Slavic Parents Lose Control of their Americanizing Kids

Many churches in the Slavic community forbid dancing or drinking, but such rules are contributing to a clash as Americanizing Slavic teens increasingly rebel against their parents and churches.

by Gosia Wozniacka

Mariya calls her children’s schools almost daily, or comes to school crying. Her three teenage sons smoke and drink, even in front of Mariya and her husband. They go out at night, don’t return home until morning and sometimes disappear for days. Her oldest dropped out of high school last year; another son did the same a few months ago. Her preteen daughter ran away from home.

Mariya, a religious refugee from Ukraine, feels she has nowhere to turn with her despair.

Yet her story is becoming common among the estimated 100,000 evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union living in the Portland area. As their numbers grow, second-generation Slavic teens and their parents are increasingly clashing in both private and public ways.

Some parents don’t want to assimilate or learn English. In the Soviet Union, they isolated themselves to sustain their faith and survive, because evangelicals were fined, jailed or held in mental asylums.But in Oregon, old-world survival skills can fracture families. As parents cut themselves off from the mainstream, communication with their English-speaking, American-raised teens breaks down, say community leaders, schools and police liaisons.

The kids balk at authority, live double lives, drop out of school and get snared in drugs, gangs or prostitution. And the parents, who sought America and its freedoms as religious refugees, now see those freedoms entice their children to reject their way of life.

Although many Slavic families are successful, with well-adapted teenagers who excel in school and in the community, those who aren’t struggle alone.

Few services are available for Slavic families. And shame in the community is a barrier to seeking help. Mariya, for instance, didn’t want her or her family’s real names used for fear of retaliation and stigma.

“Many of the older people in our community were in jail because of their faith. And now their kids are in jail in America for real crimes,” says Pastor David Klassen of the Home of God church in Gresham. “For the parents, it’s really heartbreaking.”