Navigating the clash of values

Thomas Kulanjiyil, PsyD, PhD, is a founding member of PARIVAR International. He currently serves on the faculty of College of DuPage. He is co-editor of the book, “Caring for the South Asians-Counseling South Asians in the West.” Dr. Kulanjiyil can be reached at For any personal or family issues contact Parivar Family Helpline:(877)-743-5711.

By Thomas Kulanjiyil
As in the case of any other immigrant community, the youth of Indian American community socialize in two cultures; the dominant American culture and the Indian sub-culture. They are constantly under pressure to fit in to the norms and expectations of the larger society. The influence of school, peers, and the mass media on them is incredible. One of the major problems they face has to do with their loyalty. To which cultural norms should they demonstrate their allegiance; to their parental culture, which is relatively distant to them, or to the Western culture in which they are being raised? Because in reality they have to to operate in both the worlds, they succumb to compartmentalize their life- at home Indian, and outside the home American. Living this way is a huge burden to them, and it can lead to psychological maladjustment. 

It is recognized that the most important source of intergenerational conflict for the Indian youth is the clash of values. The younger generation is more adapted to American values and norms than the older generation.  Older generation perceives adaptation of Western values by the younger generation to be precarious to traditional Indian values. For example, the Western value of individualism perceivably clashes with the Indian ideal of community and interdependence. Likewise, the Western notion of egalitarian relationship between genders allegedly collides with the traditional Indian gender roles. Other areas of conflict arise in matters of marriage preferences, dating, divorce, career choices, and entertainment preferences.
Another problem the Indian youth face is identity crisis. Priya Agarwal, in her revealing book on the struggles of Indian immigrant youth captures this dilemma in the words of a college student, “Who are your heroes supposed to be, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, or Akbar the Great or Mahatma Gandhi? Sitting in the history class, you identify with the American colonists fighting for independence in 1778. Then you realize that your ancestors had nothing to do with that….which nations past is your own? You don’t know.”(Passage from India).

Some social scientists observe that in their attempt to assimilate and acculturate into the White society, the second generations Asians are often forced to reject the Asian side of them and thus feel ashamed of anything that reminds them of being Asian. This is true of at least a small percentage of the Indian youth. What can parents do when there is clash of values? 

l Be a sympathetic and compassionate parent who understands the realism of cultural conflicts faced by your child on an everyday basis. Be willing to talk openly about the issues of conflict. Your willingness to hear him/her will pave the room for more constructive dialogue in future.

l Listen each other’s perspectives with an open mind and be able to provide constructive assessment of both the American and the Indian cultural values. Validate positive aspects of both the cultures and recognize common grounds and areas of negotiation.

l Provide reasons for your objection to any values or behaviors of your children and clearly state alternative values or behaviors you want them to learn. Make clear why you think they are to be preferred.

l Look for opportunities where you can initiate a conversation with your child appropriately anytime. One single conversation cannot resolve the issues.  Be available to your child whenever he or she wants to pick up a conversation.

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