Haroon Tekrawala is a sophomore at Brentwood School in Sandersville, Georgia. In addition to his penchant for writing and aspiration to become a journalist, he enjoys examining his Indian ethnicity through the eyes of a concerned teenager. He is editor-in-chief of his school’s yearbook, a member of the student council, an essayist for the literary team and a member of the National Honor Society. 

Dating Dilemmas

I encourage my children to date; however, I set curfews and limitations like other responsible, concerned parents.” 

For many Indian-American teenagers, growing up under the roof of conventional Indian parents can become an experience like no other. The constant struggle of preserving equilibrium by balancing deep-rooted Indian traditions with practical American ideals gradually becomes more difficult as Indian-American teenagers venture into an ever-changing world. 

  As Indian-American teenagers, we can notice parallels between our lives and those of our American peers just as easily as we can notice contrast. In today’s age, this contrast is sharpened when the issue of dating is approached. It is perhaps the most polarizing concern amongst Indian-American families. 

Parents and their children choose differing paths when finding a solution to their dating woes. Most parents argue that this practice violates Indian ethics, while others allow their children to date with as much liberty that is given to other American teens. Teenagers quickly recognize their desire to live their lives as their American counterparts, and, when it comes to dating, Indian-American teens also desire the independence given to their peers. 

Mrs. Sonia Gupta, an accountant and mother of three, came to the United States during her early teen years with her family. She spent her high school years in New York and currently operates her accounting firm in New York, as well. She recalls when she first approached her parents to request permission for a date. “They were outraged and shocked,” she explains. “I was always one of those children who made Indian heritage a part of their lives. But I had a sincere desire to associate with a typical American lifestyle as well.” “After days of deliberation, I was finally allowed to go to the movies with this boy from my class.”  When asked about how she allows her children to interact with American culture and dating, she remarked, “I encourage my children to date; however, I set curfews and limitations like other responsible, concerned parents.” “I don’t want my children to feel ostracized when they are among their peers; nevertheless, I would be ashamed if they were unable not connect with their Indian ethnicity.”  

Malani Reddy, a sixteen year-old high school student from Athens, GA, has had the ideal opportunity to experience American culture and cultivate her Indian ethnicity. At the age of five, her mother moved to the United States with her family. After her father earned his medical degree, the two natives of Hyderabad married in India and established her father’s clinic in the United States. Malani, apart from her involvement in extracurricular activities, playing the piano and practicing tennis, also recalls her dating experiences. “My parents used to be very defensive about me dating because they thought I was too young.” “They told me for a long time that I wouldn't be allowed to date until I got into college; now my parents are tolerant of me dating (my dad is still getting used to the idea, but he lets me date).  I think they changed opinions because I talked to them about it until they saw my side, and like most other parents, they still like to meet the guy.” 

Malani accredits most of her privileges to her mother’s upbringing. “Since my mom was raised here, I think I have it a lot easier than most Indian kids whose parents were both raised in India in terms of fitting in better.” Malani also expresses the importance of associating with one’s ethnicity while shaping one’s personality. Though she leads a typical American lifestyle, she adopts certain facets of Indian traditions and culture. “We still got to pujas and the temple occasionally and celebrate some of the big Indian holidays (like Diwali) and my mom cooks up Indian food for most dinners.” Furthermore, she expressed that considering Indian values in long-term decisions, such as marriage, is imperative. “I want to marry an Indian because, although I was born and raised here, I still have some Indian ideals that I would like for my husband to share with me.”   

 It’s a relief for parents when they know their son or daughter is at least dating someone of Indian origin. However, Rohit (who requested his real name be withheld) faced a dilemma of a different sort. After moving to the United States with his parents during his teen years, Rohit lived in New York. Two years later, his father’s job was transferred to a different location and the family was forced to move to rural Tennessee. Rohit recalls, “It was entirely a world apart from the New Yorker lifestyle to which I had grown accustomed.” High school, too, was quite different; however, Rohit adapted yet again to his new environment and quickly made friends. During his junior year, he remembers being invited to the prom by one of his friends. “I was confused. I didn’t know how to be kind to her [my friend] and explain the situation to my parents.” “When I approached them, they were shocked about my request to date and concerned about the lifestyle of my to-be date.” Though most Indians do not stigmatize or choose to berate people, it is natural to be concerned about one’s children and their cultural development. “They were never stereotypical, just genuinely concerned about how this would affect the Indian values they instilled in me.”   

No matter how turbulent choosing a prom date may turn out to be or how painstaking requesting permission to go out to the movies may become, the key to success is balance and empathy. According to The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teens, one must first understand before seeking to be understood. ake this your mantra and you can combat any disagreement effectively.

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