How Cultural Differences Influence Adolescent Development

With multiculturalism spreading through the world, many parents may begin to wonder about what kind of influence their family, ethnic or national culture will have on their growing adolescents. While puberty and the issues of becoming an adult are similar for all teens, what they implicitly emphasize in how they grow differs based on culture. Knowing these differences can help parents understand what their children are going through.

Independence vs. Dependence

When a child grows up in a culture or household that gives a certain amount of freedom, he expects that the given amount of freedom is customary in society. Because of this, parents often notice differences between cultures, in that children from some cultures are clearly more independent while others are more reliant on their families. One clear example of this is how Western cultures give many freedoms to growing teens, allowing them to drive and hold part-time jobs, activities that do not happen until much later in Eastern countries. The culture a child grows up in can then have an influence on how quickly he becomes independent.

Moral Differences

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The parents of adolescents have the main responsibility of teaching children ethics. Scholars of adolescent behavior and authors of “Family and Peer Influences on Adolescent Behavior and Risk-Taking,” Nancy Gonzales and Kenneth Dodge, note that while much of adolescent development happens outside the home, the culture of the family instills upon children their developmental roots. Parents coming from difference cultures emphasize different value sets and therefore teach their children different moral standards. For example, because honesty is an important concept in the West, American parents urge their children not to lie, even in situations where lying would be beneficial. On the contrary, parents from East Asia tend to focus on creating a sense of both social and family harmony. These parents are more willing to overlook lies, provided those lies contribute to harmony, such as in white lies that avoid hurting others’ feelings. As adolescents grow up in different cultures, their moral standards solidify differently.

Effects on the Ego

Without culture, there is no right or wrong as to whether a child should be proud or humble. Culture is part of the reason some adolescents are seen by their peers as arrogant or timid. This difference stems not from the idea of respect, but from where respect should be replaced. For example, Hispanic families tend to raise their adolescences as strong-willed, standing up for themselves when needed. They instill a sense of self-pride in their children. However, other cultures, such as Japanese culture, deemphasize the pride of the individual in favor of pride for the group. Thus, to Hispanic children, Japanese children might be considered timid; on the other hand, Japanese children might consider Hispanic children to be haughty.

Cultural Confusion

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Considering that the adolescent years are a period of finding one’s self-identity, adolescents from a non-mainstream culture may find it more difficult to identify themselves. On the one hand, adolescents identify with their families, which may be a non-mainstream culture; on the other hand, adolescents also identify with their peer group, which is often a part of the mainstream culture. At this life stage, individual differences become apparent, especially with regard to cultural differences, making the self-identification period even more difficult for foreign adolescents growing up abroad.