Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raising American Teenagers in Lux

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to blog about this topic since I know everyone has a different view on raising kids, let alone the differences that exist from one kid to the next. Obviously, no two kids are the same, so teenager experiences vary greatly, as do parental opinions. However, having been here for almost a year now, there are definitely some noticeable differences between how American families tend to raise their kids and how kids mature here in Europe.

I was actually faced with this difference the first month or so we were here in Luxembourg. I have lived in some of the largest cities in the U.S. (L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Houston), so needless to say, I have become quite accustomed to security alarms, pepper spray, holding your keys between your fingers on the way to your car in a dark parking lot (you get the picture). I was used to the endless stream of news stories on violence, rape, etc. that came with living in a large, metropolitan area. I didn't let the kids walk to school. They were not allowed to ride their bike or walk around the neighborhood after dark, and I always insisted on knowing exactly where they were and who they were with. Luxembourg, however, happens to be one of the safest countries in the world. That being said, old habits are hard to break, and I am still not one to relax much when it comes to safety. It is true that stories of rape or murder are really few and far between here (I think I have seen maybe one of each in the last year). Most crime is petty theft, but I have heard enough stories about house and car break-ins that I do double lock my door and bring the car into the garage each night, just to err on the safe side. As for the kids, though, it is common, if not expected, that once they reach a certain age, riding the city bus (which also acts as the school bus system here) is a common method of transportation, with or without parents. So, when one of my boys calls to tell me they are heading to the center with their friends for a few hours, I still catch myself wondering if I am being too "lax" with their boundaries. I would never in a million years have allowed them to do anything similar in Dallas, so what really makes living here so different? We have had to put some guidelines in place, but I am slowly getting accustomed to that weekly phone call saying one of the boys will be heading to the center/movies/friend's house - and, "can I have some money?"

Interestingly, I have found that, in talking with friends and acquaintances here, many Europeans find Americans quite strict with their parenting and often too restraining when it comes to rules and boundaries. My boys were very quick to tell us how cursing is not the taboo here that it is in the U.S. Just go to a school sports game or linger near the playground and you are sure to hear some rather interesting exchanges laced with every imaginable curse word - often in several languages. Even a simple trip to the supermarket can bring this difference to mind when the piped-in pop music is void of censorship. Dress codes are also rather relaxed (short skirts, low-hanging jeans, piercings), and a walk past a Luxembourg high school will show that smoking is still a popular habit among the local teens. I remember watching a t.v. show one night a few weeks after we moved here. A French talk show host was interviewing Cee Low Green, right after his on-show, unedited performance of his song "F*** You". Although the questions were in French, the subtitles and Cee Low's answers were in English, so I was able to understand the line of questioning the host was having with the music celebrity. One of the first questions was what Cee Low thought of the fact that US radio and TV stations either censored his song or required him to change the lyrics to "Forget You" in order to air the performance. His answer was something along the lines of Europe being more "relaxed and laid back" than the U.S. and that he was obviously pleased that his art was not censored here. It also appeared that the host was rather amused by how "prudish" Americans seemed to be about such things.

In some ways, living in such a small country in Europe forces you, as a parent, to ease up on restrictions you would never have compromised on back home. For example, school sporting events are generally international trips for the kids. As a result, in order to keep costs down, kids often travel the night before to the city/school hosting the event and stay at the homes of local athletes from the hosting school. Now honestly, I would really have struggled letting my sons travel to another city let alone a different state at 12, 13 years of age. I would never considered letting them stay at the house of a complete stranger either. Here, it is not only the norm, but the expected. Guests bring the host family small gifts (chocolate, cookies, or flowers), and the hosting family provides the guest with dinner, breakfast and a place to sleep. The kids seem to enjoy the experience, and the parents are happy to not have to incur hotel expenses for every sporting event. Field trips are much the same - often to different countries. Sometimes it is just for the day, but often they are overnight trips lasting 1-5 days. Right now, ISL 5th graders are in Switzerland for a week of camp in preparation for their move to middle school next year. I think my oldest went on a team building field trip to a local "Outbound" camp for the day when he was in 5th grade. Senior beach week in Virginia was often to the Outer Banks or Hilton Head. Here, they head south to Crete. Go figure.

So, what do we have to look forward to as high school approaches? Well, for starters, the drinking age here in Luxembourg is 16, while the driving age is 18. So, unlike the U.S., alcohol is allowed at some school-related functions, such as prom and senior graduation events. The difference, however, is that alcohol is not the taboo that it is in the States. Wine is commonplace and alcohol in general does not seem to be as widely abused. It's not to say that "kids won't be kids" as they learn their limits, but drinking just doesn't seem to have the same stigma here. Even rock concerts are rather tame compared to those I went to at a similar age. As for driving, given that the legal drinking age is lower, I find the higher driving age to be a blessing. I have several memories of classmates being involved in serious car accidents racing out for lunch and trying to get back to class in time for the bell, let alone accidents following parties where alcohol was served. Drunk driving is rarely a headline in Luxembourg news, which I have to attribute to more responsible drinking and strict penalties for intoxicated driving.

As a parent, I am just entering these teenager years. I am both excited and reluctant to begin this phase, since it seems to come with exasperated sighs, eye rolls, and general embarrassment to your child if you are anywhere near them when they are in proximity of their friends. I, of course, now have a whole new level of respect for what my own parents went through. If only these years came with an instruction manual - in this case, one in multiple languages and cultures would be helpful.

Well, at least I am not alone in the adventure. I found this little gem on YouTube - enjoy!

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