As a parent and an expat, you inevitably worry about how your decision to live a globally mobile life will impact your children. Adolescence is already hard enough without extra complications like distance from extended family, adapting to different cultures, switching schools, and making new friends.
But how does it all really affect your kids, and are there adjustments that you can make to parent them better? And how do you decipher between typical teenage angst versus a medical health concern?
It’s never easy to be a teenager or to parent one, and this week, I welcome back Dr. Anisha Abraham to talk about the heavy stuff. She’s a pediatrician, TEDx speaker, author, and faculty member for Georgetown University Hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Amsterdam.
As a global specialist in adolescent medicine, Dr. Abraham treats youth with high-risk health issues. It’s my honor to have her share her expert tips for “big kid problems,” including mental health and suicide, body image, and sexuality.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- How your insecurities trickle down to your kids
- Do like the Dutch: the gold standard in sexual education
- Traits cross-culture teens develop which protect against depression
- Overcoming cultural stigma & finding additional support
- Asking specific questions to get truthful answers
Listen to the Full Episode
Featured on the Show:
Ho-hum “how-to” guides don’t cut it for us. Navigating adolescence as an expat adds unique complexities for both the youth and the parents. Grab Dr. Abraham’s new book, Raising Global Teens: A Practical Handbook for Parenting in the 21st Century, and load-up on advice tailored to our community’s specific needs.
- Transform your confidence, coaching practices, and bank accounts – Join Expat Coach Coalition
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae’s Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
Catch These Podcasts:
- EP 176: Getting Your Teen to Let you In with Anisha Abraham – Listen now
- Get Dr. Anisha Abraham’s Book; Raising Global Teens: A Practical Handbook for Parenting in the 21st Century
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 9:00 am in New York, 3:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 9:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
Melissa Fenton from for www.4boysmother.com says, “I thought I used to worry a lot when my kids were little. Then I had teenagers. You know what I would give right now to worry about sippy cups and nap time? Everything.”
If you are a parent of teens or you’re like me who has got a preteen, you might be feeling the same way. That sort of respect for what it takes to raise a teen. How they say, “Little kids little problems. Big kids big problems.” On top of that, we live globally mobile lives. So not only are we trying to just raise a good teen, we’re doing it with a level of complexity because of our International lives. I get it can feel daunting and that is exactly why I’ve asked an expert who deals with adolescents to join us today.
Sundae: It is my absolute pleasure to welcome back Dr. Anisha Abraham to Expat Happy Hour. She is a pediatrician and she specializes in adolescent medicine and she’s worked with teens around the world. So welcome back Anisha.
Anisha: Thank you Sundae. Wonderful to be back on Expat Happy Hour.
Sundae: So we connected in May 2020, and now this recording is happening in November 2020. At that point we were in the heart of lockdown wave one and for those of you who are listening you might recognize Anisha from episode 176 where we talked about how to get teens to open up. So if you haven’t caught that episode, do catch it, but for those who haven’t heard it yet, let me tell you more about Dr. Anisha Abraham. She has a career that has included clinical care, teaching, public health research, and media. And she’s currently on the Faculty of the Department of Pediatrics in the University of Amsterdam. And is a clinician and treats young people with high-risk health issues.
She’s also a teen expert and an educator and has been featured on TED Talks. Let me check Anisha, is that still true that you’re on the Faculty of the University of Amsterdam now that you’re back in the United States?
Anisha: You’re right. I have moved back to Washington DC. I’m still in Faculty at the University of Amsterdam, but I’m also a Faculty at Georgetown University Hospital.
Sundae: Okay, wonderful. So thank you again for making time for us. Anisha and I had a conversation about what’s the next thing that’s important to talk about when it comes to Global teens, and I’ve asked Anisha if she would mind talking about the big stuff. So you’ll know more about the big stuff if you check out her new book called Raising Global Teens: A Practical Handbook for Parenting in the 21st Century. It’s one of those things we’ve been waiting for in the Global Mobility Community. Helping us understand our teens and teens that are global or cross-cultural. So thank you for writing that book by the way Anisha.
