Pakistan became an independent nation in 1947 after it was carved out of the existing country of India for the purpose of providing a national homeland for India's Muslim minority. To this day, nearly 95 percent of Pakistan's population practices Islam, and religion and tradition create firm boundaries around all aspects of a Pakistani teenager's life. In school and at home, the religious culture defines what a young person can and can't do.
Pakistan is plagued by poverty and a literacy rate of just 55 percent for people ages 15 and older, according to 2009 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Those children who do attend school find a strict and serious atmosphere of learning. Youth for Understanding, an international cultural exchange program, describes some general characteristics of Pakistani schools: students are required to show respect to teachers, and when a teacher is in the room they can't joke or speak about topics unrelated to the subject being studied. Cell phone use and fighting are prohibited, and all students must pass an end-of-year exam to advance to the next grade. It's not all grim slogging, though; most Pakistani school offer sports and other extracurricular activities such as drama club.
The extended family is highly regarded in Pakistan. According to Samina Mahsud-Dornan, writing in the "Ulster Medical Journal" in 2007, families still average nearly five children each. Grandparents often live with the family, and as children grow into teens, they learn that elders are to be respected and their wisdom consulted. The family works together to support its old and young, and teenagers are not usually expected to contribute financially. According to Youth for Understanding, they do have responsibilities around the home, such as cleaning and helping with other household tasks.
Men and women have distinct roles in Pakistani society, with the men generally being the wage-earners and even educated women usually becoming homemakers. The gender distinctions are also sharp for teenagers. According to Youth for Understanding, Pakistani parents strongly discourage mixed-sex socializing, and boys and girls are usually separated even in co-ed schools. Boys can shake hands, joke, or hug one another in greeting, and girls can do the same with one another, but such contact is frowned upon across gender lines.
Clothing and Hygiene
Teenage boys and girls in Pakistan both wear "shalwar kameez," traditional garb consisting of baggy pants that taper at the ankles and shirts that come down to the knees. Girls also usually wear a head scarf. Students in schools and colleges are required to wear uniforms. In urban areas, many Pakistanis are donning western garb. According to Youth for Understanding, Pakistanis put a heavy emphasis on cleanliness, and it is common for teenagers to shower once or even twice daily. They avoid wearing the same clothes two days in a row, though girls might not wash their silk clothes after each use.