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Bridging Cultural and Generational Differences

For Asian American families, age is not the only barrier between generations – the cultural differences between Asian American youths and their parents can also contribute to the difficulties in the parent-child relationships. While their immigrant parents maintain the lifestyle and traditions of their native culture, the first-generation children are influenced not only by their family, but also by their school, peers, community, and the American media. As a result, immigrant parents and children face a growing separation in culture and find it difficult to understand each other.

However, many parents are able to find ways to overcome the generational and cultural divides and find it enriching to witness their teenagers become adults. Below are some suggestions for parents to consider:

  1. Educate yourself: Read books about teenagers. Remember your own struggles with acne or your embarrassment from developing early or late. Understand that your teens are living in a multicultural world and may find it confusing and require guidance. Parents who know what’s coming can better cope with the challenges that teenagers face. The more you know, the better you can prepare your child.
  2. Don’t ask too much: Be cautious in placing too many responsibilities on your children (e.g. having your children read your financial statements) because they may not only be overburdened, but assigning too many responsibilities to your children may also undermine your authority as a parent.
  3. Maintain your expectations, but be reasonable: Teens will likely be unhappy with the expectations their parents place on them. However, they usually understand and know that their parents care enough about them to have expectations such as getting good grades, behaving well and adhering to the rules of the house. If parents set reasonable goals, then teens will likely try to meet them.
  4. Know your child’s friends and their parents: Regular communication between the parents of adolescents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all the children in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of their kids’ activities without making the kids feel like they’re being watched.
  5. Spend quality time with your child: Similar to parents from other backgrounds, immigrant parents need to spend time with their children. This time may involve discussing topics that interest both the parents and children (e.g. the day’s events) or doing simple and fun activities together (e.g. outdoor activities, cooking).
  6. Respect your child’s privacy: Some parents may feel that anything their child does is their business. However, to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. In other words, you should not expect your teen to share all their thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where your child is going, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail.
  7. Establish appropriate rules: Bedtime for a teenager should be age appropriate, just as it was when your child was a baby. Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Does your child keep to a 10:00 PM curfew? Move it to 10:30 PM. Keep in mind how you felt as a teenager when creating guidelines for your children. The teen years can be a confusing and chaotic time for many families. Because every child is unique, there is no way to anticipate all the challenges and to defuse all the land mines of adolescence. However, parents who demonstrate respect for their children, have an interest in their children’s activities, and set firm boundaries on those activities can help the family go a long way and undoubtedly help their children to excel.

Article provided by: Lin Fang, a mental health worker/ Charles B. Wang Community
Health Center

A Typical Scene in the Subway

A five years old boy is telling his mom about his day in kindergarten. He keeps talking and talking and he wants to sing a new song he learned that day to his mom. A teenage girl is sitting across from them with her mother. Her mother is mumbling something but the teenager is not paying any attention to her. The teenager is too busy listening to her iPod and playing with her PSP.

Is there anything wrong with this picture? Or is it absolutely normal?

Parents of teenagers often complain that their children do not talk to them or that they cannot have a conversation without arguing with their teenager; especially about sensitive topics including sexual behaviors. What makes these conversations so difficult? Are teenagers really too difficult to talk to? Or is it really the parents who are actually losing patience with their children?

It is important for parents to understand the developmental milestones of their children. Teenagers go through many hormonal changes which can affect their mood. They may need more personal space during these developing years since teenagers are at a stage where they want to be more independent. However, at the same time, they still need their parents’ nurture. Teenagers are looking to develop their own identity outside of their parents – to know who they are and what they are able to do. Voicing their own opinions or not listening to their parents may be one of their ways of expressing their independence.

Instead of feeling frustrated or offended when their children are not listening to them or when they are voicing their ideas, parents should take the opportunity to understand how to improve communication with their children during their formative years. The key to communicating with teenagers is RESPECT and TRUST. Reminding children to do homework, to take a bath or to go to sleep constantly does not show that they are trusted. Complaining about their friends or disapproving their actions does not demonstrate that they respected. Talking to teenagers require certain techniques.

Knowing when, what, where, why and how to communicate with teenagers is crucial. Teenagers will take advice from their parents but only when they are spoken to in a respectful and polite manner. Parents need to understand their teenager’s point of view. If they want their children to behave in a certain way, say it firmly but with respect. Parents should not yell at their children when correcting their behavior. IT WILL NOT WORK. Instead, parents should help their children problem-solve and to understand the consequences of their action. The tone of voice is also important. A calm voice shows respect or trust; whereas a criticizing tone will only strain the communication flow between the parent and child.

Parents play an important role in their children’s lives; especially during the adolescent years when teenagers are trying to figure out who they are. Communicating openly with respect trust and understanding the challenges that teenagers face will help parents be more patient and accepting.

