Issues of Youth-Parent Relationship

October 7, 2015, 10:01 am

Issues of Youth-Parent Relationship

 Dr.Athiqul H. Laskar

With more than 60% of India under the age of 30, this country has a young population that makes way for an interesting study of how the Indian youth relates to ideologies of their older generation. It is the purpose of this study not only to examine where the youth stand today, as compared to their yesteryears’ counterparts, but also to assess how dynamics of this changing world has altered their relationship with their parents/elders. Before I make any attempt to offer my perspective on the above issue, I would like to clarify that this article cannot encapsulate the crux of an entire generation absolutely precisely. However, it is certainly within the scope to offer a balanced representation of a fairly large cross-section of today’s youth, be it in India or abroad.

More often than not, there are sociological perspectives that apply sweeping adjectives, such as ‘rebellious’, ‘non-conformist’, ‘apathetic’, ‘morally degraded’, ‘brash’, ‘disrespectful towards elders’, to today’s youth; in fact, there are hundreds of similar tags that are attached to the youth. It is undoubtedly true that a lot has changed in our world, in so far as how the current generation relates to its socio-cultural environment. For instance, while the older generation were very rooted to the family unit, and turned to their elders for advice when it was time to take important life-altering decisions, the youth are charged with a somewhat ‘I-know-what-I-want-from-my-life’ kind of attitude. Moreover, for today’s youth, their peers’ opinion matters much more to them than that of their parents. In such a scenario, parents find it hard to turn a blind eye to what they feel might be a ‘dangerous path’ being treaded by their children. It is natural for parents to get anxious over their children’s welfare; they want to protect their children from any pitfalls that the latter might encounter along the way. After all, they are convinced (and rightly so) that no amount of knowledge can substitute their wisdom, which has stemmed from age and experience. In their unwillingness to accept their children’s new-found freedom, parents become skeptical of the company that the youngster is keeping, and their sense of judgment, behaving like a moral police most of the time. The ‘good old days in which we grew up’ is a common sentiment amongst the elderly. Needless to say, children do not take too kindly to what they consider ‘undue interference’ from their parents, and land up retaliating. This ultimately leads to the ‘I-know-what-I-am-doing’ refrain. All this boils down to nothing but a never-ending tussle between youngsters and their parents.

The above scenario is typical of the early 1990s. This was the time when, as a result of globalization, there was a sudden change in social values. Opening up of the economy led to an increased access not just to foreign products, but also to foreign culture and values. This unprecedented ‘cultural diffusion’ led our youth to a somewhat confused state of mind, in terms of where their ambitions lay. All of a sudden, bizarre things like getting one’s navel or temples pierced, and studding it with rings of all shapes and sizes, became ‘cool’. To add to this, the youth of this period was overawed by the sudden spurt in spending power, leading to rise in consumerism.

What should the parents have done 2 decades ago?  Firstly, they should have denied the children easy access to all luxuries. This way, the latter would have respected the privileges they had, besides acknowledging their father’s hard work that had gone into earning all that wealth. A good step in this direction could have been for the parents to take their children around the less privileged localities, maybe even made them do some community service, to reinforce how fortunate they were to have all that they did, sensitizing them towards the plight of the less fortunate lot of people in this world.

Moving further, now that we have entered the new millennium, the picture of today’s youth is not all that dark and gloomy any more. In the present times, it would be unfair to perpetuate stereotypes, and tag the youth as those belonging to the ear-nose-navel pierced generation of youngsters, who know nothing better than how to blindly ape their western counterparts.  No doubt, there are still significant differences in the perspectives of today’s youth vis-a-viz their parents, but this is unavoidable.

A decade ago, globalization largely led to blind aping of the West; today it means that the youth have become a near-perfect blend of the East and the West; while, on one hand, they seem all too ready to embrace the modernization of the western world, on the other hand, they are also not embarrassed to adopt traditional values, such as participating in most of the family’s religious functions, greeting their elders in a traditional way, touching their feet, etc. With this dual cultural passport, today’s youth are more mature, adaptable and tolerant of those who may be different from them.

This is not to say that there are absolutely no deviations between the youth’s perspectives and that of their parents; expecting such absolute harmony is expecting a little too much. There is certainly a reasonable amount of tussle between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’’ like the Swedish saying that says, “If the Stone Age children had obeyed their parents we would still be living in the Stone Age”. But the scene is a lot better than it was some time back.

Parents of today’s youth (assuming that the term ‘youth’ includes all those in the 15-30 age group) were born sometime between 1950 and 1970. They have tasted much more turbulent times with their older generations. As a result, they have become more tolerant towards their children than their own parents were, decades ago. They are quick to understand that communication gap with their children will yield nothing more than emotional issues for the latter.

Therefore, today’s parents make all possible efforts to make communication more fearless and democratic than they themselves had the luxury of. They realize that the erstwhile “You-must-do-this-because-I-say-so” approach does no go well with today’s youth. Such efforts on the parents’ part engender trust amongst the youth, who find it easier to confide in their parents, whenever the need arises.

Intrinsic American culture endorses that their youth be weaned away from parents’ decision-making influence latest by the age of 18 years, whereas Indian social conditioning is rather different. In this regard, I with 38 years of living and working in America wish to highlight one point of difference between the Indian youth and my American counterparts. While the former seek this independence, albeit still going back to their parents every now and then, it is not very common to see the latter have an equivalent sense of cohesion towards the basic family unit, once they have been weaned away. An Indian teenager’s attempt to ‘break free’ is looked down upon as ‘callousness’, ‘irresponsible attitude’ and ‘insensitivity towards aging parents’ needs’. In this context, simply visiting parents on weekends or holidays is not enough; children (particularly male) are expected to keep their identity firmly entwined with that of their families and communities. It is interesting to note that here, ‘family’ constitutes not just the immediate family (parents and siblings) but, in a lot of cases, the wider family consisting of uncles and aunts as well as their respective families also. Perhaps, this acts as a cementing force in case of the Indian youth.

So, in a nutshell, I can safely arrive at a fair conclusion (even if it is not unanimous) that the current generation is not so much in jeopardy, as feared by some. This is a generation that is liberated and confident, stretching their minds to discover new worlds and new horizons. The best part is that an encouragingly large part of them is fortunate enough to receive parental support, which is a welcome change from the past.



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