When I was in high school, my best friend was from China. Her parents sent her to live here in the U.S. with the hope of giving her a better education and brighter future. I lived on the West Coast at the time and had many Asian American friends. I admired their culture. It was one of hard work, dedication to the arts and education and a simple acceptance of responsibility to self and family.
Even as a teenager, I had a real problem with the American culture of teenagers. I couldn’t understand where these ideals had developed. There seems to be, to this day, a concept that, “These are the best years of your life!” Along with that is a general consensus that teens are to have as much fun as possible, engage in risky behavior, waste their time breaking laws and partying, and generally act like fools. If, as a parent, we put “too much pressure” on them to succeed academically or “over-achieve”, we are looked-down upon as depriving them of these “best years of their lives.”
When my oldest child (now in her 20’s) was in high school, I did not treat her like a bumbling idiot. To me, she was indeed in her prime years. She was young, full of energy and had few personal responsibilities. With that in mind, there was no better time for her to maximize her potential by working, engaging in civic and volunteer activities, acting as a responsible and contributing member of society and acquiring the best education she possibly could. I refused to allow her to run around town, go to teen parties, stay out late doing nothing, or otherwise be a useless menace.
But the backlash I received from other moms was astounding. Because I taught her how to use public transportation, they saw this as borderline child abuse. They would find her walking to the library and pick her up to drive her the rest of the way. They would lament to my child what a terrible life she had. One mom even took it upon herself to try to sneak my daughter to teen drinking parties. Then they would gossip about me all over town. This is a rather large suburb, in the tens of thousands, so it’s not as if I would stand out. But these women, who I didn’t know, were more familiar with my life and critical of my mothering, than I was even of their names.
I felt confused as to why this could be so wrong. Was it just because I was a typical, white American parent? What if I were Asian? Or East Indian? I didn’t see those parents getting publicly bashed for their strict stance on academics and extracurriculars. Their children didn’t date at 13 years old or drink at teenage bashes. Why were they spared this public ridicule and criticism?
It seemed that it was a matter of culture. These American parents had respect for their neighbors’ cultural differences and respected their often opposing values.
“Oh, well, of course Suzanne plays violin every day after school and doesn’t date and takes all honors classes. Her parents are Asian American. That’s just what they do.”
But look at the success of their children. So many of their children go on to become doctors and lawyers and business owners. Are the rest of us so foolish we can’t see the origins and practices of success?
So, I decided. I would become an Asian American parent. That would be my own personal culture. I would not be ashamed of my strict parenting. My protectiveness. My oversight. My rules. I would not be afraid to push my children to succeed and realize their potential. Being 15 doesn’t automatically make you a lawless moron, as American culture dictates. It makes you a young, endlessly energetic human. Why not put that health and vitality to good use?
The end result was my daughter received a full academic scholarship to a prestigious private university. She has been continuously employed since the age of 12 and even ran her own business for several years. She recently graduated with her bachelors degree and is about to continue on to get her masters. She has never been in any trouble. She is living on her own, fully independent of me. And she is happy.
I’m not saying the American way is wrong. But it sure is wrong for me. So thank you to my Asian American friends and neighbors for giving me the strength and courage to parent my teens following a different set of rules. Thank you for graciously allowing me to identify with your culture and stand proud as a parent. Your set of values helped me raise one adult quite successfully with two more to go. I owe you one.