by Syeda Hasan
An awkward silence fills the room as she searches for something to focus her attention on. The pattern on the curtains, the number of tiles in the floor — anything to save her from having the conversation her mother is attempting to impose on her right now.
“Fatima, I think it’s important to discuss this,” her mother said. “I’d like to know how far you’re going with this new boyfriend of yours.”
University of Texas junior Fatima Ali (name changed for privacy) is one of countless students who has a difficult time discussing sex and relationships with her parents. She said that as a Muslim woman of Pakistani decent, she feels her ethnic and religious background has a major impact on her comfort level when it comes to being open with her parents about these subjects, as people of this background are typically forbidden from dating and have arranged marriages.
She told her mother about her current boyfriend after her mother became suspicious of her late-night phone calls, but her father has yet to find out about her new relationship, Fatima said. She said her mother tries to stay informed about what is going on in her relationship with her boyfriend, but discussing it tends to be a bit awkward and uncomfortable.
“My parents are pretty open, and my dad encourages us to talk to him about stuff, but I would just feel weird, especially because I feel like he would think it’s wrong for me to be with a guy unless it’s time for marriage,” she said.
The lack of communication between South Asian parents and teens about dating and romantic relationships can be dangerous, she said, because it can lead to teenagers being potentially misinformed about safe sex and dating practices if they rely solely on information from their friends and peers.
“I definitely believe in the old person’s wisdom, so without it we’re all just a mess,” she said. “Kids hear things from friends and just think, ‘ok, that must be right.’ At least schools talk about safe sex, so that’s good.”
University of Texas sophomore Sneh Shah said that as a Hindu Indian woman, her parents also forbid her from dating because of their culture’s conservative attitudes towards teens dating.
“My parents are against dating for the most part and so if I was to get into a relationship, I would probably be extremely hesitant to tell them until I was sure that they would approve of the guy and until I was sure that I wanted the guy to meet my family,” she said.
She said she feels that schools do an adequate job of preparing kids when it comes to being informed about safe sex and dating practices, but having an open discussion on these topics with parents is important because it can make it even more likely that teens who have this support system will feel confident and informed enough about these issues to make good decisions in their relationships.
Austin Community College sophomore Daniela Lopez said that when she started dating at 16, her father did not approve and felt she was too young to be romantically involved with boys.
“Latins tend to be very conservative about these things,” she said. “They can be very protective, especially since I’m the youngest one. But at the same time, [my father] knew that it was going to happen at some time.”
High teen pregnancy rates results occur in areas where information and education are not readily available, she said. Parents should inform their children about safe sex practices, but also advise them to wait till they are old enough and emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibilities of sex and the potential for pregnancy.
“It’s important to have those discussions, but more importantly, give moral values,” Lopez said. “If your moral values are well stated, then it’s harder to break them no matter how much pressure is put on you in a relationship.”