Written by Doctor G

What if your kids spoke a language you don’t speak?

They do.

In my practice I see a lot of Deaf patients. They come to our office because I use ASL (American Sign Language) and I’m a family doc. As a result, I have the rare opportunity to see families where I am fluent in the language the parents speak and the language the child speaks but they don’t share much of a common language. There is only 10% concordance of Deafness genetically, which means that 90% of the time a Deaf person has hearing parents or vice versa. It’s unfortunately pretty rare for hearing parents to become fluent in ASL.

Almost 5 years ago I helped start a practice in which we see a lot of immigrant and refugee families. Our patients speak 45 different languages and come from almost 100 countries. These families have a common language but their children quickly become fluent in English, while the adults typically struggle.

When kids speak a language their parents don’t, it is easy (and understandable) for the parents to abdicate some of their decision-making. Not understanding the language usually means not understanding the culture. This is not a new phenomenon.

My parents were first generation American. My mom told her mother, “I have to smoke or I won’t be a real American kid. It’s OK!” Immigrant kids (and Deaf kids) also “explain” things to their parents, in a sentence that always translates to: “Let me do what I want, I know better.”

Sound familiar? What teen would NOT like a free pass for whatever behavior they want? They can excuse pretty much anything with the words “But I HAVE to!” What do they really mean? They mean “I HAVE TO fit in.” And they believe it with every thunderous beat of their hearts.

I talk really frankly to the parents of these kids. Not that I’m so subtle the rest of the time… Anyway, here’s my message: Don’t stop parenting! Don’t throw up your hands and hope for the best. Go ahead and get caught between this culture and your kids. Throw in your values and beliefs, give them weight and meaning and real life application.

Back to your kids. What language do they speak that you don’t? Technology. They are (or will be) more fluent and savvy in that culture than we will be. That became more concrete for me this weekend when I sat down Saturday night to watch a movie with my sons. I spent about 5 minutes trying to get the components on in the right sequence to show the movie and turn on the sound. $400K debt for higher education, but no luck. My 8yo? Offered very respectfully to help and pushed 3 buttons. Of course he fixed it.

Your teen understands her smart phone better than you do. Your tween can erase the history on the computer as soon as you walk in the room. Your elementary schooler has ideas about group gaming that baffle you. Don’t stop parenting. We can’t throw up our hands and hope for the best. It’s OK for us to get caught between this culture and our kids. We have values and beliefs, and they have weight and meaning and real life application.

Don’t you think?

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