Maintaining strong family ties is a cornerstone of Islam. However, many of us seem to need proof that strong family ties are necessary or even possible in North America. Consequently, even Muslim teenagers are finding it difficult to approach their parents to talk about stresses they are facing in their academic, personal and social lives.
Many teens feel their parents would not understand what they are going through. And this may be true to some degree for teens whose parents are recent immigrants to North America. However, even African American and Caucasian Muslim teens find it awkward to confide in their parents or to have a simple conversation.
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Teens say parents are too quick to judge them and to offer solutions rather than to listen to what they are feeling and experiencing.
Parents, on the other hand, note that their teens are overly judgmental themselves, and that they assume that their parents do not understand the current teen culture. Or that their teens feel they will be less independent if their parents are involved in their lives.
Yet, no one can deny that being a teenager in North America is, perhaps, the most challenging phase of a person's life. So, what's the answer?
Some reassuring possibilities come to us from a study by the Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). Starting in 1976, the GSSW has kept track of some 400 children living in Massachusetts. Interviewing them at ages 5, 9, 15, 18, 21 and 26, the researchers found that teenagers were less likely to be stressed, and more likely to have a generally positive outlook when they had strong family ties.
In general, parents and teens have to function as a team. Since the teen years are critical to identity formation, it is imperative that parents not abandon or neglect their children during these years. Some parents do not want to get involved in their teens' lives because they anticipate lots of arguments so they treat communication with their teens as a time- consuming ordeal.
However, it does not have to be that way. Working out the kinks in communication, maintaining consistent and balanced interest in children's lives, and, most of all, building trusting parent-teen relationships are just a few ways that parents can help teens reduce the stress they experience during these formative years.
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