A short interview with Natalie Wilkens, PhD, from ASU's Sanford School


January 29, 2018

Meet Natalie Wilkens, PhD, an assistant professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Question: What research are you currently working on? Profile picture of Natalie Wilkens, PhD Download Full Image

Answer: I am working on several ongoing research projects in which I am investigating different aspects of children’s and adolescents’ social and emotional development. Some kids are socially and emotionally competent. They have a host of skills that facilitates getting along with peers and adults, and this set of skills helps them become well-adjusted adults. I am interested in understanding why some kids develop social competence and others do not. I am also interested in understanding why some children and adolescents have adjustment problems such as social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and aggression. If we can identify factors that may improve the likelihood that children develop competence, or that may decrease the chances that children develop adjustment problems, we can use this information to help shape their developmental trajectories in positive ways.

Q: Which research project was the most challenging and why?

A: The majority of my focus during the past few years has been on a project called the Family Migration and Early Life Outcomes (FAMELO) Project. The research is funded by a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development program grant. FAMELO consists of three interrelated research agendas that are spearheaded by different researchers. All three agendas are aimed at understanding how family migration influences children left behind in their countries of origin. The agendas differ with respect to the particular aspect of children’s adjustment being examined. My agenda is focused on social competence and adjustment problems; Dr. Glick’s (The Pennsylvania State University) agenda is focused on educational outcomes, and Dr. Hayford’s (Ohio State University) agenda is focused on transitions to adulthood (e.g., family formation).

Migration is important to understand because it affects so many families worldwide. Yet, we know very little about the benefits or consequences of migration for children who are left behind when one or more family member leaves the household to live and work somewhere else. The social and emotional ramifications for children are particularly unclear because the topic is understudied and because the existing literature is limited in significant ways (e.g., small samples, cross-sectional study designs). If I find an association between family migration and left-behind children’s social competence or adjustment problems, I will investigate more nuanced questions that answer “why” and “for whom.” For instance, I expect that migration alters many of children’s experiences, and how parents, family members, and other people in children’s social networks engage with a child and provide resources to them.

The pieces of the research that are particularly exciting also make it challenging. First, we are surveying 9,000 5- to 17-year olds and their caregivers in migrant sending and non-sending households at two time points. These data are being collected in three sites that have different levels and histories of migration participation, and various levels of economic development: Mexico, Mozambique, and Nepal. We want the study to be comparable across the three data collection sites. We have to be very careful that the meaning of our questions is the same in each language, but also need to tailor certain questions to maintain cultural appropriateness.

Second, the FAMELO research team is composed of a large number of scholars at many universities. This introduces logistical complications, but the benefits outweigh the costs. We have different areas of expertise and come from varied disciplinary backgrounds. This allows us to bring unique perspectives to the table. Our team is on track to produce insightful and impactful work in the future.

Q: What impact do you envision your research having?

A: Ultimately, I hope that the results of our project will help inform policy directed at protections of children, as well as inform educational programs for families participating in migration.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

480-965-3094

A short interview with Rebecca White, PhD, from ASU's Sanford School


January 29, 2018

Meet Rebecca White, PhD, an associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Question: What research are you currently working on? Profile picture of Rebecca White, PhD Rebecca White, PhD Download Full Image

Answer: Broadly speaking, we are examining how the ethnic structuring of developmentally salient contexts — like neighborhood and/or school ethnic concentration, segregation, and diversity — impacts U.S. Mexican and Latinos adolescents’ development. With one grant, we are examining these processes in an established area of U.S. Mexican settlement, the Southwest. With another grant, we are exploring similar processes in an emerging Latinx immigrant destination, the Southeast. We’ve looked at normative developmental outcomes (e.g., ethnic identity development and dual cultural adaptation) and the development of psychological problems (e.g., anxiety, depressive symptoms). Most recently, we received a grant to examine how these contexts might influence character development (e.g., prosocial behaviors, spirituality).

Q: Which research project was the most challenging and why?

A: For me, one of my most challenging projects involves a manuscript that is being advanced by two Sanford School graduate students, Dalal Safa and Michelle Pasco, on the benefits of bicultural competencies across diverse contexts. This project involved examination of combined family-school-neighborhood characteristics and testing whether bicultural competence was more advantageous in certain contexts. We found, for example, some U.S. Mexican teenagers live in immigrant families and Mexican neighborhoods, and attend segregated schools. Others live in non-immigrant families, live in predominantly European American neighborhoods, and attend more diverse schools. There were additional combinations that transcended multiple aspects of family-school-neighborhood immigrant and ethnic structuring. The work highlights the diverse environments that U.S. Mexican adolescents are navigating on a daily basis and how these environments come to shape the impact that bicultural competencies have on mental health.

Q: Which research project was your favorite and why?

A: We have two papers from several years back in which we examined whether the negative impacts of early pubertal timing on mental health were amplified or ameliorated by neighborhood context. Both these papers really sparked my interest in how communities — in particular communities that experience marginalization in a racially and ethnically stratified U.S. society — support positive development and adaptation. 

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

480-965-3094