Family: Finding Your Own Path
By Nastasha Alli
In the world of parenting, fights and arguments come with raising a teenager. But for immigrant families, the relationship between parents and teens can become so intense that when a child says they need space or want to move out, it becomes the most hurtful thing a parent can hear.
For newcomer parents, it is important to realize that young adults need room to grow and establish their independence (freedom).
But before you say “no” about giving teens a chance to stand on their own, it may help to understand why these young adults express a strong desire to be independent.
East Metro Youth Services outreach worker Julia Ghani says it’s not because youth are ashamed of their parents, background or heritage. Working with Toronto’s Afghan community, she says this “rebel attitude” is a result of the experiences immigrant youth have faced.
“Afghan youth come from a strong family-oriented background,” she says. “Here they start over. They don’t have friends and have been disconnected from a very large family… and they [may have] been traumatized severely, either witnessed a violence in war or heard about it.”
Ghani adds the youth she worked with often became interpreters for their parents. With 86 percent of adult Afghans unable to read and write, youth are often left to “pick up the pieces,” she says, while expectations to finish school and financially support the family remain the same.
“It’s too much pressure on them,” Ghani says. “We have very minimum understanding of our youth. We don’t know what they’re going through… we’re not there to understand and we don’t give them the proper support. We just add to the baggage they already carry and I think they feel heavy.”
“That’s one of the reasons they want to be left alone and want to leave,” she says.
Although it isn’t always a top priority for newcomers, Ghani advises parents to look closely after their teenagers’ mental and emotional health. Knowing these issues affect their children, she says, helps to educate parents and close the gap between different generations. “Positive parenting should be a part of settlement,” she says.
Aisling Discoveries counsellor Stephanie Yin agrees. Working with a support group for parents in the Chinese community, she describes how the right understanding of a teen’s experiences can affect the personal relationship they share with their parents.
Yin worked with several youth who felt they couldn’t take the pressure from family to succeed. A few of them quit school, she says, and insisted on going back to their home country. For other youth who were not allowed to go out much, Yin adds their coping strategy was to use the Internet a lot.
It was then Yin realized that parents had to see their kids as growing young adults, who needed space to become independent. “It was really hard for them to accept their children could live independently after they reach 16,” she says. “That creates some kind of [cultural] conflict. It makes the parents really upset.”
As a parent, Yin says, it doesn’t matter whether her children decide to live on their own or stay at home. “I would definitely encourage a mature, positive sense of independence,” she says. “As long as they’re mature and they know what they’re doing… I definitely encourage that positive independence.”
25-year-old Yousuf Ghafory is a positive example among his peers. He’s come a long way from spending his teenage years in Afghanistan. Now he lives in Toronto with his wife and two children and attends a filmmaking workshop at East Metro Youth Services.
“Julia (Ghani) gave us this analogy,” he says, “that we are like little ants who take a small piece of food and try to climb up a wall and then fall back. (Every time) we try to get ourselves back together, we fall again. But we’ve never given up.”
Ghafory’s family has always been supportive of his decisions and he’s thankful for the space they’ve given him to pursue his career.
“It’s awesome,” he says. “You take charge of your life, take charge of your own finances, expenses, responsibilities and all. It feels great.”
For parents, Yin shares the following ways to communicate with independent teens:
● Be aware that young adults want to explore their self identity. Parents are responsible for adjusting the relationship with their kids.
● Work out disagreements with your teenagers right way, but be patient and have lots of respect for them.
● Build up a trusting relationship.
● Recognize your teen’s positive behaviour. Youth need lots of encouragement.