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LS research update: Filipino adolescents’ conceptualization of social support

Researchers find that the conceptualization of social support must be understood within the cultural context. Values, traditions, and cultural beliefs come into play when defining the term. They propose that multidimensional social support might not have a global typology, but is operationalized within a culture. 

Dr. Karina Galang Fernandez’s (2011) paper published in the Psychological Studies Journal investigates Filipino adolescents’ conceptualization of social support. While Western literature suggests that adolescents, in their developmental task of growing towards independence and individuality, prefer emotional support and acceptance in achieving these goals, it was worthwhile to discover what Filipino adolescents define as supportive in their lives, given a collectivist and interdependent cultural background. 

Dr. Cara Fernandez of the
Department of Psychology,
School of Social Sciences

Hands-on support

At present, there are a limited number of studies on perceptions of social support among the Filipino adolescent population.  What these studies do reveal is that their perspective is unique and that differences do exist even among the Asian subpopulations. For this study, in-depth interviews were done with 89 male adolescents. 

Results reveal that social support among Filipino adolescents is conceptualized mainly as hands-on support.  Advice, personal assistance, and being challenged are conceptualized as expressions of care and concern, rather than as intrusive acts. 

The Asian notion of support as doing something concrete for another (Uba, 1994), a collective sense of identity, and respect for elders, appear to influence Filipino adolescents’ conceptualization of social support. A parent telling his son to sleep earlier or study more; a brother editing his younger sibling’s homework; these exemplars indicate that Filipino adolescents define such actions where others have power over their lives, to be positive.

One hallmark of adolescence from the Western perspective is the need for autonomy and individuation. Hence, direct involvement for a Western adolescent may be perceived as interfering and unwelcome. In contrast, the Filipino identity, at any age, is characterized by a collective sense-concept. For an adolescent to be told what do, for example, does not violate personal boundaries.  Furthermore, Filipino adolescents value the wisdom of their parents, teachers, and mentors and feel supported when these people intervene in their lives.

Importance of companionship support, availability

It was also found that Filipino adolescents value companionship support. This kind of support is not as threshed out as other Western typologies. The closest kind of support, emotional support, conveys overtures of comfort and care on the occasions when the recipient faces a particular problem.

Companionship support seems to suggest that, for Filipino adolescents, support does not even have to be directed towards the problem at hand. Just spending time together is categorized as supportive as well. This may be influenced by the value of group harmony or pakikisama. Filipinos fear being the odd man out; to be isolated is like being ostracized. The mere availability of mother, somewhere in the house, is noticed and appreciated. Hanging around having pizza or going to the mall together are regarded as valuable forms of relating.   

Role of parents and siblings

Filipino adolescents are also found to relate with many sources of social support, with different social support providers perceived as having a particular niche in terms of the kind of social support they provide. After the peers, the Filipino mother consistently ranks second in terms of a boy’s source of almost all kinds of social support. It appears that a mother provides a dynamic spectrum in terms of the variety of support she gives. The Filipino father, on the other hand, has the niche as the one who provides the most challenge and role modeling support. What these two types of support suggest is that the role of the father is to inspire his child to stretch himself beyond his limits, to grow more and be more.

Analysis showed that siblings emerged as another very frequent source of perceived support, even more than teachers and other adults in school. This is in contrast with Western literature which finds that the school, as the third most potent source of support, along with parents and peers (Richman, Rosenfeld, & Bowen, 1998; Wentzel, 1998). In the Filipino culture, siblings act as surrogate parents to their younger siblings, expected to provide both hands-on help and discipline (Liwag, et al., 1998). As such, the importance of parental support is echoed in sibling support.

Filipino siblings are sources of different kinds of support, but most notably in the area of emotional challenge. This means that siblings have the niche of provoking and disputing their sibling’s values and beliefs, even more so than mother and father. 

Chan (2003) finds that Asian American parents can have specific expectations about their children’s future such as in the areas of career or choice of spouse, and expect to be obeyed. Chan also states that they have less open and honest communication than their Western counterparts because of the higher value for harmony in the intergenerational family. It might be said that, because of their developmentally shared experiences and view of the world, complimenting the role of surrogate parent, the siblings are the ones in the position to challenge the complicated and ill-structured issues of emotions, value systems, and beliefs.

Value of study to Filipino educators, counselors, and therapists

In terms of applied practice, this study puts forward a multidimensional conceptualization of support that might better help educators, counselors, and therapists assist their Filipino clients better.

Knowing what Filipino adolescents actually define as supportive might help mentors better understand their perspective, identify problems, recommend, and utilize the appropriate interventions. For example, a counselor with an individualist orientation might acknowledge a Filipino adolescent’s constant request for hands on help or advice as a culturally based social support strategy rather than evaluate that individual as problematic, dependent, or immature. Furthermore, knowing that Filipino adolescents can count on a deep bench of social support providers, a teacher or therapist can recommend a host of social resources in times of problems and challenges.