Mention the words dating, sex or drug use and both South Asian parents and South Asian teens cringe. The last thing either wants to do is talk to each other about any of these sensitive topics. However, successfully navigating these awkward conversations can be an invaluable learning experience for the teens.
Here are some tips for South Asian parents and teens on how to approach these difficult issues and how to make sure the conversation goes as smoothly as possible:
- Identify your value and opinions on these topics. Most South Asian parents highly value abstinence from sex and even avoiding dating until the child is out of college. Spend some time being very clear about how strongly you feel about topics such as dating, pre-marital sex, or living together before marriage, etc. Think about why you have the opinions that you do. Were they imposed by your family? Do you think it makes someone a bad person if they engage in any of these activities? Your judgments about these decisions will be abundantly clear to your teenager who is very sensitive at picking up criticism. If you can identify your feelings before the conversation, you will be better able to control them and prevent them from getting in the way of the dialogue.
- Approach your child without judgment. Teenagers are very self-critical and critical of others. They are always worried about how they are being perceived including by their parents. If they sense that you are coming into lecture them or provide them with a moral lesson, they will tune you out. For example, if you are watching TV and you see two characters kissing, instead of saying, “Kissing is really bad until you are XX years old” ask, “do any of your friends kiss?” It shows that you are being curious about their lives and they are more likely to tell you the truth. If they can feel you are judging the action without understanding their reality, they are more likely to lie to you about what they know or experience.
- Ask them about their world. Regardless of where the child is raised, being of a different generation already creates a gap between parents and children. On top of that if children are raised in a different country than the parents grew up in, a cultural divide is also present. Be curious about their experiences growing up in the country. What do kids their age do? What does your teens friends know about sensitive topics such as sex or drug use.
- Share your opinion and explain why you have the values that you do. Teenagers do not respond well to telling them what to do and what not to do. If they hear “don’t do this” they are more likely to experiment and try it themselves. Instead, share your thoughts and explain why you have them. This encourages discussion and does not imply that you think your way is the only right way. For example, “I think drinking before you’re 21 isn’t a very good idea because alcohol is toxic. Until you are an adult, your body is changing and you are still growing. Your body has more trouble metabolizing it and can cause serious damage to your organs.”
- View your teens’ questions as learning opportunities not challenges. Teenagers are still learning the ways of the world and while they rely on parents less than infants, they still count on their parents’ wisdom to help them navigate difficult situations. So if a teenager follows up the previous comment with, “but what if you only drink a little bit?” take that as your teen being curious about learning more and not as a challenge of your value.
- Ask them what they think. Get a sense of what their values are. By the age of 8, peers influence your child more than you do and who they spend time with significantly shapes their beliefs. Find out what they know, what they think and where they are coming from. As they tell you, take a similar curious stance and ask why they believe what they do. Who influences them? This is an incredible learning opportunity for South Asian parents to get a glimpse into the complicated world of a teenager and understand their child better.
- Offer them alternate, safe solutions. Just because you tell them not to do something does not mean they won’t do it. Instead, prepare them for the realities of the world and use your knowledge to provide your child with safe alternatives to difficult situations. Talk to them about having safe sex or how to limit alcohol intake or offer to have your child. When the child is adequately informed about the realities of the situations, they are less likely to do risky things out of rebellion but instead are more likely to make more reasonable and intelligent decisions when presented with the choice.
How do you talk to your teens about difficult subjects? Please leave your comments below.
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