Tackling cultural differences when raising teenage kids

Two of my biggest hurdles in regards to raising teenagers in the US have to do with the liberal views on drugs such as marijuana and the, what I would call, confused view on sex education. I know, most parents regardless of geographic location, probably worry about both these issues at some point in the course of bringing up children so why would it be a particularly big issue for me? The answer, to some degree, has to do with cultural references and differences. Where I grew up marijuana is typically thought of as a gateway drug for troubled people who will undoubtedly go on to harder stuff; it is not a party drug for the masses. As for sex education, the  prevailing view in my home country is that knowledge is good, not bad.

Now, I have many other childrearing worries as well, some big and some small; some have to do with cultural barriers while others are more universal – raising teens is after all a task full of challenges and there is a constant battle of where to draw the line and how much freedom to allow. So yes, I worry about the prevalence of guns in this culture, and about a sixteen-year old getting a driver’s license – way too young in my book, though awfully convenient once they have it. I wonder why schoolchildren don’t get to take showers after PE and how to make them eat their vegetables. And what about screen time, how do I limit that? The list of worries can seem endless at times.

But, back to marijuana – I find it very hard to accept that this is a drug that is so prevalent in my son’s high school that everyone knows who sells it and to which bathroom stall to go to use it. I still get surprised (and concerned) every time my 13-year old identifies the skunky smell of marijuana. I realize that my fears of marijuana are not necessarily rational. After all, my friends and I used to get drunk on illegally obtained alcohol when I was my son’s age. It is just that when it comes to alcohol, I have a reference point; I know how to relate to it. I know what it does to you, and I feel I can talk to my teens about it with conviction. My husband who grew up in southern California has a completely different vantage point.

When it comes to sex education I am just plain confused about the general approach in the US. The discussion here still has to do with whether or not it is good to provide sex education and access to contraceptives. Some parts of the country are more liberal than others but the debate is still heard all over the US and my perception is that these issues are always hanging in the balance. Having grown up in Sweden, I find it curious that these are topics still being questioned. To me this should be about how we can best educate and empower our youth, not whether it should be addressed at all.

You are bound to run into cultural differences while living in a new country and some issues will be easier to overcome than others. You may even find that what you learn in the process is of great value to you, and that the prevailing cultural tendency is one you agree with. The difficulty when raising teenagers is that you want to be able to guide them with some conviction and knowledge. When you are in a foreign culture the societal rules are different and you may no longer be able to lean on what would otherwise be a given set of rules.

After some 20 years in the US, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the general cultural tendencies. Still, when it comes to raising my kids, I run into trouble with some basic differences. I have decided that the best mindset is “the more influences the better”. In the end, my kids will have grown up with multiple cultural points of view and that can only be an advantage, right?

Supporting teenagers in a new culture
Parenting in a new culture