Anisha: Well, it’s a book that really came out of parents and teenagers asking me questions in many different settings. So the real intent of the book is to just start conversations. And as we know conversations really help to create connections. And connections right now between adults and young people is so protective against all the other things that they’re experiencing. So again, this is really the intent is just to start those really tough conversations.
Sundae: Okay. And today we’re going to talk about some tough stuff. We call it the big stuff for a reason. The three things we’re going to touch on briefly today to invite the beginning of these conversations is mental health, including teen anxiety and depression, also suicide ideation. Second one being body image, and third, sexuality.
So Anisha, let’s get started with teen mental health. I’m really curious. I have a preteen. So obviously I’m starting to look towards literature on teens to get prepared. I’m not prepared for raising a teen. The hardest thing for me is, when I think about mental health, is how can I tell the difference between typical, and I’m doing finger air quotes here, “Teen behavior,” and something I should be concerned about when it gets towards mental health.
Anisha: Right. That is such an important question and it’s certainly one that I’m asked quite often by parents. And I think the short answer is that the incidence of mental health issues to include things like anxiety and depression, and even suicidal ideations is certainly increased. And the COVID pandemic has also certainly been one piece of that. And it’s really important for adults again to be aware of what some of those signs are and to know how to get additional support or even just to have those conversations with kids if they’re concerned.
Coming back to your question. I do believe that the biggest tip off that there may be a mental health issue is if there is a change from before. And sometimes these issues can be subtle. If you have a child that for example has been in his or her room all the time perhaps on their computers talking to friends but is not connecting with their friends anymore, not doing those same behaviors. A child that potentially has been a little bit moody. And again what teenager isn’t sometimes happy one moment and down the next but is incredibly moody, incredibly prickly, really irritable, you know a real distinct change from before that might be a tip-off that something else is going on. Certainly, if for any reason they are having changes in their eating or sleeping patterns that are really kind of distinct from before and sometimes we just don’t know. And that’s again where it’s so important to have those conversations and to check in and see how kids are doing. And by checking in I mean asking very specifically and we can talk more about that. But sometimes we just need to ask.
Sundae: Okay, so I’m going to go back a little bit. I’m thinking about when I was raising very young children. So babies or toddlers and something would come up like reflux and the doctor would diagnose reflux. And I looked at it. I thought wait a minute this actually started four months ago. Why didn’t I notice that, right? If I had been taking diligent notes, I would have known these shifts. So what I worry about is these shifts that happen, and I’ve watched this in my community with people that I love or even with my clients. These things are shifts, but then we adjust you know, they have that one mood outbreak and it’s big but then we’re like, “oh maybe it was just today, “ or “maybe it was this week.” But everything gets a lot clearer in hindsight where you see those patterns. Do you have any suggestions or tools, where our parents can see those patterns a little faster?
Anisha: That’s the million dollar question. How do we predict something? And of course maybe be aware of, or tune and get kids the support that they need early on and not much later. And I think that the short answer is this is the beauty of having regular connections with your kids and asking as I mentioned very specifically, “How are your friends doing? Are they feeling down or sad or stressed or unhappy with how things are going?” And as a result, “How are you doing?”
Validating those emotions. Also being aware if they are expressing that they’re feeling, again incredibly stressed or anxious or uncertain about, what’s going to happen in the future. And certainly taking the time to support them in terms of what they may be experiencing and also ensuring that you get support early on. Whether it’s from a coach or a family member or a counselor or psychologist, a health provider, if things are continuing. And you’re again afraid that you’re not able to get them the support that you need but getting that early on and realizing that many providers right now are doing telemedicine. It’s easy sometimes to just have that one or two time conversation to ensure that things are going the right way.
