Acclimating to American Culture for Your ChildrenJanuary 22, 2014
By Lorena Villa Parkman
Moving to a new country is always a complicated journey, especially when learning a new culture and following a different set of social rules. Families face new values that often conflict with their own beliefs. Suddenly, parents have another difficult task to tackle besides adapting themselves to the recent challenges of their daily life: they are forced to negotiate a balance with their children between their own customs and what they want to adopt from their new culture.
Your child wants to belong and even though you shouldn’t leave behind your own beliefs, you need to understand your new culture in order to help your child adapt to his or her new home.
Here are a couple of things that are considered normal in American culture and that you might want to know beforehand in order to understand and adapt to the circumstances:
- Dating at a younger age. In this country, children start dating more seriously in high school. Of course, it is your right to decide what sort of rules you set before you let your child go out with a romantic interest. However, just be aware that is generally considered normal to let two teenagers go out to the movies together, to have dinner alone, or to even go as a couple to a school event such as a prom. To feel more comfortable, have your child call to check in during the evening and speak with other parents about what they do to keep their children safe while dating.
- Sleepovers. Your elementary school child might get invitations from same-sex friends to stay over their house for the night. Usually the host family will prepare activities for the kids to enjoy: movies, board games, or snacks, for example. If you feel a bit uneasy, ask the host family to please explain in detail what are they planning for the night. Leave your phone number and address so you feel at ease that they will have enough information to reach you if your child feels homesick during the night or if something else happens. Tell your child that if he or she is ever uncomfortable at a sleepover, your child can call you to come get him or her. Again, you can also create check-in times with your child and call him or her to know the status of his sleepover experience.
- Parent engagement in school. In many cultures, talking or questioning teachers or school authorities is seen as disrespectful. In the United States, parents are expected to get involved in school and to talk to teachers about their concerns. Parents are welcome to schedule an appointment with school authorities once in a while to discuss their child’s academic achievements and opportunities for improvement. Don’t feel intimidated—rather, take this opportunity to speak up for your child.
- Leaving home to live on campus. In some other countries, teenagers still live with their parents when they go to college (if they study in the same city). In the United States, leaving home to go to college is almost seen as a rite of passage. In some universities it’s even mandatory to live on campus at least for the first year of college. See this as a great opportunity for your child to be independent, to learn how to tackle daily life chores, and encounter new experiences and cultures.
It might be difficult for you as a parent to get used to a different "normal" in American culture, but by working with other parents to establish trust and by doing what feels right to you, you will soon feel more at ease in this new environment. By building up your confidence and getting to know more of your adoptive country, you will be able to help your children with any obstacle they encounter in their path towards success in America.