Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Make it a joy ride

Early adolescence – it is a stage that begins somewhere between 9 and 12 years of age with a loss. A loss of traditional playfulness and childhood interests, and unfortunately also a loss of traditional bonding and compatibility with parents. It is also a beginning to a journey that is still unclear, undefined, and unspecified. The child who is used to being told what to do and being treated like a child begins to start feeling disconnected to eventually reach a transition point where they stop accepting parental guidance without being judgmental about it.
Once we, as parents realize this, it becomes our job to learn to adapt to these changes that our child is going through. It does become difficult to stay connected with our child, but it is by far the most important time of their lives when we need to stay involved and interested in everything they do, inspite of the ‘leave-me-alone’ signals that they begin to transmit. The parent-child relationship is then going through the most difficult developmental challenge that includes changes in the levels of attachment, compatibility and compliance. Adolescent kids are ready to explore the ‘family’ of friends and look for attachments outside their blood relations with a goal of social independence. They are ready to differentiate themselves as individuals accommodating new interests and values that appeal to them. They develop a tendency to form opinions about family rules and restraints only to establish freedom of choice. In the process of ‘growing up’ and developing self-determination, they voice their opinions which have the potential of being misinterpreted by parents as opposition and rebelliousness. In reality, this too is a developmental stage that we , as parents, need to recognize as a natural phenomenon. Though they themselves are going through major painful trade-offs, a perceived lack of support or freedom within the family can lead to insecurity, anxiety and loneliness through these years.
The challenge for parents is to make them feel secure without making them feel intruded upon, to treat them as adults without losing sight of the child in them, to allow them to experiment with life within safe and respectful limits; and most of all without judging them or their actions as good or bad. It is absolutely critical for parents to maintain the positive communication even through all conflicts and differences of opinion. While accepting that our child is on his/her own developmental trajectory, we need to continue to provide structure and supervision to help channel this growth so it unfolds constructively and responsibly.
Looking beyond self-development and conflicts within the family, our adolescent is also going through physical changes and depending on the environment they are in, may even be witnessing glimpses of negativity such as teasing, exclusion, bullying, rumoring, ganging up  and teen dating abuse. Each one of these can be elaborated upon separately but for the purposes of this particular blog, it suffices to say that positive communication and perceived support must always be maintained. Our children must be encouraged to share not only their positive and negative observations of their world but also relate incidents neutrally which may not seem ‘negative’ to them as a young adult. As parents, we may be able to see through certain actions and incidents that could potentially cause anxiety at a later stage.
Generation gap is one challenge and cultural variation is another one that immigrant parents need to bridge. We grow up in different countries with slightly different values, adapt ourselves with the adult culture in the adopted country and now have to condition ourselves to adolescent culture as well. By far this is the most challenging stage an immigrant family has to go through but with sufficient openness and adaptability, this promises to be the most joyful time for a family as well.

This blog is the first in the series of an attempt to raising preventive awareness among Asian families living in the New England area about teen dating abuse. This is being published as a support to the cause of ATASK, a $1.7M, United Way-affiliated, non-profit that operates New England's only multilingual and culturally relevant emergency shelter, advocacy services, and linguistically and culturally relevant outreach and education programs for Asian communities. Their main focus is prevention through awareness, and support through shelters and counseling, the victims of Domestic Violence and Teen Dating Abuse. For more information about please visit their website www.atask.org 

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