Sundae: Right. So this reminds me of our conversation from episode 176 where you taught me that little trick of: “Don’t ask them directly, but ask about how their friends are doing.” I love that tip one other thing that I’ve learned from experts and just with my own family is sharing stories of when like, “I struggled or when I was feeling low.” And I’ve noticed how my children, they have really big eyes when I say something. We talked about depression and I said, “Yeah, there was one time in college. I was really low and in hindsight, I think it was depression,” and their eyes get really big because they don’t see that as being possible with me because I’m happy now. Right? So that is another way that I found at least with my younger ones, they absorb that.
Anisha: I think that’s such a good point and again also expressing to them. You know, Mom or Dad or one of us, we’re also kind of going through a tough time right now. Things are tough or we’ve had a tough time like this before when we were your age. So, some of this is not unusual but having said that, it’s so important to be able to talk about it and get that support and not always feel like this because that can really happen in so many other ways.
Sundae: Okay. So now I have another kind of provocative question. I don’t know if you’re willing to take a stand on it, but do you know based on the research whether cross-cultural teens or TCKs are at a higher risk for depression?
Anisha: I think the short answer is that I’m not aware of data showing that they’re at higher risk for depression, but I can certainly say that they also experience a lot more change and transition than perhaps other young people. And are also experiencing differences in culture and questions about their own identity at a higher level than maybe other young people are. And so being aware of that, I think is really important.
On the flip side because of all of these changes that they’re experiencing, because of perhaps again having different cultures on a daily basis, they are also known to have adaptability and tolerance as part of their strengths. Which can give them a tremendous level of resilience to handle some of those issues related to depression. So my answer back is that cross-cultural kids have a number of wonderful traits that can actually be very protective against depression, but they also have some circumstances that occur that could put them in slightly higher risk for some of these issues. So again increasing awareness, increasing connections and conversations is so important and in this community.
Sundae: So, okay, so that’s like the good and it’s like a balance, right? So our kids are perfectly equipped because of the resilience and the life circumstances create unstable situations, right? So, what about culture? We have some cultures that are very transparent about mental health awareness. And putting that on the table and what I’ve learned as a coach and with my community, there are some cultural groups which hide when they’re struggling emotionally. Or there isn’t cultural permission to seek out support from a counselor or psychologist. What do you suggest for people who are embedded in a culture where there’s almost shame around admitting you’re struggling or shame around being the family whose child is seeing a psychologist. I’m sure you see that all the time in your practice.
Anisha: Right, right. And this is a really good question that you’re asking and it certainly does come up quite often in my experience working with young people and certainly having lived in various places to include Asia. And of course being South Asian myself certain cultures as you mentioned are incredibly open in terms of talking about these issues and getting counseling or support. And another culture, this would be almost taboo. There’s a tremendous amount of stigma about taking your problems to somebody else and airing them out or potentially even having you know, the label of anxiety or depression or any of these issues. That would also be tremendous. There would be a lot of stigma attached to it.
And I think it’s really important for families that have that cross-cultural background to be aware of the culture and community they’re in but also being aware of how important it is to sometimes break through that stigma and those taboos to get their children the support that they need. At the end of the day, you want your child, you want your teenager to thrive and you want to take what’s best practices that you know. And also sometimes to be able to at least maybe be aware of what might be holding people back from getting that support. So navigating that I think is really important. So yes.
Sundae: Well, and for me, I’m just holding my breath because I come from a culture where the bias is, ask for help, right. So I admit that as a bias to my culture where it’s pro ask for help, right. And the reason why I’m holding my breath is because from that bias as well, and that positioning is I see it as a matter of potentially life-or-death. If your teen has suicide ideation and there’s a cultural layer which is preventing families or communities from sending a clear message that it’s okay to reach out for help, and to do so without shame. My heart just skips a beat, right?
So, how do you navigate that when it comes to something as serious as suicide and how can the stigma be broken when it’s so closely tied to cultural values?
Anisha: I think the short answer is that you need to be an advocate for what’s best for young people and I say this very specifically from my time in Hong Kong where at one point the suicide rates had really increased. And again, I even wrote an op-ed related to this and how important was to get young people to support but also realizing how multifactorial those challenges were in terms of what cause suicide and certainly how we need to break down those barriers. So, these issues can be very specific to communities and two cultures. But being advocates, informing others, educating people, being sensitive to these barriers are really important.
