21 April 2009

Communication eases culture shift

The Families Commission is concerned at findings in new research that immigrant parents can feel isolated when facing problems with their adolescent children, especially if they perceive their youngsters are moving away from the traditional cultures their parents were raised in.

Commissioner Gregory Fortuin said no parent should feel they have no one to turn to. "This report shows the need for better communication and support within new immigrant communities in New Zealand to ensure parents know they aren't alone facing these issues."

Settling In - Parent-adolescent family dynamics in the acculturation process, funded by the Families Commission's Blue Skies programme, looks at the relationships between 39 migrant and refugee parents and their teenagers as they settle into New Zealand.

Written by Jaimee Stuart, Paul Jose and Colleen Ward from the Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research, Victoria University of Wellington, the report investigates the issues migrant families face and asks what might help make the transition to life in New Zealand easier.

Jaimee Stuart said, "Parents new to this country can struggle to adjust to a new culture, especially when dealing with teenagers who are exposed to influences their parents have not experienced. While children often adapt to a new culture quite quickly, parents can hold on to the safety of what they know. These parents are sometimes unsure how to balance cultural differences between raising children in New Zealand and what they were used to in their country of origin."

The report shows these migrant parents are generally coping well but many think they are the only ones having problems and that they will lose respect and bring shame on the family if others know of their difficulties. Opening lines of communication within the family, between government or community agencies and families, and between different ethnic groups, would help ease the feelings of isolation.

Gregory Fortuin said, "Many of the issues of bringing up teenagers raised in the report are normal and experienced by many other families. These parents are having to cope with settling into a new country and culture and we must ensure they are getting the support needed to make that transition as smooth as possible."

The Families Commission will share the information in the research with migrant communities and those organisations that work with them to encourage greater communication and understanding and reduce isolation.

The report will also assist with the larger project of work that looks at what is needed to ensure families and whanau can have strong, safe and resilient relationships.