Becoming an adult: how do you do it?

Meet… Ouissam Abattouy

Ouissam Abattouy is being awarded the NWO Mozaïek 2.0 doctoral grant for her research into how young people with and without an immigrant background undergo the transition to adulthood. This year is the first time this grant is being awarded again since the previous edition in 2012. Mozaïek 2.0 (‘Mosaic 2.0’) is a springboard for ambitious young academics with an immigrant background who are underrepresented in the Dutch academic community. At the same time this grant can help to promote the development of an inclusive working environment. 

You’ll be studying the transition to adulthood. What makes this phase so interesting?

“It’s not a phase you really think about, but everyone arrives at a point where he or she becomes an adult. You are given ever more tasks and responsibilities. Although everyone goes through this period, people can experience it in very different ways. For some it can be a really nice and gradual process that involves good contacts with one’s family and friends. But for others it can create conflicts with parents and even lead to a rift.”

Although everyone goes through this period, people can experience it in very different ways.

Why do young people often experience conflicts with their parents?

“Young people often desire more independence and autonomy, but parents sometimes find it difficult to give them this space. Sometimes the parents feel things go a little too fast. Moreover, socio-cultural backgrounds can lead to more conflicts within the family. This may be due to differences between Dutch culture and the original culture, but possibly also due to discrimination and economic problems that may be burdening a family. Furthermore, the concept of adulthood has changed a lot. Becoming an adult used to involve a fixed sequence: most people started their first job, then they got married and found their own home, and then they had children. Now all these steps get more mixed up. The process is growing more complex due to all the changes taking place in society as a whole, which in turn influence the way you become an adult.”

What gave you the idea of studying this life phase in families with an immigrant background?

“I admire the work of the Turkish social psychologist Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı. She has conducted a great deal of research in Turkey into how parents bring up their children in both rural and urban areas. This highlighted some very interesting differences. So the culture or the place you live are aspects that influence how you bring up children. People with an immigrant background are a growing group in our society and in many societies all over the world. Ever more researchers are aware of this, but we still see that in proportional terms less research is devoted to these groups.

We know that parents with an immigrant background can find it more difficult to bring up children during the phase of puberty. The norms and values of the country of origin may clash with the norms and values in the land where they are now settled, such as the Netherlands. How important is it that a child keeps to the family values? How important is it that a child makes independent choices? And is there any leeway here? These questions may be important for families. It’s generally thought that people from collectivist cultures uphold values such as attachment, while individualist cultures put the focus on autonomy. But we can describe both autonomy and attachment as two basic needs that every person has, regardless of culture. How can you create balance here? This is the question I addressed in my Sociology Master’s thesis and which I developed further in my Research Master’s on Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism. So migration literature and having an immigration background have been a great source of inspiration for me.”

People with an immigrant background are a growing group in our society and in many societies all over the world. Ever more researchers are aware of this, but we still see that in proportional terms less research focuses on these groups.

What do you hope to find in your research?

“My main hope is to create a more inclusive and nuanced picture about what the transition to adulthood involves, among both migrants and non-migrants. Maybe it can help to make some stereotypes more nuanced. I hope that ultimately my research work can lead to something happening in practice, that it can help parents and young people when necessary. Perhaps conflicts can be avoided by giving both parties more insights – for instance by answering the question: How do you become an adult? How do these relationships develop? The transition to adulthood is sometimes very intangible, but at the same time I often see a sense of recognition as soon as I start talking to people about this.”

Your PhD research is being enabled by the Mozaïek 2.0 grant. What advice would you give to the university with regard to diversity?

“I think you should give space to people who bring diversity. This will also help the university to progress a step further as an organisation. Now that I’ve got this grant, I’m in a position where I can mean something to the university. I plan to make an active contribution here, even if it’s a very small one. That’s something I’m looking forward to. Now I also hope that others can continue to contribute actively to a diverse and inclusive working environment. Awarding a grant isn’t enough by itself, of course, but I certainly see it as a good start.”