When it comes to helping your children make decisions in life such as college, parents must think more about how their own cultural worldview plays a role in the decisions that their children make. Many parents guide their children’s decisions based on how they define autonomy and independence. Interestingly, researchers have found varied ways that cultures may define autonomy and independence. As a result, leaving the family nest and learning how to fly can be interpreted in numerous ways based on the cultural background of the family.
The Western worldview emphasizes “individuality” or placing the individual at the heart of the decision. Parents with this Western worldview strive to help their children become independent decision-makers from the very beginning of their child’s life. Children learn to make decisions in the short-term so that they will be able to gain the skills they need to make important decisions in the long run. One researcher, Lessinger, found that middle-class American families believed that their children would gain autonomy by making their own decisions about which college to attend and what major to pursue. Parents believed that by “pushing them out of the nest” their children would become independent decision-makers.
By raising a child from a Western worldview, many parents may not provide much guidance when choosing a college for their child. They believe that they have given their children the skills that they need to make the right decision for themselves. They also believe that considering the interests, desires, needs, and wants of their child should be central to helping their child make the decision about which college to attend.
In contrast, the Eastern worldview prioritizes relationships with one another and being respectful and obedient towards parents and elders. From this perspective, decision-making is not solely about the individual— but rather, a family matter. Parents who have this cultural worldview believe that they should be making most of the decisions for their children in the short-term so that they will be able to succeed, professionally and financially, in the long run. In this case, independence and autonomy means professional and financial security. Lessinger also found that Asian Indian parents believed independence is gained later in life, after their children get married. Thus, their children are “kept safely within the family nest for as long as possible”.
Parents from an Eastern worldview believe that independence can only be gained after their children go to college, begin working, and are financially secure. As a result, parents believe that the interests, desires, needs, and wants of the family should be central to making the decision about which college to attend.
In this way, Asian American, children growing up in the West are faced with many contradictions and tensions as they receive different messages at home and from society regarding their short and long term plans. Many times, Asian Americans do not receive advice or support at school that take their cultural background into consideration. In schools, advisors do not have an understanding of the cultural values with which Asian American youth have grown up.
Asian American youth may receive messages at school that are in direct contrast to the values they have learned at home. Many Asian Americans recall feelings of confusion when trying to embrace the American values of individualism without resisting their cultural traditions or heritage. In one research study on identity development, the researcher notes how throughout high school and college she received subtle messages from her advisors and counselors that becoming an adult meant that her parent’s wishes were not relevant. However, many Asian Americans have a strong desire to please their parents based on their cultural upbringing. Many Asian American are constantly negotiating to find alternatives that allow for them to meet their own needs and their family needs and/or wishes.
By understanding our own cultural background and how we help and/or persuade our children to make decisions we are able to acknowledge the ways in which our own stance is or is not in accord with what children are being told in Western schools. We can address the conflicts, tensions, or struggles our children may be experiencing as they make the decision to go to college. In the end, our children will be able to leave the family nest and fly on their own by becoming more aware of the different value-systems that are at play when they make decisions in the short-term and in the long run.
By Amita Roy Shah, Ed.D.