And as you know, as a provider, we can’t impose always our own feelings on our families and our patients. We need to be attuned to where they’re coming from and to give them good scientifically validated information as to why this is important. And to again create a situation where they can get this up the help that they need but still be attuned to what their own moral compass, or their own values are. I think suicide is one of those cases where that is an emergency situation where you really need that help soon. And in that case, I’m much more likely to try to push back on those barriers more than other situations. But I think again, it’s so important to be attuned to these issues and try to kind of gently get families and young people to be aware of why support early on is so important.
Sundae: All right, Anisha, we’ve talked about stigmas and how important culture is in the quickness to seek out support. And you know from your practice and what I’ve learned from my clients across cultures is, there are some value systems and mechanisms in a community which really create a resistance to let’s say, medication or counseling or even therapy. So what are some things that people can do when that is just really not an option right now.
Anisha: You bring up a very good point Sundae, which is that we need to again be attuned to culture and also sometimes inherent resistance to take on certain measures and certainly realizing there’s a lot out there that we can do to address issues related to Mental Health. So I very specifically say that coming back to the basics related to sleeping and eating well are important. Certainly taking time for exercise and we know that exercise builds up endorphins which are feel-good hormones which in some ways can actually help and can be as powerful, sometimes as an antidepressant.
Certainly coming back to having conversations with other family members, you know, trusted family members or other trusted adults can also be very productive if they don’t want to go outside of the family or outside of that smaller community for support.
Journaling, mindfulness, these are all wonderful techniques that can be very helpful in also addressing this issue more than just counseling or even medication.
Sundae: I love that because it’s so less threatening, right? Talking about sleep or exercise is such a less threatening approach than you need to go see a Psychologist, even though our entire community never goes to Psychologists. That is amazing. Thank you for offering that.
Anisha: Absolutely, I think again coming back to those basics are important and sometimes you can build on that. And once you’ve tried all that and you’re still continuing to have some challenges related to Mental Health, that’s where you can also bring up, you know, there’s a variety of other options that we may need to tap into now. Now that we’ve tried the ones that we have already used that are really basic. Can we explore those as well?
So, it’s good to have, again, options and to continue to bring up new options and help families that may not have that comfort level initially to be open to trying those new options.
Sundae: Absolutely. And maybe not even comfort, it could also be resources or access. For me when I hear that it helps as a parent feel empowered, like, “I can at least start here and I can do this next.” And I’m sure for the teen as well is a way for them to see, “Okay there’s a lot of places where I can control the way I’m engaging to help me help myself,” that they have within their fingertips. So wonderful.
And that’s why there’s such an importance of having cross-cultural awareness on how to reduce risk, that it can’t come from one school of thought, it’s got to be a cross-cultural approach because it’s not as simple. It’s complex in any culture, but when we’re in cross-cultural or TCK context in spaces where we aren’t surrounded by a community that has known us since we were tiny, it can get a lot harder.
So just for the listeners who if you’re thinking this is really important and you want to read more about very specific advice on what to look out for, that is something you can check out in Anisha’s book because it’s such an important topic for us to begin that conversation. In your home, in your community, at your international school or wherever you might find yourself. Can we switch gears to another big thing? We talk about big stuff. The first one was about Mental Health, very connected to Mental Health, I think is body image. What do you think or what do you see with teens increasingly in the Global Mobility Space around body image?
Anisha: Well, we certainly know that the incidence of young people that are dissatisfied with their own body image has increased. And certainly cross-cultural kids could also be at slightly higher risk depending on the community that they’re living in and if there’s big differences in terms of what is considered the norm and what their own appearance is like. So I think again just being aware of this certainly also knowing that social media, for example for some young people can increase the likelihood of them having a body image or eating disorder related issue. We know that young people that are constantly checking for example, their social media feed and really rely on how many likes they get or comparing themselves to others are about two times higher risk for body image and eating disorder related issues. Also, there’s family history puts them at increased risk of their peer group also struggling with similar issues. They’re at increased risk. So being aware of that I think is really important.
