The Secret Life of an Indo-Canadian Teenager

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By Amrita Sandhu

Amrita Sandhu
Amrita Sandhu

Being an ethnic minority in the Western world can be a real struggle. This holds especially true for individuals who have immigrated here. However, what about second generation immigrants? There is a near tangible mental stress related to this challenging duality of life. Perhaps this comes with the territory of being a foreigner of two countries to which one supposedly belongs. One country is the home of our roots, and the other is from where we have gained our wings.

Oftentimes an individual is forced to make choices which indirectly reinforce exactly how “Indian” or how “Canadian” he or she is. Depending on what stage of life one is in, his or her tendency to choose either way may vary.

The time of one’s life in which feeling torn between worlds can be especially troublesome is during adolescence. This is typically a period of life in which people try to assert their independence and carve out an identity for themselves. Well, one can just imagine how challenging this could be if the individual is constantly battling between two ways of life.

More specifically, the majority of the Indo-Canadian youth of today are born to parents who have immigrated here. No matter how many years ago this may have been – many of them still carry with them the values which have been ingrained in them from their “motherland.”

Parents often have certain expectations of their child to fall in line with these more “Indian” ways of life. This could cause the teen to be forced to create two personas for themselves.

This may be a generalization, and it could be argued that teens from various backgrounds have a “social self” and a “family self.” However, this divide is much more accentuated in the case of having two major influential cultures a part of one’s daily life. The link between biculturalism and the formation of a clearly defined identity has been examined in several academic studies. One particular study conducted on second generation Indo-Canadian youth confirmed that there is indeed a direct correlation between these two factors.

This issue becomes even further so magnified when the individual struggling with this balance of life at such a vulnerable age is an adolescent female. There is no doubt that females experience differential treatment in comparison to their male counterparts in Indian culture. There may be various justifications for this tendency. However, it makes it all that much harder to develop an identity which falls in line of what is expected of them.

It would be beneficial for Indian parents to encourage their children to examine the manner in which they portray themselves as Indo-Canadian youth. It is important to reflect upon times when they may have been forced to choose between what is expected of them and what they actually wished to do. Oftentimes teens are “wrapped up” in making sure their parents do not ever discover what their “social self” is up to. The downfall of that may be that once many years pass, they may realize the only person they are fooling is themselves. Surely many would agree that it is not a good feeling to realize they have abandoned their roots for a vision of a version of themselves which turns out to be someone they are not exactly proud of.

All of these factors could be the reason for which so much of our youth are engaging in troublesome behaviour. Parents must move with the times and just accept the fact that chances are it is not the neighbours kids and it is not their kids friends. It is their kids who are perhaps behaving promiscuously, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and yes – in a potentially intimate relationship much before the thoughts of marriage cross their minds.

The only word of advice that can be given to parents struggling with a seemingly distant teen is to understand that if their child is growing up in a Western culture – they must be prepared for and accept westernized behaviours. They must anticipate and educate themselves about them. There is no need to wait for that shocking moment when his or her child shows up at their front door with a police officer, comes home belligerently intoxicated, or is spotted by an extended family member engaging in some other “shameful” activity.

Perhaps if the youth were to feel accepted for the representation of the blend of two nations that they are – they will be more capable of forming an identity for themselves. This would be a version of themselves who they could be proud of. They will no longer feel the need to behave a certain way to fit in with their peers or to please their parents.  Perhaps this will allow our children to develop into well-rounded and self-assured individuals.

Although many parents current tactic for dealing with disgruntled youth is greater restriction and biased treatment towards their daughters – this is not the answer. We must raise these children higher and empower them with trust. Allow them to make their own decisions even if they falter along the way. At least it will prevent them from becoming lost in a version of themselves which does not do them justice. Hopefully, this will bring back the importance of being individuals of substance with strong values.

For tips on adjusting to life in Canada please visit: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/after-life.asp

To learn more about keeping Canadian youth drug free please visit: http://ades.bc.ca/Home/Default.html

 Amrita Sandhu is a Manager at Prabu Foods Incorporation. She graduated from Kwantlen Polytechnic University with a Bachelor of Arts Majoring in Psychology. She enjoys utilizing social media platforms to raise awareness about socially and culturally relevant issues.