How to Get Along With Your Teen: A Guide for Parents

All parents will face the day when their child enters puberty. Puberty can be a very challenging time for both parents and teens. Many parents may feel frustrated that they can no longer effectively communicate with their children. Fortunately, parents and teens can happily live together if parents know what to expect and are willing to make some changes in the way they think and act towards their child.

Teens go through many physical, mental and emotional changes as they mature into adulthood. During this transition time, teens learn to think independently and form their own opinion which may not necessarily be the same as that of their parents. These changes can be hard for parents to accept since they may be used to having their children depend on them and talk to them about almost everything. Therefore, parents may struggle to maintain control over certain aspects of their children’s life, while teens will fight for control by arguing with and defying their parents. Consequently, there is less communication and more misunderstanding between the parents and teens.

Below are some tips for parents on how to build effective communication with their

‘Act like a friend, then a parent.’ ‘Acting like a friend’ refers to understanding, trusting and helping each other. Parents should not put themselves in a dominant position over teens. Your teen will feel more comfortable approaching you and being honest about his or her feelings if he or she feels respected and valued as an equal. If you don’t know how your child truly feels, you will not be able to provide the guidance that your child needs or wants.

Create communication channels within the family and save time to spend with your child. Eating dinner together can be a great way for parents to listen, talk with their children, and spend time together. Consistently listening to your child with interest is an excellent way of giving your child a sense of respect.

Learn the art of ‘parallel conversation.’ Even when you are busy, pay attention to what your child says or does and make time to talk with him or her. This is called parallel conversation. It creates a non-aggressive environment which can lead to increased understanding between parents and teens, and help avoid conflict. Since fathers are usually perceived as distant and unapproachable authority figures in the family,  parallel conversation can be a helpful way to bridge the communication gap between fathers and teens.

Be your child’s consultant, not manager. Teens are very sensitive to being talked down to or ordered around. What teens want from their parents is for them to be a consultant or supporter. When you find your child making a mistake, don’t rush to blame or scold him or her. Instead, accept the decisions your child has made and help your child recognize the mistakes. By doing so, you are helping your child develop problem solving skills and ultimately, supporting your child towards independence.

Leave some private space for your child. Your child’s bedroom is an important space because it is a space where your child feels he or she has control. In the bedroom, teens can talk, hang out with friends, and do activities on their own. Respect your child’s space and privacy. Searching your child’s room or going through your child’s belongings without his or her permission will make your child feel that his or her privacy has been invaded. This can negatively impact your relationship with your child.

Praising your child leads to good communication. Even though teens strive towards independence, every teen wishes to be positively recognized and praised by parents. Make an effort to be more supportive and compliment your child when it is deserved. For example, when reviewing your child’s report card, don’t just focus on subjects where your child did poorly. If your child did poorly in math but did well in English, say “You did great in English!” Your child is already aware that his or her math grade is not good. Being critical can lower your child’s self-confidence and can lead to poor communication with your child.

The teen years are not easy but by following these tips, you can build effective communication with your teen. If your child is not yet a teen, it is still worthwhile to follow these tips since developing positive communication with your child early on can help reduce common parent-child communication problems when you child eventually does through puberty. Recognizing the changes your teen goes through can help you accept their behavior and respond accordingly. This will go a long way in developing a healthy and harmonious relationship with your teen.

Article provided by: Wei Jing Shi, a social worker/ Charles B. Wang Community Health Center and Betty Wan

Understanding Teenagers: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Adolescence

As a pediatrician who cares for adolescents, a common question I get from parents is “Why is my teenager so difficult to talk to?” Communication problems are faced by many parents of teenagers. The teen does not seem to listen or agree on any of the things that the parents believe are important.

It helps to understand where your teenager is coming from. Besides physical changes, teenagers also experience social and emotional changes. There are 3 stages of adolescence:

  1. Early stage (12- 13 years): The young teen is learning to become independent and does not usually challenge parental authority. He or she is still seeking parental approval and acknowledgement of their actions.
  2. Middle stage (14-16 years): The teen has a strong need to break parental ties and think independently. During this stage, the teen’s peer group is very influential. Teenagers may feel that their friends are more important than the family.
  3. Late stage (17-21 years): The teen grows closer to parents. He or she starts thinking about college, future roles, and career choices.

Teenagers go through these common stages to become adults. To develop self-reliance, they learn to make their own decisions, and occasionally making mistakes is one way of learning from experience. Teenagers also challenge their parents in an effort to be independent.

Being a teenager is not easy these days as teens face many influences from society. In this complex environment, they must develop a personal set of values and self confidence, and form meaningful relationships with persons outside their family.

Parents can play a vital role in a teenager’s road to adulthood. By listening and providing support to your teen, you can help him or her make good decisions in life. Communicating openly and understanding the challenges that teenagers face will help parents be more patient with their teenagers.

By Dr. Loretta Au