Miami is an international and an immigrant city. People come from all over the world and especially Latin America to settle here. The vibrant mix of cultures can sometimes be difficult for families to deal with. For the teenagers of immigrants who are growing up experiencing a different culture than their parents it can become more and more difficult for them to communicate effectively with their families. Parents are more likely to adhere firmly to their original culture whereas teenagers tend to very quickly soak up the culture that they experience around them. This can lead to gaps between teenagers and parents on their levels of Americanism as well as on their levels of the parents’ culture of origin. In more serious cases parents and teenagers may have a significant language barrier between them, fertile ground for misunderstandings and conflicts to spring up.
The results of these culture gaps for teenagers on their identity and how they see their place in their family can be hard for them to handle. Research has shown that the teenagers who embrace and accept both the culture of their parents and their new American culture tend to be psychologically healthiest. Teenagers who reject one culture or the other come in second and teenagers who reject both cultures and feel marginalized have the most problems as a group. When it comes to their parents the same is true. Depending on the cultural match between parents and teenagers, teenagers can experience an unstable sense of who they are and grow up feeling resentful. Different cultural influences can also make discipline and parenting more complicated. Parenting strategies that could have been effective and normal in a parent’s culture of origin may serve to alienate parents from their teenagers in Miami. Teenagers with parents who have low levels of Americanism can be forced to grow up quickly as they take the roles of translator and cultural ambassador to the family. It’s easy to see how cultural differences within Miami families can complicate matters.
Counseling can be helpful to address a teenager’s individual problems as well as family problems that have to do with cultural gaps. Seeing these cultural influences can help families and teenagers to assign less blame and broaden their understanding which enables them to find more effective solutions. Often times a bilingual and bicultural counselor can be necessary to facilitate this process. As a typical bilingual and “cultural mutt” in South Florida I have always had empathy for how difficult cultural family problems can be for teenagers and their parents. And I have seen how, through a commitment to understanding, teenagers and families can heal and grow.
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Kwak, K. (2003) Adolescents and Their Parents: A Review of Intergenerational Family Relations for Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Families. Human Development (46) 115-136.
Portes, P.R., Zady, M.F. (2002) Self-Esteem in the Adaptation of Spanish-Speaking Adolescents: The Role of Immigration, Family Conflict, and Depression Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences (24) 296-318.
By Miguel Brown