Sundae: So as a parent if you notice, like what are the signs that this is something you need to keep a better eye on or have deeper conversations about in your family?
Anisha: One of the questions that I ask in the clinical setting that certainly encourages parents to consider as well is asking a young person, “When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see and are you happy with that?” And Sundae, I’m just amazed at how many times I have young people that will say things like, “You know, Dr. Abraham. I have a big nose, but everyone else has a big nose, so it’s okay.” But then I will also have young people that will come in and say, “You know, Dr. Abraham, I’m really unhappy on a regular basis with what I see. I think I’m really fat. I am really ugly.” And they’ll kind of go on to tell me all the things that they want to change about themselves. So I tell young people that if from time to time, you’re not happy with yourself that’s normal in adolescents to kind of struggle with some of these issues are to have what I call a bad hair day. But if this is something that you’re feeling on a regular basis that you’re dissatisfied with yourself and that you’re not happy with what you see, we need to make some changes.
So I think again dissatisfaction certainly if there’s other little tip offs like they are, you know dieting on a regular basis or restricting their intake. Sometimes even suddenly becoming a vegan or vegetarian can be a tip-off that there’s been some changes in diet and they’re again there’s something that they want to do. Again, I realized that a number of young people become vegan and vegetarian for other reasons, but I certainly do ask more specifically about body image when I have a young person that’s completely changed their diet and I worry again if it’s a form of restriction. So these are some things to think about. And body image is not just an issue in young women, but also in young men and I certainly have had boys come into clinical settings where again, they’ve also struggled with perhaps not having body muscle mass. Or feeling if they’re too small or too short and those kinds of issues. So being aware that it’s both boys and girls I can struggle with it.
Sundae: I was shocked when my young boys knew the word six-pack. I was like, “What? You guys are talking about having a six pack and you are in elementary.” Like, how? When did that sort of body ideal come into the conversation. Shocked me! So when I hear you, I’m going to be really transparent, when I hear you I get that the teens are going to tell you that because you’re the doctor and you are the medical authority and you’re a safe space, right? I am going to bet that this is harder when you’re at the dinner table and the parent asks that. I think we talked about this last time where if I try to engage in a conversation, it could be cringey.
So what strategies do you have for parents to, I hear you saying watching for behaviors, but in terms of conversations, how can a parent get in that steel trap?
Anisha: Right, and I think this goes back to our earlier conversation about how do you even talk to young people? And I think that again talking about peer groups is a fabulous way to get a sense of what young people are thinking about. As I mentioned when kids have friends that are constantly dieting, they’re constantly checking their appearance or really worried about what they look like and they’re even creating pressure for your own teenager to have a certain appearance, that is certainly a red flag. And something to be aware of and talk to your teenager about. As I mentioned, if there’s other people in the family that are also struggling with it. Sometimes as adults I’ve had, you know parents make comments like, “I need to diet. I look really fat today,” and these things trickle down to kids and can also affect how they’re feeling.
So being aware of that and knowing that they’re really picking up on these cues and that they themselves are going to start to be unhappy and try things. Maybe another Important thing to be aware of. So I think it’s really awareness. It’s asking very specifically. It’s asking about peer group. It’s looking at what they’re checking out on social media. It’s those subtle comments that they make about themselves and at the end of the day the real focus I think is how we can switch from having them think about what’s on the outside to what’s on the inside, and again building on self-esteem by building on their strengths and what they really can do well. So I think that is also part of what we should be having conversations about.
Sundae: Thank you for bringing up the modeling impact that we as parents have because I do think that makes a big difference of how are we showing up in our own lives in relation to our body, in relation to how we take care of ourselves, in relation to how we nurture our own mental or physical health, right? And I think that’s really important. And it’s honestly an uncomfortable mirror I think for some people because it’s so easy to want the best for your child and want them to do the best for them and forget that you’re not showing up in that same way for yourself.
