But a recent University of Illinois
study of adolescents in India found that they and their parents have
a more tranquil passage through their teenage years.
In the United States, time with friends
accounts, on average, for a fourth of a teen's waking, non-classroom
hours. But the Indian teenagers in the U of I study spent less than
one-eleventh of their day with peers. And, when asked in a
questionnaire which people they would rather spend time with, 43
percent of Indian adolescents named family members, said Reed
Larson, a U of I professor of family studies.
According to Larson, such family
closeness during the teen years would be a developmental asset for
"With puberty occurring now as early as
11 or 12, it would be healthy if we could delay the distancing from
family that occurs in American culture by at least three or four
years," he said. "Just as young people start to go through a lot of
changes, they begin to separate from the people who are in the best
position to help them."
Larson and his colleagues studied 100
Indian eighth-graders and their parents, all carrying a device that
signaled them to report on their experiences at random times during
the day. When signaled, Indian teenagers were often at home with
family, and they reported more favorable emotions than a comparable
sample of American teens. "For Indian teens, family time seemed to
be a positive experience," he said.
In a separate report on the youths'
fathers, Larson reported that Indian men were also heavily invested
in family life. The random signals often found them thinking about
their families and talking with their children.
In contrast, American fathers often
report bringing work-related emotions home or being happiest at home
when they are engaged in leisure-time activities, said Larson.
If American families slowed down and
stayed home more, would the quality of our relationships improve?
"Certainly there are a lot of parents whose lives are so busy that
they're not there at key moments in their children's daily lives,"
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But creating more family time won't
help if American teens find time with their families unpleasant, he
added. "We're really challenged to create family time that's
rewarding for young people -- so that they're not wishing they were
somewhere else," he said.
So Larson encourages parents to start
conversations that are woven around their children's interests. "It
helps if parents stay involved with their child's school or
activities so they have a starting point for conversation," he said.
The researcher found that Indian
fathers were more successful than American men at engaging their
teen children in conversation.
Larson said that many American men find
conversation difficult. "Their interests may not naturally overlap
with the interests of their teenage children. And they may not have
made the time to be sensitive to the topics their children are
interested in," he said.
He said it can be especially difficult
for fathers to talk to their teenage daughters. "Girls are usually
interested in people, emotions and relationships -- topics that
often make American men uncomfortable. Indian men were better able
to talk about those issues."
Larson said these parenting styles can
be explained by cultural differences. Eastern cultures emphasize
group needs, while Western culture places more emphasis on the
individual. And Indian culture has a long tradition of placing
family at the center of their lives, he said.
study of Indian teenagers is a chapter in "Cross-cultural
Perspectives in Human Development: Theory, Research, and
Applications." His study of Indian men's work and family life was
published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Suman Verma and Jodi
Dworkin co-authored both articles.
[University of Illinois news