Adolescents are aware that there are cultural differences between people. The issues surrounding the earthquake in Haiti may have brought some cultural questions to the forefront. Whether those questions are about the Haitian culture itself or the culture of poverty, it still brings differences and similarities to the discussion table. It is important for adults to explore these types of questions and issues with adolescents. Developmentally, adolescents are rapidly developing their ability to think through issues and tackling it head-on is one way to make sure it doesnít slide into an opinion of convenience, but is truly a thought out process of their own.
As an adult in the adolescentís life, the biggest chore is to listen and refocus, helping the adolescent clarify thinking and crystallize ideas. Valuing their opinion, even if you do not agree with it, will help both of you develop more flexible and expansive thinking. If you attempt to counter an expressed opinion, it is important that you have the facts to back up your opinion. It not only provides support for you, but it models for the adolescent the way to obtain, synthesize, and express an idea or opinion.
Popular media often makes its mark by inflaming opinions and emotions. Pointing this out to adolescents and helping them learn how to find other sources of information can be an asset to them for the rest of their lives, especially if they go to higher education, where that process is or should be demanded. As the adolescent gets older, you can also discuss subliminal and unconscious programming and thinking. This will help them understand why some people do not necessarily think, but instead operate by automatic thinking, using what has been instilled instead of what they have developed.
So what does culture have to do with it? Culture is one of those instilling mechanisms that helps form our brain until we develop the capacity and capability to form it ourselves. The problem is that many people never move past this and simply use it for the rest of their lives, regardless of its usefulness to them. It is a protective and humanizing mechanism that is necessary for large groups of people to live together. It can only solve problems on one level; to move to the next level, your thinking must be elevated. This does not mean that you abandon what you know. In fact, what you know has probably served you very well. Growth, development, and maturity require that you move beyond, look back, and critically appraise the direction of your life.
Adolescence is a time of finding direction in life. If you can help an adolescent learn how to determine a direction, it is a precious gift and will serve them throughout their life and help them make the most of the culture they were born into with all its gifts.