A Community of Bullies

In recent years, the Indian community has begun to realize the delicate vulnerability of the childhood stage of one’s life. It’s when our self-esteem, mentality, and personalities are rapidly developing. The important thing to note, is that the utmost influential factor of the development of each of these traits – is a parent’s influence.

Ever notice how it a staple of our community to speak without thinking? This becomes especially true when an adult is addressing a child. Verbal abuse isn’t even considered abuse – it’s just the manner in which most Indian parents “parent.” Children who are misbehaving are degraded in the most aggressive and demeaning manner. It’s common for parents to call their offspring unpleasant names, comment on their physical appearance on the daily, and equate misbehaviour with poor character. If their children aren’t shaping up “on paper,” they’re told they’re terrible human beings.

Forget worrying about what this does to their self-assurance and identity formation. There’s much too strong of a emphasis on how a child or teen appears in the public eye. It doesn’t matter what’s going on behind closed doors or in the inner workings of a child’s psyche. All that matters is that the parents appear to be raising a stand-up kid.

Just from personal anecdote I can describe exactly when and where my self-esteem plummeted. I was born as a very fair and “cute” baby. I stayed that way until about 5-years-old. Then I began school, my nutrition took a hit, and most importantly, I began to play outdoors for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, as my pigment changed (due to increased sun exposure) – so did my self-esteem. But not because I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw, it’s because the adults around me didn’t like what they saw anymore. Their attitude toward me was tangibly different. I just didn’t know what I had done to cause the change.

They would turn to my mom and say, “she used to be so cute, what happened?”  I would hang my head in shame wondering what I had done wrong to go from being celebrated as one of the lucky “white ones” to receiving pity for now crossing over to “the dark side.” 

The Indian community places an unhealthy amount of emphasis on a child’s appearance. Don’t believe me? Just put on a few pounds and notice how many people will comment on your changing waistline. However, if you were to ace a test or master a new hobby, typically no one would bat an eye. The negative is always pinpointed and positives are swept under the rug.

Something needs to change in the way we communicate and raise our kids. How can we stop them from being schoolyard bullies when that type of behaviour is engrained in the very way they are raised? In fact, it is how they’re raised – through verbal threats, taunts, and expressions.

Be careful of how you speak to your kids and allow others to speak to them. Nothing grinds my gears more than when someone comments on my son’s weight, or other physical attributes – it makes me want to go ahead and pick apart all the things wrong with that person’s face.

Imagine throwing it right back at them – I used to be that vocal – but now I think I’ll teach my son to do the fending for himself. After all, it’s rather character defining to be able to learn of the way you can “woo” an easily swayed community or be shunned simply by the manner in which you respond to their adult bullying.

Losing our “Kaur”

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 the 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. One must question – when does that divide become damaging to the formation of a clearly defined identity?

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.

Looking back to my adolescent years I think back to the manner in which I portrayed myself as an Indo-Canadian female. I think back to all the times I was forced to choose between what I wanted to do and what I knew I should do. I was so wrapped up in making sure my parents did not ever discover what my “social self” was up to. Before I knew it, many years had passed, and I realized the only person I was fooling was myself. I am sure many would agree that it is not a good feeling to realize you have abandoned your roots for a vision of a version of yourself that turns out to be someone you are not exactly proud of.

All of these factors could be the reason for which so much of our youth are engaging in shameful 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 sort of 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. It will bring back the importance of being individuals of substance with strong values.