Parenting in Australia
The basics of parenting such as love, support and encouragement are found around the world, but it is likely that you will still find parenting in Australia very different than in your country of origin.
For example, an individualistic focus is largely encouraged for children. Parents are expected to raise and support their children until they legally become an adult at 18 years of age. Australians can drive a car (with a licensed driver), leave school, get married, have sex, work full-time, and smoke from the age of 16, but cannot vote or drink alcohol until 18 years of age. At 18, children often leave the family home to go to university, travel, or seek full-time work.
Equality & respect
While family values are highly valued in Australia (most fathers in Australia play a very active role in parenting; sharing equal responsibility with the mother) it is assumed that young adults will learn how to deal with financial matters and make personal and professional connections on their own. Unlike in many community-based cultures (e.g. Indian tradition is for all family members to live under one roof), it is seen as a negative thing for Australians in their late 20s and older to live with their parents.
Along the same lines, children are taught to respect themselves as individuals from a very early age. No physical or mental abuse is tolerated. Spanking children has become less acceptable in Australia in recent years and many people think it should be illegal.
Parenting in Australia is based on mutual respect and treating your child as a person with equal rights to you. Parents are encouraged to listen to their children’s thoughts and ideas, and negotiate, rather than give them orders.
This individualistic approach to raising children is reflected in later in life, when people are at school or in the workforce. To succeed in Australia, one must learn how to highlight one’s accomplishments. This is a foreign concept in many cultures where people are encouraged to be humble, let their work speak for themselves and refuse compliments.
In several studies about parenting issues for migrants, parents admitted that their methods, styles and attitudes toward parenting had changed significantly since arriving in Australia.
Researchers have identified four main parenting styles.
1. The first style is referred to as a permissive parenting style. Permissive parents are warm and accepting, and avoid confrontation with their children. They make few demands of their kids, allowing them to regulate their own behaviour as much as possible. Research suggests that children of permissive parents have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses, but have relatively high levels of self-esteem.
2. The second parenting style is an uninvolved parenting style. Like permissive parents, uninvolved parents make few demands of their children. However, they show little warmth or responsiveness toward their kids. As you might expect, children of uninvolved parents tend to be the least well-adjusted.
3. The third parenting style is referred to as an authoritarian parenting style. Authoritarian parents provide highly structured and well-ordered environments for their children. They emphasise values such as respect for authority, respect for work, and respect for order and tradition. These parents expect their children to obey standards and rules, and accept their decisions without question or dissent. There may even be some corporal punishment involved, like spanking, which is not acceptable in Australia. You could even find yourself in legal trouble, if you punish your children physically.
It’s not surprising that children of authoritarian parents are usually more anxious and withdrawn than other children, and tend to have relatively low levels of self-esteem and high levels of depression. However, these children are less likely to engage in problematic or antisocial behaviour, and they tend to perform well in school.
4. The final style is an authoritative parenting style. Like authoritarian parents, authoritative parents expect their children to respect authority and provide them with explicit standards and rules of conduct. In contrast, though, authoritative parents prefer to reason or negotiate with their children when attempting to resolve conflict. These parents encourage their kids to be both assertive and self-controlled. It’s no surprise that children of authoritative parents appear to be the best adjusted with good social skills. They are able to effectively regulate their emotions and impulses, and are less likely to engage in problematic or antisocial behaviour. These children also have relatively high levels of self-esteem and happy dispositions.
So, be strong, impart your values, but allow your children some flexibility to discover themselves, determine their futures and shape their own beliefs, without the fear that you’ll somehow stop loving or supporting them.
Parenting challenges in Australia
While many parents face many more challenges than they anticipated after migrating to Australia, they take comfort in the knowledge that they are giving their children a great start in life. They have so many hopes for them. They might want them to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. They might want them to marry and have lots of grandchildren. They undoubtedly want them to be happy.
But, then, that dream starts to crack a little. Their children start acting ‘Australian.’ They start dating Aussies. They say they don’t want to study medicine; they want to leave home to live with their friends; they want to become an artist or musician.
Then you start to think: “This is not why we brought them to Australia!” But it’s too late. You are now the parents of young ‘Australians.’
Immigrants sometimes have difficulty understanding that Australia is a country where independence, freedom of choice and equal rights for women are considered more important than cultural traditions. Remember that your children will be educated in Australian norms, have Australian friends, speak with an Australian accent, and be influenced by Australian and Western media. Your culture and traditions will be respected in Australia but if you aren’t flexible with your own cultural expectations, you’ll always be a foreigner in your new land.
In this context, here are some of the challenges you might confront. How will you deal with them as a family?
1. Finding a balance between your traditional culture and the Australian way of life.
2. Helping your kids adapt to school in terms of their studies and day-to-day activities.
3. Helping your kids make friends and deal with discrimination or bullies.
4. Dealing with kids who want to wear clothes and go to places you don’t approve of.
5. Dealing with kids who want to date outside their ethnic group.
6. Ensuring your kids don’t become involved in violence or drugs.