Generational Perspectives on Education, Work & Family
How Your Values Shape Your Life Decisions
BY: JOANNA WU
Julia is in the midst of brainstorming what she could write about in her college application when her Mom stumbles into her room.
“You’re applying to Berkeley, right? I really hope Berkeley accepts you.”
Rolling her eyes, Julia responds, “I’ll apply to Berkeley, but I’m hoping for UCLA because I want to study English and film.”
“You can’t earn a living with film! Your Dad and I will have to support you forever. ”
“That’s all you and Dad care about–how much money I can make. I can support myself.”
“That is not all we care about. If you can’t make any money, then you won’t be able to buy a house or feed yourself. You can’t even cook for yourself.”
Sometimes conversations about college, future careers, life decisions, and even one’s ability to fend for oneself ends up looking like this: messy, offensive, disrespectful, misunderstood. Conversations like this aren’t unusual, especially in Asian households, as parents and children express their aspirations and values in ways that prioritize their own values and perspectives. These heated conversations can often lead to relational breakdowns and sometimes rifts between the older and younger generation.
The challenge is in how each generation communicates their difference in values. First, how aware are we of our values, and how strongly do we hold on to them? Three areas that are highly important to Asian households – education, work, and family – can become issues of great contest between the older and younger generation. Perhaps clarifying these generational perspectives will help us understand how to better communicate our personal desires and show greater respect for the other person and his or her values.
Differing Views on the Value of Education & Work
Members of the younger generation today are often referred to as “millennials.” This complex group describes those born in the 1980s and 1990s, now making up today’s youngest sector of employees. Some have praised this generation’s political engagement, technological savvy, and entrepreneurship, but others have criticized it for being narcissistic, broke, and, entitled.
“Boomers,” members of the Baby Boomer Generation, are born between 1946 and 1964. Because they grew up with the Cold War and the after-effects of WWII, this generation is often described as individualistic, free-spirited, and concerned for social causes; however, others have become cynics of the government and of those in power.
These characteristics may resonate with some American-born Asian parents, but perhaps less so with immigrant Asian parents. Instead, immigrants may place greater value on the need to be highly educated, an industrious worker, or to earn money and save it. Some of these differences in values are seen in how Asian Americans, including immigrants, value marriage, parenthood, hard work, and success more than the general public, according to the Pew Research Center.1 Stats reveal that 39 percent of Asian adults say Asian American parents put too much pressure on their children to do well in school, compared to 9 percent for American parents.2
In the opening example, Julia reacts angrily to her Mom because she thinks her Mom only cares about achieving success by being financially secure. Julia values work not by her salary but by the meaning behind the work, the ability to “thrive” in her area of expertise. Her Mom, instead, expresses her “survivor” mentality, or her belief about work as a means to attain stability in life.
Both generations offer insight on the value of education and work; one may seek a practical, traditional education, whereas another may value a well-rounded education geared more toward a plethora of experiences. Being aware of these differences sheds light on differing approaches to education and work. Millennials appreciate it when older people offer space to freely explore. Parents will appreciate it when their children consider wisdom they have to offer about navigating potential career paths.
Differing Views on the Value of Family
Sometimes conflicts between parent and child stem from differing views on how to relate to one another. In Asian households, which tend to be more hierarchical, respect for elders is highly valued. Because “filial piety,” or showing respect for one’s father, elders, and ancestors, is so important, it affects everything from daily interactions to major life decisions. A child demonstrates respect for a parent by obeying whatever his parents say. In other words, the child must follow the life plan determined by the parent, from high school activities to college major, career, and don’t forget future spouse. Asian children are aware that following their parents’ expectations is expected.
Conversely, millennials seek mutual respect, which must be earned, and not assumed because of age or status. These differing expectations often result in either or both parties feeling disrespected, unheard, or misunderstood.
In the opening, Julia feels disrespected when her Mom questions the legitimacy and adequacy of her ambitions; her Mom feels disrespected when her daughter rolls her eyes and assumes she cares only for money.
Scripture gives clear instructions on how children are to honor their parents (Exod 20:12; Prov 17:6; Matt 15:4-6; Eph 6:2-4), though this is sometimes distorted by Asian culture when parents, accustomed to giving commands, fail to treat their children as emerging adults. One way for parents to show their care and concern is to ask questions instead of always giving commands and advice, and to offer a listening ear.
In View of God’s Calling
Our cultural upbringing hugely impacts our views on education, work and family. But as we consider our identity as Christ-followers, what cultural values should we keep, and how should this impact how we view these important areas of our lives?
Our identity as believers should be visible to the world, especially in the things we care about most. When the world looks at Christians, are financial security, reputation, and status of utmost importance, or is Someone far greater than all these things? Parents have a large impact on their children’s values and ambitions, and, consequently, the opportunity to pass on a faith that keeps God’s desires always in view.
Kaye V. Cooke, professor of psychology at Gordon College, found that parents are pivotal in the transition to adulthood. She found that many emerging adults who are sincerely seeking God have an aching desire for their parents to listen to and accept them.3 Relationships between the older and younger generation can change dramatically by taking the simple step of listening.
Ways to Start a Healthy Dialogue Between Generations
Imagine if Julia and her Mom attempted to follow up on their conversation by being more mindful about the other’s values and without making assumptions.
“Can you tell me more about what you’ll study as a film student?” her Mom asks as Julia tapped away on her laptop.
“It’s amazing, Mom. I’ll get to learn the history of film, how to edit and use the latest technology. I’ll get to combine my love for writing with my interest in film.”
“That does sound amazing. You’ve always been a great storyteller. What kind of job opportunities are out there for film majors?”
Julia looks up, smiling. She never thought her Mom would support her ambition to make movies.
Our conversations with one another won’t always be perfect, and that’s because we’re imperfect people who fail to listen well much of the time. But our conversations can change when we take the position of a learner, of one who wants to know more about what the other person thinks and values.
Here are some questions to consider asking to begin a conversation about someone’s gifts or passion areas:
- What do you enjoy doing? What do you not enjoy doing?
- What are some of your strengths or weaknesses?
- What do you value about work?
- How do we know what God is calling us to do or be?
These questions, intended for both the parent and emerging adult, can also be applied to high school students as they explore educational options for post-high school education. Presence Possibilities’ mission is to provide services for both students and parents who desire guidance in figuring out career paths. These conversations are sometimes difficult to have at home because of generational and cultural differences, as well as differences in values, but we believe it begins with a willingness to listen.
- Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/asianamericans-graphics/ (accessed August 13, 2015).
- Kaye V. Cook, “Growing Up Now: A Brief Guide for Emerging Adults and Their Parents,” Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, http://cct.biola.edu/blog/2014/jul/14/growing-brief-guide-emerging-adults-and-their-parents/ (accessed September 14, 2015).