Adolescent behavior manifests in thought and behavior between the ages of eight and 14, right after puberty, which is the catalyst for emotional and intellectual developmental changes that trigger adolescent behavior. Sushma Trivedi, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the SF Bay Area, attributes several teenage behavior patterns to the fact that the brain is not fully developed until we are well into our 20s. “A major developmental task during the teenage years is to figure out how a person is going to belong in the world, or develop a group identity.” She goes on to elaborate that this developmental stage causes conflicts with parents around academic and social issues, not limited to grades, attire, values and activities. She stresses that it is important to send teens the message that everyone is different and fits into society in different ways.
When I was Growing Up …
Why are there so many problems surrounding teens in today’s society?
Michael J. Bradley, author of “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy,” writes “Parenting an adolescent in today’s world is much the same as flying a jet aircraft or performing brain surgery. Any training you received 30 years ago is not only useless, it can actually impair your ability to perform well. Successfully parenting an adolescent in today’s world requires levels of skill, endurance, wisdom, and strength, which makes piloting an aircraft pale in comparison.”
In short, what worked during the 70s and 80s may not work anymore. Relationships between parents and children, social interactions and channels of communication have changed greatly over the past decades. Our present generation of teenagers is not as receptive to authoritative decisions or parental control as the previous generation may have been.
Technology and the Internet were not social tools of the past. Today, they exert tremendous influence on teenagers and don’t lend themselves to much control. Hemalatha Prakash, whose twins recently graduated out of their teens, says, “The main problem is that too much information is available on the Internet on any topic and social networking sites make any small issue balloon into a very big thing.”
Looking back to her own growing years, Shanti, the mother of an adult daughter and a 19-year-old-son, recalls that she had a lot of freedom when she was growing up, but times were indeed different then. “Now, with the modern day of Internet and other technologies, kids are out there in the big world, with access to different kinds of information that you are not even aware of,” she stresses. The problem is that often they are led into irresponsible actions by their web interactions. It’s a dangerous world out there and the kids just haven’t acquired the wherewithal to process all the available information, no matter what they think.
“The Internet has been linked to teenage depression, isolation, and suicide. Kids are creating ‘cyber-relationships’ to supplant ‘real time’ relationships in sometimes strange and frightening ways,” explains Bradley.
Discussing sex in an age and country where children are inundated with sexual images in varying degrees is a tough task for parents who have been brought up to be less forthright about sexual matters.
Sushma counsels parents who are worried about their daughter’s relationship with a boy and the possibility that it might progress into a sexual relationship. Drawing from her experiences as a parent and a counselor, Sushma sheds light on this aspect of parenting discord. “Parents talk about sex and teenagers talk about sex. They don’t talk to each other about sex. The underlying belief seems to be that it is vulgar to talk about sex and any such talk will encourage sexual activity and even promote promiscuity.” In fact, this lack of communication could have the opposite effect when children venture to explore, with little or no caution and knowledge to inform their actions of possible dangers. “American parents are practical. Most parents are unhappy to discover that their 16-year-old is having sex.
However, American parents immediately worry about the child’s safety and discuss testing for STD. An Indian-American parent on the other hand, will be worried about the ‘loss of virtue’ and its societal impact on their child and the family,” she explains.
Do Indian-American teens have it harder than their peers?
Both, teens and parents, agree that the dual cultures play a great role in defining the parenting of teenagers. Kamini Iyer, now a college senior, confesses that as a teenager, she did sometimes feel torn between Indian and American cultures because the two were often fundamentally at odds with each other. Rules for her, at times, did seem different and stricter than for her non-Indian peers, however, “… many of my family friends who I grew up with were facing similar rules, so I did not question it too much,” she explains. Her twin brother, Kedar, offers a different perspective. He shares that there were many tribulations during his transition from middle to high school, and he also felt that he faced stricter rules as an Indian-American teen. “It led to lots of conflicts and rebellion. Peaceful resolutions were rare.” He does point out, though, that that he was never prohibited from participating in any activity simply because it was not acceptable in the Indian culture.
“Indians tend to shine in academics and do better in school than most others. I think this comes from the values that Indian children in America are brought up with, including hard work, ambition and a thirst for success. Furthermore, the family/community aspect of being Indian in America is amazing,” says Preeta Dharan, as she appreciates having a large family network to turn to in times of need.
Kedar agrees. “If anything, Indian-American teens have it easier. Indian families are strong and usually the parents are together and the parents place high priority on looking after their children,” he says. Kamini concurs with her brother, “Indian-American teens more or less have supportive families and a community support system that many other teens do not have.”
