Bicultural youths often struggle for acceptance from a group that represents one-half of their cultural background. Or they may move back and forth between groups.




• In later adolescence, choosing a dating partner becomes a way to identify with – or reject – a particular cultural or religious group.


• One task of adolescence is to question, challenge and begin to develop independent reasoning abilities. In homes with two religions, adolescents will often reject religion entirely or choose one as “the best.”


Young Adulthood


• Individuals begin to form their own identities as they separate themselves from their home and parents. Part of this process is choosing to embrace cultural identities and religious beliefs that may come from one or both parents or from cultures that may be completely different.


Adapted with permission of the author from Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic and Interfaith Relationships, by Joel Crohn.


See the complete contents of Bicultural Families:
Part 1: Meeting the Challenges of Raising Children With Two Cultures


Part 2: Helping Kids Embrace Both Cultures


Part 3: Stages of Cultural Identity




Part 4: How Bicultural Families Make It Work


Part 5: Resources for Bicultural Families

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