Changing bodies, hormones and their emerging identities as young adults all tremendously affect teenagers. Consciously or not, their cultural backgrounds also influence them. Embracing elements of a teen’s cultural background can reinforce positive self-image. Some cultural characteristics might become hurdles that teens need to overcome in order to finish school or accept authority. Teens might also consciously adopt norms of new cultures as part of their adolescent identity, for example, deciding to join a church group or study abroad.
Cultural differences can affect the way teens communicate at school. For example, students from Latin American and Asian cultures might demonstrate respect for their teacher by avoiding eye contact, according to Great Schools.org. Native American cultural norms consider eye contact with the teacher, or volunteering an answer, to be showing off. Teachers who don't pay attention to cultural differences might make assumptions about a teen’s level of respect or attentiveness in class based on these behaviors. This could result in teens missing chances for enrichment or advancement opportunities.
Different parenting styles related to cultural background impact teens. For example, Asian families may emphasize interdependence and family harmony to their teens, according to the Carnegie Mellon Research Showcase. Caucasian families may draw from a more permissive, less authoritarian parenting style in comparison. Different parenting styles will impart varying cultural values to teens.
Ethnic pride, or taking ownership of a teen’s cultural background, can be as important as self-esteem for a teen’s mental health, according to Northwestern University. Culture and ethnic pride aren’t synonymous, but a person’s ethnic background can affect his family’s choices and norms. When teens embrace their family’s ethnic background, this tends to have positive payoffs. Parents can bolster ethnic pride and embrace family culture by exposing teens to positive images in the media. This provides positive role models and helps counterbalance any negative images of their culture or ethnic background that they may have encountered.
Cultural differences can also influence how teens manifest distress, according to research published in the journal "The American Psychologist." Some cultures stigmatize accessing mental health services to address distress, so teens and their families might be more reluctant to seek help. Teens from some cultures, for example, Latin American cultures, might turn to a faith counselor rather than therapist or doctor for support. African-American cultures that promote the importance of male “coolness” or aggression might discourage male teens from expressing distress. In some Asian cultures, losing face or experiencing dishonor might be cause for suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Although cultural differences can provide some context in examining a teenager’s development, it’s important to resist generalizations or stereotypes that prevent parents from assessing their teen as an individual. Cultural differences shouldn’t offer a blanket explanation for a teen’s behavior choices or self-identity. Looking for opportunities for individual development might be a better option, according to the University of California, Berkeley article, “Cultural Differences?”