How strict we should be on our teenage children is an eternal cause of strife in the Asian American parental mind.
Too little and we risk them becoming withdrawn, too dependent to excel in the competitive modern professional landscape. Too much and we risk them straying into drugs, alcohol and the many more vices plaguing today’s teenage youth.
Just as with so much in life, it seems that shrewd moderation is key, allowing a modicum of risky conduct to empower our teens to guide themselves to becoming the best adults of tomorrow that they can possibly be.
A Foundation for Inquisitiveness
If you raised your child to embrace the new, seek opportunity and pave new paths, do not be surprised when your teenager expresses desires that may seem unsavory.
These are the qualities you instilled by encouraging in them a healthy level of adventure. We mostly believe that risky play as a toddler is imperative – think of the adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So, why should this change when they can fend for themselves? The sense that this sense of calculated chaos should be reversed when our children enter teenage years, the era for which we have been preparing them that entire time, is nonsensical.
Your inquisitive teenager is not rebelling. They are exhibiting the success of your early lessons. Now, you must ensure you channel this keenness in the correct direction, and with the correct level of cajoling.
The Benefits of Friends
We must allow our teenagers the time to socialize just as their friends enjoy. Allow your kids the chance to bond across the technologies that can scare us. Video chatting, says Paula Span in the New York Times, increases the soft social skills essential for pairing with the hard academic excellence that we seek. It is these soft skills that can prevent Asian American kids achieving the highest ranks in the firms they work so hard to enter.
Perhaps the parents of your children’s non-Asian American friends don’t impress upon them as much the value of hard work. That is OK. You will encounter as many parents of this vein as those who encourage their children to visit your teenager for study sessions.
Embrace the cosmopolitan nature of America and allow your teenager to define his or her place within it. Don’t worry, your children will still get their degrees if they socialize with those who work less. They may even be inspired to work harder.
A Study in Studying
It may seem counter-intuitive though one of the best ways to enforce work ethic in your teens is to give them the freedom to engage in their casual activities.
Refrain from banning your teenager from attending parties, which may generate a sense they need oppose you. Instead, create a productive ecosystem where work and downtime harmonize. Of course, they may attend that party, just make sure they complete their homework before heading out. And do not push too hard.
It is depressingly common, and brings a tear to our eye, that if an Asian-American kid says they are unhappy at college and wish to come home over the holidays, their parents may tell them to persevere and not come back!
There is a reason that Asian Americans are the world’s most educated ethnicity. We appreciate the benefits of hard work more than any, though teenage years are testing times. For all that we wish our children study well, it is their personal contentment that matters more than educational prowess. If we can establish great moral values, then we have succeeded as parents. The academic verve follows, naturally.
The Dangers of (not) Dating
Of course, we regard dating in high school as dangerous. But times have changed, certainly. And we must be careful not to meddle too deeply here.
It is as dangerous to refuse your child date as it is to try set them up with children of friends you consider a good match. If you try to force them into relationships they would not naturally enjoy, you risk pushing them deeper into risky play.
Sure, American kids and their parents may strike us as overly indulgent, rude, loud and uncultured. And this may even be true of many of them. But as Randye Hoder painstakingly highlights in her NYT Motherlode blog, this does not make them inferior parents or, even more importantly, people. Americans are an amalgam of many of the world’s richest cultures, who ended up in a new world with no guide and big boots to fill. Why not instill in them a little of your structure rather than condemn their lack of one?
This is a natural part of growing up, and we must consider how we felt at the time. Treat them with the respect that you wish you had then and see what happens. Always promote safety and you never know – they may end up with a lovely Asian girl, anyway.
And by neglecting to push our kids to marry young and have beautiful Asian babies, we also help set our kids up for greater ultimate professional success. The Bamboo Ceiling is far harder to break through when you have little ones to look after mere years after graduating from college. More on that later…
Climbing the Moral Mountain
There are many external factors to concern parents of growing teenagers. We hear each day, in the news and from our friends, of the many worrying potential vices in the modern world. Music, film, games and more can be seen to be detrimental to our children, introducing them to social circles, cultural dangers and more.
