I have been in America for five years with my husband, our daughter who is 10, and our son who is 15. I have never had a problem with my daughter. With my son at first everything was difficult, but slowly he adjusted, got used to the American way of life, made friends, and stopped complaining about our choice to live here.
After the first four months, he seemed calm and happy. But for two years now, his behavior has changed dramatically. When we argue, he blames his father and me, that we forced him to come here, because we had no money and he says he is unhappy here, has no friends, cannot go out like in Greece, and is stuck in an apartment.
Every time this happens I don’t know how to respond. I feel remorse and guilt because I know he is right. We changed his entire life in a few months, when my husband closed the shop we had in Greece due to debt. And fortunately, he’s American and we were able to make a new start here. But I feel that our son does not appreciate anything.
We are both working hard every day to give our kids everything; we work late, we don’t go out, we do nothing for ourselves and he doesn’t acknowledge the effort we make. I don’t know what to say when these discussions take place. When we tell him that we came for a better future for him, he becomes furious, and refuses to accept it.
Most parents who have had to immigrate later in life have had similar problems with their children at times, especially if they left home when the children were nearing adolescence. And it is not unreasonable to think about the difficulties a child faces in a foreign country.
He has to adapt to a new social and school environment, quite different from what he knows and even uses a foreign language that most of the time he does not know well. All this creates a great deal of stress, especially for teenagers who are trying to find their identity at this age and their peers’ opinion is very important to them. And of course, they often express their turbulent emotional state with outbursts, shouting, and anger.
As their brain area associated with the ability to think reasonably and to judge the consequences over time has not yet developed, adolescents think using the area of the brain associated with emotions. Indeed, as the links between the brain’s decision-making center and the area associated with emotions have also not yet developed, adolescents tend not to think at all when they feel intense emotion.
This is also the case with your own son, who has difficulty controlling the intense emotions he feels every time he clashes with you or feels you are pressuring him. And he probably understands that you feel sorry for having brought him to a foreign country and is repeating it either to provoke you with negative emotions and thus exact his revenge on you in this conflict between you, or because he thinks he can make you give in to what he asks.
Moreover, at this age he does not care about the future but what he is going through now, since his brain is unable to comprehend the consequences or results of his choices in the distant future. So don’t expect him now to appreciate the opportunity you gave him by bringing him to America, not because he’s a bad kid or uncaring but because he still can’t think that way.
On the other hand, as an adult you know that with the situation as it was, you made the right choice for the future of your family. Treat him with stability and calm, avoid conflict without reason, and set boundaries that must be respected whether he agrees or not. Do not give up on what needs to be done, because there will also be some inevitable regrets, or because you cannot stand conflict with him.
Explain to him, without raising your voice or emotional outbursts, that with the situation the family was in, you made the best decision possible and that this is something he will understand in the future even if he does not like it now.
Talk to him about the challenges in his life and try together to find ways to overcome them. Ask him to come up with solutions and help him understand that life does not always turn out the way we expect it and that is why it is so important to be adaptable and open to new situations.
And above all, be patient, like all of us with children at this age. It’s adolescence and it will pass!