Sundae: All right, we have the last of the big stuff. We said we’re going to talk about three things. And this is the last one and I can feel, this is so funny because I can feel my face go pink. I grew up in a family where we talked about the “S” word. I hope my mom and dad don’t listen to this episode.
I swear to God, my dad would probably rather that I do drugs before have sex as a teenager. So sexuality can be really uncomfortable for some families. Definitely depending on the cultural context. Depending on your own family upbringing. What are the important conversations we need to be having with our teens?
Anisha: This is such an important question and I will just back up and probably ask any of the listeners, how many of you had a conversation with your own parents growing up about sexual health and sexuality? And would probably say that many folks didn’t or if they did it was somewhat awkward or disjointed. And with many, it wasn’t an open conversation, couldn’t even say, you know, “sex.” So I think it’s really important to realize that and to know this is not easy and when I talk to young people, I also ask them the same question and most of them tell me that they haven’t had an open conversation. And if they did again, it felt really strange or awkward and sometimes it’s funny what they tell me. For example, one of my teen patients in Hong Kong told me that her mom said that she wasn’t allowed to have sex until she got into a good university. So that was the conversation. And so that’s what you’re gonna get as a result of it.
So coming back. What is it? What are the very specific things that we need to do as adults when we’re talking about this. I’ve learned so much as a parent and certainly as a physician from my time in the Netherlands where I think their sex education is really the gold standard for around the world. And the data shows that young people in the Netherlands also have one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy. The highest rates of saying when they do become sexually active that it was a positive experience, which is not the case in many parts of the world.
And the real focus in the Netherlands is of course starting early. Mandatory sex education starts by the time kids are four or five but it’s very developmentally appropriate and then it starts to slowly ramp up. But the focus is that sex should be something that’s positive. Not that we shouldn’t have sex over we don’t talk about it. And if you think about that that’s a really novel way of thinking about this whole view. But as a result, it becomes more nuanced it’s you know sex with should be something that should be positive. But also it’s something that you have control over and it’s something that you can have a dialogue over and something that you can potentially, you know weigh on.
And so there’s a lot of other things that come into it, but there’s this whole issue of responsibility and control and something that again can be positive. What can parents do? How can we start to have those conversations? My first very specific tip is, be like the Dutch and start early. It’s never too early to have a conversation about things like good or bad touch. About what is happening on their phones and you know things like pornography or sexting and what’s out there. It’s never too early to talk about things like, touching oneself and masturbation because kids are so curious about these things and they ask me all the time and parents feel very strange, but it’s so important to have those conversations at home.
And certainly as they get older, talking about again, consent and the effect of alcohol on consent. And those kinds of issues. So start early. Be specific about anatomical parts. I have kids that come in all the time and say, that thing down there and I said do you mean your “*.”
Just use the words that are appropriate. Don’t make it so mysterious and strange that kids are afraid to refer to things. And as I mentioned the more we say, “don’t do something,” kids are more likely to do it. So again back to let’s talk about this and the responsibilities that come along with it. And are you ready for those responsibilities? And if you’re not, how can we make sure that we hold off on this until there’s a time when you are ready. It’s a better and more nuanced and positive way of having discussion than saying, “Don’t do it, It’s never going to happen. These terrible things are going to befall you,” because kids again are going to probably be curious and want to do the opposite. So starting these conversations. Planting the seed and light and laying the ability to come back to you when they have questions is such a valuable thing when it comes to sexual health.
Sundae: I mean, when I hear this, these are all really uncomfortable for people who grew up in family cultures or national cultures or whatever where this is all taboo, right? And I’m when I hear that, this is why I love having you on the program because from a medical perspective from a scientific perspective you’re saying, “this is important for development.” And what I’m hearing is that this is so important for the development. We have to get uncomfortable and have these conversations. I’m curious. Do you indirectly coach parents on how to have these conversations or do you do focus only on direct conversations with the teens in your practice?
