Arvind and Aarti were at a loss. Their beloved, idyllic daughter Sana, who had been so sweet throughout her childhood, had suddenly started showing animosity and anger toward her parents. She seemed depressed, no longer being interested in activities she used to enjoy and lashing out at everyone around her. Because of this, the frequency of arguments in their house between parents and daughter had skyrocketed since Sana’s 14th birthday. The parents felt uncomfortable asking Sana anything, for fear she might explode and Sana felt alone and unsupported by her parents. Their fights had a very predictable pattern that everyone was aware of.
A typical fight went like this:
During dinner one night, the family seemed to be getting along relatively well. They talked about movies and interesting current events in the news. Sana seemed to be participating in the conversation, instead of moping in her plate like she usually does.
The atmosphere in the house seemed lighter. A song came on the CD that was playing in the background and Aarti took a moment to try and connect with her daughter. “Remember when you did a dance to this song?” Sana mumbled something inaudibly.
“Sana, your mother asked you a question,” Arvind said.
“Yes, I heard,” Sana said with a little attitude.
Arvind sighed loud enough for his daughter to catch that he was frustrated. He knew exactly where this conversation was going to lead. Sana rolled her eyes at her plate, knowing her mother could see.
“Sana, it was just one question,” Aarti said kindly, trying to diffuse the situation. Sana did not answer which upset Arvind further.
“Sana it is rude to ignore people who are talking to you!” Sana dropped her fork a little too loudly and her father responded by raising his voice. “What is with the attitude?”
Sana sat back in her chair, arms crossed with a defiant look on her face. This was the point of conversation where both her parents became increasingly frustrated with her and would take it out by lecturing her on her behavior, her grades, her future and everything else that they were concerned about. This was the same point in the argument when Sana would wish that she could disappear. Her frustration did not seem relevant or important to anyone. She felt like she was invisible.
“I feel like we’re losing her,” Aarti cried to Arvind some days.
“I miss the old Sana,” Arvind said to Aarti on other days.
“I wish they stopped blaming me for everything,” Sana thought to herself regularly.
Many South Asian parents struggle with family conflict, especially when their children become teenagers. For fear of their child’s future, parents become very anxious to fix the problem right away. In their minds, the problem is the their child. By lecturing, mentoring and even offering counseling, parents believe that if their child can improve, the situation will improve.
However, in most cases the symptoms the child shows is often a reflection of a larger problem in the entire family. Sana’s sudden argumentative nature, attitude and onset of depressive symptoms are a clue that something else is going wrong. By feeling blamed for everything, Sana’s symptoms become exacerbated. By focusing all of their attention in Sana, neither Arvind nor Aarti recognize what the larger problem is.
If they were to all step back, they would realize that around Sana’s 14th birthday, Arvind lost his job which caused him significant stress. Since Arvind and Aarti had numerous pre-existing issues in their marriage including resentment toward each other from years prior, the stress reignited these ill feelings toward each other. They began to argue constantly with each other which created a stressful environment in the home. Neither Aarti nor Arvind did anything to improve the situation which affected how they disciplined Sana. This affected Sana, who was already feeling significant academic pressure from her parents and her method of coping was to lash out at everyone around her, creating a cycle that no one could remove themselves from.
When a teen or a child shows symptoms of problematic behavior or emotional health issues, it is a sign that no one person is to blame but that everyone in the family is responsible. The family is best served to identify what everyone is doing to contribute to the problem and what every person in the family can do differently to address it.
For referrals for family counselors to help with this process, please contact MySahana.
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