South Asian Teen Health
Relationships are key in the lives of all teenagers. It is important to have honest, caring friends that you can rely on, and to create strong, open relationships with family members.
Finding True Friends
South Asian teenagers may feel a cultural divide separates them from their friends. Many South Asian parents place a strong emphasis on education, and teenagers can have trouble understanding the pressure to exceed typical expectations.
"Sometimes, a friend doesn't understand that I have to spend the night studying for a test rather than hanging out and having a good time," said one South Asian teen. "I have had a friend get angry at me for canceling plans, or more often at my parents, which is a sticky situation to get in to."
Sometimes, it is difficult to help a friend from a completely different background understand where parents are coming from, but a good friend will listen, and try to understand. Also, it is helpful to connect with teens from similar backgrounds and home life. It is comforting to discuss problems with friends who have had the same experiences and may know more about how to handle them.
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Family members provide security and familiarity in a teenager’s life. Some elements of South Asian family life may differ from that of other American teenagers.
"When it comes to family, I have tons of relatives," said one South Asian teen. "Each relative has a specific title and my sister and I call them by that preceding their actual name. My parents’ Indian friends always have an 'Aunty' or 'Uncle' preceding their name; even it they are of no direct relation."
Family activities in a South Asian teenager’s life are great opportunities to get in touch with family members, learn more about family culture, and have fun. However, some South Asian teenagers may face certain family customs that can cause stress. One South Asian teen explains: "My parents have brought me up to have lists of priorities, which I do not believe is common of very many American teens."
Another South Asian teenager says: "I believe my parents put more of an emphasis on academic perfection than my Caucasian friends’ parents. Sometimes I want a break from constantly being pushed to exceed expectations in school and other areas."
If you feel that family pressure is making you feel overwhelmed and stressed out, it is important for you to discuss this with your parents. Even if a you believe that your parents will not understand, opening the bridge of communication is an important step to having a better relationship.
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Communication with Parents
South Asian immigrant parents have sometimes grown up in a completely different culture than South Asian teenagers being brought up in America today. Some teenagers have never discussed “touchy topics” with their parents, such as sexuality, drugs, or co-ed parties.
The fact is, these topics should not be “touchy,” and teenagers should feel comfortable in openly discussing them with their parents. Sometimes South Asian teenagers feel that their parents will be uncomfortable discussing certain issues, but if they give honest conversation a try, they may be surprised about how open their parents can be. It may be difficult to start talking about these issues, with parents who initially might not seem receptive, but sometimes talking about important issues like this can make your relationship with your parents closer and more profound.
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South Asian parents may not understand what it means to have a boyfriend or girlfriend in high school. They may find the concept of teenage dating to be completely unacceptable, or they may not understand what it entails.
When it comes to talking about relationships with parents, try taking baby steps. Ask your parents how they feel about teenage dating, and by asking this question they can start an ongoing dialogue on what they and their parents both value in relationships. If you do not feel comfortable discussing certain topics with their parents, you can talk to a trusted adult or friend.
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Families should discuss premarital sex as children go through their teenage years. However, especially for South Asian families, parents and teenagers may not feel comfortable openly discussing ideas and values regarding this topic. This is not something that should just be left up to the school system.
One South Asian teenager relates: "I had never discussed sex, drugs, or anything like that with my parents until I got an assignment to interview my parents about their views on these things. I realized that my parents are more lenient and trusting than I had thought. For instance, I learned that my dad was fine with premarital sex with long term partners, whereas I had believed that both my parents wanted me to wait until marriage." Talking to parents about these concepts is important, and you may be surprised about how they feel concerning dilemmas that teenagers face.
Communication is a vital factor in having a strong, open relationship with parents. However, some South Asian-American teenagers may feel that their parents are completely against premarital sex, and will be shocked if their teen asks about condoms, birth control pills, and other methods of protection. In this case, teens should gently bring broach these topics, and let their parents hear their feelings on the topic.
One South Asian teenager explains, “My mom didn’t think I needed the HPV vaccination because she thought that I won’t be having sex until I’m married. Along with my doctor, I explained to her that though I don’t plan on being sexually active in high school, I might want to have sex later on with a serious partner, and I want to be protected. She agreed and said she was proud of my judgment.”
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