Anisha: I’ve talked to both parents and teens and certainly also work in schools and organizations where I talked about this on a regular basis. And I have all the time parents that come in and like, “I have no idea how to do this,” or “Could you please talk to my husband because he needs to be the one to have that conversation with my son.” And a very nervous Dad that comes in like, “I don’t know what to say.”
So I think it goes on both ends and kids of course need to be having conversations with their parents, but certainly parents need to also create that atmosphere that kids and teenagers can come to them. As I said young people are really curious, they have so many questions. And again, if you don’t know where to start that’s certainly a reason to get my book because I start in my book each chapter with the questions that kids are asking me and then the questions of parents are asking me. And I think it’s really amazing to see those questions and even maybe just to ask young people are these some of the questions that you’re thinking about? Or other people are thinking about and what do you think about that as a conversation starter? But kids are really really really curious and if you don’t provide that information and you’re relying on them to potentially get some of this in school. It may not be the perfect, you know, place to get all that information. And otherwise you’re going to the internet or they’re going to their friends.
So again at the end of the day, you as an adult should be that place where they can come back to to get that information and if you don’t feel comfortable then getting another trusted adult, because I believe in the Global Village, as that person to help you can be helpful. And if not, you know, as I mentioned getting books or you know, bringing your child into their health provider so they can start having those conversations in a different way but it’s so important to start early.
Sundae: Mmm-hmm. What I love about what you shared is how many other ways that you can begin this conversation if it’s scary in the beginning like you said, “Hey, here’s this book.” Or “Here’s what I read in the book. Here’s a question. Do any of your friends have that question.” Or you said outsourcing it to another adult or a practitioner.
One of the things that hit me really hard as a parent was, well, I don’t know who the quote was from but they said, “Be really mindful about what you instill in your kids around things like body image, sexuality.” It could even be religion. Whatever it is. They said, “Because if you don’t instill that in them, someone else will.”
Anisha: Right, right, that’s just a fabulous point about anything that we’re talking about in terms of, what are our own morals? And how we want to impart that to our kids. And knowing that they’re just in this really interesting time where they’re also with their peers and their in other cultures, they’re experiencing other cultures and other norms.
So at the end of the day, it’s so important to talk to our kids about how we feel about things and certainly how we can support them and also help them to address things like peer pressure or experiences that they may have in another culture that’s different from our own.
Sundae: Mm hmm. So one of the things I really appreciate about your approach that I noticed in your book is this positive attitude about teens and I’m going to say that as a parent because I think there’s a lot of trepidation when you have young kids and you hear all the time, “Little kids little problems. Big kids big problems,” right? So when you’re on the cusp of having teenagers and you’ve heard that for 10, 11, 12 years. There is some respect for what it takes to really show up for your teens.
Help me. And for those of you who are listening who also have that same amount of respect for just what it takes to raise teens. Help me understand what do I have to look forward to? And what are the important skills for me to stay grounded and strong as I go through the ups and downs of raising teens?
Anisha: Well, I think that the reason that I chose to work with young people and teenagers is that I felt there was a tremendous amount of hope for the future. And that if I could connect with them and have them talk to me about what their dreams were for the future, but also some of the things that they were dabbling with maybe some of those high risk issues that I could really help them in terms of what that life trajectory is. And so much of what happens in terms of adult health issues is reflected by what happens in the adolescent years. In fact 80% of chronic health issues really have their roots in the adolescent years. So for me ensuring that adolescence is a positive experience. It’s one where we can help them to navigate not only to be healthy in their identity physically, and sexually but also culturally is so important because it really helps establish that foundation for adulthood.
And again think about your own experience as a teenager and some of those things that are still lingering as adults. Those issues that were unresolved. So I think this really gorgeous time and it’s also where you have the height of learning things, and remembering things, and experiencing things. It’s a beautiful, beautiful time. And harnessing that, and building on that, and supporting our kids is so much of what I work on and I certainly would like to impart to other parents, adults, and educators.
