Family is always thought of as the centre of one’s core, the providers of love and nurture. Families are usually there to help with one’s problems or whenever one has a bad time. However, sometimes families can be the source of that hard time, or structural violence, and one is left with nowhere to go for support. Other times, although family will provide comfort and support, one might not feel comfortable to approach their family with a conflict for fear of disappointing them, creating insecurity, stress, and fear, and consequently affecting someone’s health.
Although ‘family’ is traditionally understood as existing in the private sphere, families have a say in public institutions such as schools. Parents can affect curriculum changes, especially around sexual education. At times, parents may attempt to limit their children’s exposure to what they deem “inappropriate” learning materials, such as explicit sexual health information or english books that deal with controversial subjects. Relatedly, young children are spending more time at school and day care and less at home, so for some youth family is no longer the main socializing body that they deal with.
For LGBTQ youth, families can be a serious obstacle to being out. Dealing with a homophobic family when you’re still trying to figure out your queer sexuality can be incredibly stressful. Bullying is already a problem for LGBTQ youth, so facing a bully at home too can be exhausting. Even if families aren’t openly homophobic, sometimes their silence on the issue (for example, never discussing gay issues or having any gay friends) can still send a negative signal to queer youth. Growing up in a world without queer role models can teach queer youth that their futures are hopeless or impossible, that they are wrong, or that they are invisible. One of the most important things families can do for LGBTQ youth is talk about queer issues and make it clear that the youth will be loved no matter what their sexual orientation.
Of course, some parents are LGBTQ themselves! Traditional nuclear family structures are no longer a reality for many Canadian youth. However, this is still the norm in media representations, which may negatively affect some youth’s development of identtiy.
Acknowledgement of alternative family structures (same-same parents, single mothers, grandparents in the home, etc.) is necessarily for a more open approach to Canadian families. Additionally, some youth create “chosen families” out of friend groups.
At times, it may be difficult for immigrant families to negotiate their own cultural values with “Canadian” family values. This can cause a gap between immigrant parents and children who grew up in Canada. This can make it difficult for youth to communicate their needs to their parents, and may negatively affect their ability to access resources (such as mental health resources). This is an issue that can be faced by all youth - miscommunication, fear of judgment, etc.
Relatedly, Canadian society does not foster intergenerational relationships. Family structures work to isolate young Canadians from elderly Canadians. North American culture separates people by encouraged retirement homes and retirement communities, so that many young Canadians do not interact with elderly people.
About this Series:
This blog series was written collectively by youth co-researchers in the Voices against Violence Western Group, which met during the winter of 2014. Working together over a period of 12 weeks, these youth identified salient themes in their shared experiences, as well as how these themes intersected each other in instances of structural violence or resistance against it. Family is fifth in this series.