Salvadoran Families Negotiate Adolescence in a Canadian Context

Adolescence can be a challenging transition period for all parents and children, including immigrant families who must use resourcefulness and resilience to navigate between cultures and keep families together. Canadian immigrant Salvadoran mothers and daughters emphasize the delicate balance required to manage expectations of family roles, respect, and independence.

McMaster Researcher


Carranza, M.E. (2015). “Protesting Against Mothers Surveillance: Salvadoran Mothers and Their Daughters Negotiating Adolescence in a Foreign Context.” Journal of Family Social Work. Vol. 18, p. 106-122.

What is this research about?

This research aims to better understand the dynamics of and roles within immigrant families, which shift and adjust in response to adolescence. Specifically, the research looks at how Canadian immigrant Salvadoran mothers and daughters considered the tensions and strategies that emerged during the daughter’s teenage years. 

What did the researchers do?

Researchers interviewed 42 women, including teen daughters and their mothers, and adult daughters and their mothers.  Salvadoran consultants and participants were involved in the research process.  Participants helped develop research questions, reviewed interview responses, and provided clarification on cultural terms or concepts. 

What did the researchers find?

The researcher presents an analysis of the perspectives of both mothers and their daughters. Mothers and daughters recognize a high level of conflict during the teenage years, and both developed coping strategies. Mothers interpreted conflict with their daughters in a variety of ways, such as:  

  • transient and unlikely to be damaging in the long-term;  
  • the result of Canadian peer influence; and, 
  • as acts of disrespect 

 Daughters attributed conflict to their mothers’ persistent vigilance; they believed their mothers valued Salvadoran culture excessively compared to Canadian culture, and as a result were too rigid in their need for obedience.  

 Two common coping and resolution strategies were identified among mothers: open-minded communication and vigilance. Open-minded communication included openness to topics such as drugs, romantic relationships, friendships, and school and work activities. Overall, by being open-minded mothers were able to establish stronger dialogues with their daughters, which helped build trust in the relationship and prepare daughters for real-life events. However, mothers also felt that they needed to be keenly aware of their daughters’ behaviours and activities, and that they needed to protect them against external harms such as disrespect from friends, racism and discrimination, and bullying in general.  

 Daughters often had to balance multiple roles with different cultural expectations from their peers and parents, contributing to familial tensions. Daughters responded to conflicts by resisting their mothers’ expectations and control through rebellious activities, such as: hiding information, especially about risky behaviours they were involved in; and sneaking out of the house. Despite conflicts, adult daughters expressed regret for distancing their mothers, and gratitude for their vigilance.

How can you use this research?

This research can be useful for social workers, community workers, and immigrant families. The findings from this study can help people working with immigrant families better understand the dynamics between mothers and daughters as they go through adolescence. This research also suggests that mothers with more exposure and awareness of Canadian culture can be better prepared for the actions and behaviors which may be unacceptable according to traditional values, but are more common in Canada. This information could help social workers or community workers develop services and activities for mother/daughters in ways that involve exposure to Canadian culture and norms. Anyone hoping to help family members increase their insight and self-awareness of how they are navigating between cultures could integrate the findings from this project into their work.  


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