However, we must develop an organic environment in which our children can themselves reach the decision that these are not the worlds for them, rather than bear down on them forcefully. This can have an adverse effect and push them in a state of adolescent vengefulness. So – an element of risky play is vital to their growth, we can conclude. Our children must learn to self-regulate, rather than be subject to our regulation. There is a fascinating TED talk by developmental psychologist Dr. Dustin Albert on exactly that, called Risk-Taking and the Adolescent Brain. Your teenager may well have seen this in their school program. Why not impress them by sitting it down to watch it with them and showing that you understand how they feel?
In fact, according to renowned business strategist Megan Tull when writing for the Huffington Post, taking risks evokes leadership success. It is risk that carves for our teenagers the propensity to decide upon a new path, to sidestep failure, to chase ambitions and to pursue their prize with greater tenacity than a non-risktaker.
For achievements to be without limit, one’s thinking must be without limit. Risk and reward, the ultimate balance thrived upon by the go-getter.
Promote speaking out
Young Asian Americans are one of the least likely demographics to speak out about mental difficulties. The reasons for this range from misunderstanding the normality of such issues to the avoidance of perceived shame by admitting to needing mental help. Whatever the path to this point, the path forward should be paved of acceptance and evolution. Only then can you define a cohesive future for you and your teenagers.
Consider the pressure they feel in speaking out, even greater if it has not been promoted to them by their family as an option. Give your teenager the credit that they will make the right decisions, siphon off the pressure that can lead to terrible breakdowns, and capitalize upon the unique space for a dialogue that this establishes. We may fear that they get a tattoo more than anything. But a mark upon the skin is far less harmful than those marks that cannot be seen, only felt…
With Asian-American teenagers 1.6x more likely to commit suicide than other students, we must tread carefully. Many Asian cultures adopt a stony air, not wishing to lose face. But there is in modernity no honor to be had in not expressing oneself. It is merely unhealthy and can cause irreparable damage to the family.
And so, just as we should grant our teenagers a healthy level of risky play, so should we grant ourselves a healthy level of expression. It will draw more out of our children, as well as promote a stronger relationship with them.
The Bamboo Ceiling and Breaking Through It
The Bamboo Ceiling refers to the phenomenon experienced by many Asian American families, that being our seeming inability to break through mid-level roles that we have attained through stringent academic performance. Quite simply, we are realizing that effective growth into adulthood requires more than just a top GPA.
These academic skills, known as hard skills, are actually less important than social soft skills.
As Liyan Chen in Forbes notes, our children are fantastically representing the US as the fastest-growing, highest-income, best-educated racial group. However, few of them top the ranks and make it into the hallowed executive arena.
A study by Ascend discovered in 5 of the top tech companies that while 27% of professionals there were Asian American, only half that figure were executives. The same with Asian American women, with a Catalyst study showing only 4.4% across the nation’s top 500 companies.
If we want our children to truly succeed, we must not bear down so incessantly upon them the strictness of our own Eastern upbringings. After all, we must remember that they are not just Asians but Asian Americans. By allowing an element of risky play, natural to their American cultural aspects, we give them and their motivations the freedom to grow into the most successful adults that they can be – rather than being held back by our own traditions imposed needlessly upon them.
Remember, they are not less to be better than us. We want them to do more than we could do – it can be hard at first to push them beyond the level we ever reached, but this is what we must ultimately do.
A little risk for big reward
The Asian family ethic is conventionally more inter-supportive than families of other ethnicities, with less emphasis on generations separating and moving across the world as soon as may be expected of them. In these all-knowing familial clusters, a teenager can often feel most ostracized.
They are constantly on display, under evaluation, their social, academic and personal choices scrutinized by multiple generations. Grandfathers and aunties they must impress, nieces and nephews they must inspire…
The key is to use your family’s focus not to constrict the teenager – rather to emphasize and embrace the inclusive, supportive benefits of this close-knit cultural tendency. Just as Megan Tull describes in her eye-opening article, we must not allow our teenagers – or ourselves in fact – to become victims to analysis paralysis. Think, think, think gets nowhere. We must do, and then our stride grows fantastically.
By creating a safe secondary layer of existence in which our teenagers can naturally explore the world they are growing into, you will maximize their potential. Let them make some of their mistakes, and step in when they need a guide. Give them space and structure in balance and they will flourish. Both as an individual supporting themselves, and as a family member supporting their relatives.
Nomenclature makes such an impact on our processes. So, why don’t we stop calling it risk altogether, and start calling it innovation?