The teens I spoke to also confirmed that trust was the biggest factor that solidified their relationship with parents. Kedar explains why it is more important to make sure your teens have trust in you than to have control. “They are going to find ways around the control anyway, but once they start lying to you, the relationship is gone,” he says wisely, adding, “I don’t know how many other teenagers in my situation say this, but I am most grateful for my parents’ trust in me. They give me freedom, and because of that, I have made my own mistakes and am learning how to use this freedom responsibly.” These are sage words uttered by the very teenagers we worry about. Kedar does believe that in general, “cultural differences between immigrant parents and their American children,” are one of the greatest factors affecting the upbringing of an Indian-American teen. “Teenagers want freedom, parents don’t trust teenagers to use it properly,” he explains.
Preeta Dharan, a high school senior, stresses that parents’ treatment of their teenagers determines the level of rebelliousness of the teenagers. “In my experience, the craziest, wildest teenagers I know have very strict and intense parents. I even have friends who would do things that are not appropriate, simply because they know their overbearing parents would not approve of them.” “Some parents do not want to be open-minded about the differences in cultures,” says Shanti. “They are very rigid themselves and expect their children to be too, not understanding that their children are surrounded and affected by peer pressure all the time,” she adds.
Kala Murali, a SF Bay Area resident who has two daughters, admits that parenting has a steep learning curve. “With my first child, I realized that I was too possessive of her, and I was always worried about her clothes, activities, her friends, etc. But I always had an open relationship with her and she took the time to explain things to me. For example, with clothes, when I commented that something wasn’t appropriate, she replied that she could easily dress conservatively in front of me and wear a sweatshirt on top of the ‘inappropriate’ blouse, but she could always go to school, remove the sweats and put it in her bag,” she confesses. Her daughter’s question to her, as to whether she would want her to cheat behind her back, forced her to think about her approach. “She taught me to trust her by asking me to tell her what I felt was right, but not force it on her to follow the values,” she says.
While approaches and strategies varied on the subject of punishments, consequences, and curfews, cultural constraints apart, all the parents I talked to agreed that trust, open communication and consistency were key to a healthy relationship with their teens.
In the book “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk,” authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish advise parents to maintain an open channel of communication.
They suggest that parents use tact, and humor to respond to teens, to get them to listen, or to engage them in a reasonable negotiation. The key, however, is to offer choices instead of saying a flat-out NO.
What is Your Parenting Style?
Early in 2011, Yale law professor Amy Chua made headlines when she wrote “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” where she boldly shared her convictions about her strict parenting style with a Chinese flavor. In the face of much flak from the media and parents alike, she wrote why it was productive to make her daughters practice the piano for six hours a day, or why it was prudent to deny them the small joys of sleepovers with friends; in fact, Chua went so far as to say that this “tiger mom” approach was far superior (and successful) to Western parenting techniques.
Speaking from my own observations and experiences being raised in India, it is not difficult to see why many Indian-Americans might take well to the “tiger parenting” approach. After all, discipline, hard work, excellence in education and a successful career are inherent to our upbringing. In addition to these core reasons, this parenting style might be favored among Indian-Americans.
“The ‘tiger mom’ style may have some advantages,” says Sushma. “It may teach the child the value of persistence and help the child in becoming proficient in her chosen field of work. However, what is it that the child is not doing when she is practicing piano for six hours?” she questions.
In his op-ed piece, “Amy Chua is a Wimp” (The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2011), columnist David Brooks criticizes Chua for not allowing her daughters to have play-dates, thus depriving them of valuable opportunities for socializing. In defense of their mother’s parenting style, Amy Chua’s daughters, Lulu and Sophia, have publicly spoken to the merits of having a tiger mom, and how their teen years spent under strict discipline have only brought them self-discipline, laurels and a successful future. In her blog, tigersophia.blogspot.com, Sophia responds to the criticism, “… Let me indulge my not-so-inner nerd for a second: when you spend seven hours at school a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years, you rack up 16,380 hours of social interaction. That’s the equivalent of over 3,200 five-hour playdates. So overall, I don’t feel too deprived.”
Sushma cautions that “the ‘tiger mom’ style is an extremely authoritarian style and is not for all parents or all children. While it may be possible for a parent to cultivate this style, in my opinion it is not worth the effort. We want our children to be successful, but more importantly we want them to be happy and know that they make a difference, just because of who they are.”
Is It Easier in India?
The return wave to India (R2I as it is more commonly known) is often motivated as much by the perceived challenges of raising teens in the United States as it is by the desire to be close to aging parents or career growth.
However, raising a teen in India is not necessarily easier as we are often misled to believe. When asked if she had ever considered returning to India to raise her teens, Kala responded that the thought never crossed her mind. “I, who grew up in India, was a challenging kid myself,” she confesses. It made her aware that where she lived didn’t matter. Shanti concurs that she didn’t consider even for a moment that it would be easier to raise a teen in India. “In my opinion, it’s not the place but knowing how to deal with the issues that is important,” says Shanti.