Sundae: That is an immense opportunity. Like you said 80% of what’s going on impacts the life trajectory and that is totally counter to the sort of the conversation we often hear of counting down until how many years when they leave the nest. It’s actually like let’s utilize every single day that we have because it counts so much. So I love that so much.
Thank you so much for helping us understand how critical this time is for us to show up as parents and giving us the things to look out for. What I’m noticing, Anisha, is as parents we really have to be switched on to our children’s behaviors and we need to be tuned in to them. And we’ll only know if we’re tuned in by watching them and then having some of those creative conversations to try to access what’s going on. So, I don’t know, is there something I’m missing from sort of the best practices here, when we’re looking at getting tuned into our global teens?
Anisha: I think probably two points. The first is just realizing that when we talk about teen brain development that adolescence and the brain is not fully developed until sometime in the mid 20s. So being aware of that and just realizing that there’s a huge continuum and so much of what young people are doing during adolescence is governed by what we call the Limbic System which has to do with trying and testing, and pleasure and reward. But experimenting and becoming an individual and creating autonomy. It’s a really important part of adolescence and this process goes on for a long period of time. So being aware of that and knowing that you know, we’re going to be in that support role for a while is really important.
But I think the second piece of this is to know that as parents, we don’t always have to have all of the answers and sometimes we’re going to make mistakes. And as I tell my own kids, “I’m figuring this out sometimes,” and they make me feel humble all the time because I’m always learning, despite all the advice that I give to others. I’m learning sometimes as a parent, what is it that works and what doesn’t? I’m still realizing that we again don’t always know, sometimes we have a handle on these things. And being open to our kids. You know, I’m trying to, I may not always be perfect. I sometimes make mistakes, but we’re going to ensure that we try to do this together.
And like I said being open to the fact that you are not alone as a parent. There is a global village and I’m the first to reach out to my parents, to aunts, uncles, anyone that’s out there that I know that’s going to connect with my kids when I don’t always feel like I’m interfacing. And certainly of course, I have a wonderful husband who sometimes really knows better about how to handle things in certain situations. So being aware of that and being able to kind of use that and tap into it. It’s a really good way to think about something that potentially could be daunting to parents.
Sundae: One of my clients, what I love, what she says is, “Giving yourself some space and grace.”
Sundae: I’m cracking up because my kids I tell my kids, I’m like, “You are biologically designed to take risks right now and you are biologically programmed to probably not make very good decisions until your prefrontal cortex is completely developed.” And they always joke with me because you know, my son is really little and he thinks I’m using too scientific information. But I’m trying to say, “Hey listen to that inner voice deep deep deep inside, not always what your brain is telling you to do.”
So I’m going to tell them that the doctor said the same thing that I did and it makes me feel very validated. All right Anisha, I know that our time is coming to end and I just want to say thank you so much for the work that you do. Do thank you for the time, I cannot imagine how many hours you spent in writing Raising Global Teens, but it will be worth it in terms of the impact it will have in our global community. So, thank you so much for that and for joining me again on Expat Happy Hour.
Anisha: Thank you, Sundae.
So there you have it, some of the big stuff. We talked about big things like teen mental health and issues like depression and anxiety and even suicidal ideation and what we as parents can do to be aware of the signs. And what are some of the things that we can do if we’re feeling like we’ve got to get more connected to our kids and take more action.
We covered things like the importance of body image not just in girls, but also boys, so that it doesn’t lead to eating disorders and if it does what do we do then. And then, of course, the “S” word, how can we talk about sexuality with our teens so that they have a healthy relationship to their own sexual development throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
Big things and that’s why I’m so grateful to have been joined by an expert today to help create those conversations about that so that you can have those conversations at home.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with a quote from Melissa Camara Wilkins. She says, “‘I’m fine’ is shorthand for ‘I’m not dead yet and I don’t really want to get into the rest,’ but do. Do get into the rest. That’s where all the good stuff happens.”
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