In 2021 I was contacted by a parenting organization in Beijing to tell me that they had arranged for my book “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” to be translated into Chinese. I was delighted, and not a little surprised. They asked if I would like a copy, and before long this indeed arrived through the post.
Following this I then received an email asking if I would be willing to offer them some help with their parenting courses. I had no idea that such a thing was happening in China, but since it is now possible to work with people in any part of the world without leaving one’s desk, I said yes.
There followed a fascinating period of work with parents of teenagers across China. The enthusiasm for my input was striking, and of course very rewarding. Here is an example of one parent’s comments to me:
“Thank you for your efforts all the time dear teacher. In fact, when I study the course and read your book, I also heal myself. I love my children very much, and I hope they can grow up happier and happier. So, I am looking forward to seeing what I can do better with your help”.
How can I offer help to parents in such a different culture? This is a question I have been asked numerous times by colleagues here in the UK. The remarkable thing is that the majority of the concerns of parents are almost identical to those in Western countries.
“Dilly-dallying on homework”
“Do some people’s adolescent traits persist into adulthood?”
“I would like to ask how to cultivate children’s gratefulness?”
“There are lots of worries and anxious of negative peer influence”
“How to limit and monitor screen time? It seems we compete with the screen to win our children back, but for lots of time, our teenagers choose screen more than us”
So where are the differences? The most striking fact has to do with the pressure on young people from the education system. Many questions focused on homework, and how parents can support their young people with the pressures they experience. Typical questions ran like this:
“The school is very intensive. The teacher put a lot of pressure on the students. Often using physical punishment, scold students”
“It is difficult to change the environment of intense learning competition. How can I help my child relieve stress, relax and face it?”
In subsequent discussions with the Chinese facilitators, they told me that academic performance is critical for future job prospects. Unless students perform well at school, future opportunities are severely limited. This leads to high levels of anxiety for both parents and young people.
This work has now concluded, although I remain in contact with colleagues in China. As one put it: “I hope you will be able to use our examples in your next book!” The most striking conclusion for me has to be the similarity of parental concerns about the teenage years. Whether you are a parent in London or Beijing, you still worry about the changes that take place as children move into the teenage years.
A second conclusion relates to the fact that there is so little support for this group of parents in Asia. I was struck by the high level of need that was constantly expressed to me. My book has become a best-seller – to my utter amazement. That my knowledge about adolescence can be so useful in such a different culture is truly extraordinary. In the webinars that I ran for parents, we were getting over 1,000 participants. Remarkable.
All in all, it proved to be a fascinating and rewarding project. It is clear that, no matter where you live, parents of teenagers struggle to make sense of this stage of life. If anything can be done to help families across the globe, it is evident that more knowledge about adolescent development could play a useful part.