“Teen problem is a universal situation that I am sure every parent must be facing, whether here or in India,” agrees Kala.
Many parents confessed that often times when they felt they had lost control of their teenager, they turned to friends, family or peers for support. “There was nothing we could achieve by shouting or threatening to take away privileges. All we could do was to explain the possible consequences of their actions, and let them know clearly that they would have to deal with the fallout,” explained Hemalatha.
Jayanti Nayak, an expatriate Indian parent who is raising a teen daughter in Australia, says “India has changed. Raising a teen in Delhi, Mumbai or any metro is as difficult as raising them abroad.”
Hemalatha adds to this thought. “From what I saw when I went on vacations, parents and kids in India are trying to adopt a Western lifestyle without understanding the underlying concepts of Western life. I see more of a trying-to-fit-in mentality rather than maintaining your roots, which I feel we are able to do a better job of here, at least in the Bay Area.”
Comparing this with the current situation in India, Hemalatha reflects that “India is also facing a much bigger problem with this issue since they are thrust into the global networking scene without any learning curve for the whole society and this makes it much harder for them to decide whether to let their kids fit into this global society …
As we mull the words of parents, teens, and experts on the subject of teen parenting, some common sentiments emerge on this challenging issue. Parents’ acceptance of cultural differences; delineation of responsibility; and open communication on all matters pertaining to teenagers, are crucial pillars of raising a responsible teen. A teenager is a teenager, no matter where in the world you live.
Nitya Ramanan is wondering how much armor to acquire as the mom of a soon-to-be teen. She lives, writes, works … and tackles tantrums, in San Jose, Calif.
Listen Up, Parents!
We children are taught to trust our parents. Trust them when they tell us that we will not fall when they let go of our bicycles. Trust that they’ll come back to pick us up once they leave. Trust that the loose tooth will grow back in once it falls out. I believe that when a child becomes a teenager, parents must give the same trust in return.
The Truth about Lies
A few years ago, I lied to my mother, telling her that I was going to study biology with a friend, when in reality I went to a nearby restaurant with my friend for lunch. The guilt of lying to my mother worried me so much that I eventually told her the truth. She wisely told me that she had known all along as she had seen me with my friend walking back. The fact that she had known but still hadn’t said anything made me feel worse about lying. It became a learning experience for me.
A lot of issues stem from lack of trust and confidence. “My parents are not letting me get my license because they think I’ll crash or something,” seventeen year old Victor Ngyuen said. “It sucks that they don’t have that confidence in me.” Not only is lack of trust a bubble-burster to the teenage morale, but it can also lead to lack of confidence in other character building areas.
It’s important to give us teenagers room to make mistakes and to trust us to do the right thing, eventually. It is from those mistakes that true learning occurs.
Those Pesky Chores
Parents often have task lists for their children, and sometimes that list is so time consuming that we feel stressed and burdened. Is it really that important to keep a room tidy when the teenager is coping with tests and homework and practice sessions for extra-curriculars?
“Once my mother was so busy screaming at me for not cleaning my room, that she didn’t even notice that I had been working on my homework and studying for three hours,” sixteen-year-old Radha Goyal said. “I was literally trying to flash my homework in her face, but she just didn’t listen.”
Can’t You Be Like Her?
Yes, I do understand that parents want to see us succeed, so they push us to work hard and be disciplined. “My parents really understand when it comes to my grades,” fifteen-year-old Nikhalesh Gupta said. “If [my parents] got mad at me for bad grades, I’d probably just give up.” Making comparisons is something all teenagers abhor. “I got a B on an Algebra II test in mathematics once, [which is] my weaker subject and my mom compared me to a family friend who is taking Calculus and who got an A in her finals,” fifteen-year-old Prachi Shiva admitted.
Words of encouragement and love would count for a lot more than threats and punishment for bad grades. In the end, I do believe that children do want to please their parents, too. Instead of arguing about hemlines, necklines or curfew time, isn’t it better to calmly talk about issues? Chances are, if parents are calm and patient, so will the teenager.
Anyway, didn’t you act the same way, make those same mistakes, maybe with a different flavor, when you were growing up? Nothing’s changed.
Simran Devidasani is a junior at Monta Vista High School. Along with her love for news and opinion writing, she indulges herself in her passion for photography. She is extremely proud to be an Intern for India Currents this summer.
The DO List Manifesto
A Teenage Perspective
DO not compare them to others
DO give them words of encouragement
DO not argue without listening
DO try to talk things out
DO not succumb to shouting
DO listen to what your child has to say
DO not criticize them unnecessarily
DO appreciate them for what they are
DO not bind them down
DO remember that you were a teenager once