Whither Millennial and Gen-Zers

Sri Lankan parenting and its affect on new adults

by damith
May 12, 2024 1:13 am 0 comment 298 views

By Jonathan Frank
“Ok Boomer” – Young New Zealand Parliamentarian Chloe Swarbrick silenced her 49-year old colleague when he heckled her during a speech about climate change in 2019

There is an increase in the divorce rate among newly married couples due to financial and societal reasons – the Registrar General’s Department revealed, while warning that Sri Lanka has shown a significant drop in annual birth rate while the number of annual deaths has increased since 2020.

If this trend continues, it will lead to a population decline. But it’s not just the low birth rate; the staggering brain drain is also a major problem. According to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, approximately 311,056 Sri Lankans left the country for jobs in 2022, resulting in a monthly departure rate of over 29,000 people. Among those leaving the country are young people with professional training in medicine, engineering and sciences.

These issues could culminate into a national disaster. However, the pressing question is how Sri Lanka found itself in a quagmire where its youth are fleeing abroad in droves and nobody wants to have more babies. The easy answer is to point fingers at the usual culprits: politicians, economy and corruption. But could the reason for our youth’s disaffection be much closer to home than we realise?

Studies

Economist Dhanusha Gihan Pathirana

Economist
Dhanusha Gihan Pathirana

There are many studies on social classes, wealth and poverty in Sri Lanka; however the majority does not focus on the socio-economic conditions of different generations. A reason for this omission may be because as far as wealth goes in our society, like many oriental societies, we dont expect each generation to find its own fortune.

According to economic analyst, Semini Satarasinghe, despite Sri Lanka’s existing merit-based systems in education and civil service, factors like family ties and political affiliations still influence opportunities. In the West, rugged individualism is idealised and young people are encouraged to “leave the nest” when its time. In most Eastern societies, parental influence extends long into adulthood and there are adults who live as “dependents” well into their 30s.

However, this supposed “kidulthood” is a recent invention according to Millennials I interviewed. “Our parents had more freedom than us. They played till late evening and walked to school. Our generation were sheltered with school vans and pressured to excel academically. Sri Lanka’s Baby Boomer’s saw idealistic young people die in insurrections and agreed that the way out of the hole is through working hard and getting a job,” musician Harsha Aravinda said.

In my conversations with fellow Millennials we also observed how our generation was the first in Sri Lanka to be properly exposed to mass media and the wonders of consumerism. Although the country opened its doors to the open market, it was in the late 90s that it truly took effect.

Culinary artiste Gihan Bulathsinhalage gave a personal anecdote about this generational divergence. “My dad took me to Mc Donald’s when its first restaurant in Sri Lanka opened in 1998. As a chef, when I look back I realise that this was the first time Sri Lanka had any sort of restaurant geared towards children. The Happy Meals and toys were a totally new concept and our generation were pioneers in this form of consumerism”.

Elsewhere, Millennial and Gen-Z attitudes have caused alarm among big businesses. Headlines in the West beg the question: “Why aren’t Millennials buying diamonds, getting married, buying homes and so on”.

A simple explanation is that these things are not affordable, especially after the global recession in 2008 and economic downturn after Covid-19 the so-called “American Dream” is just a dream, or worse, a myth spun by older generations.

Even in the West, university degrees don’t guarantee jobs and owning a home is far from reality for a lot of new adults. Even consumer habits like many Millennials and Gen-Zers going vegan and being eco-friendly has corporations scrambling to capture these ‘planet-conscious’ and ‘cruelty-free’ market.

Ideas on family

There are several popular social ideas on family, among them: Systems, Functionalist and Conflict theories. Family Systems Theory views families as interconnected systems where each member’s behaviour and emotions affect the entire family.

It focuses on understanding communication patterns, roles, and dynamics within the family unit. Developed by Murray Bowen, it highlights concepts like differentiation of self and multigenerational transmission process. This theory is widely used in therapy to address family issues and promote healthier relationships.

Were the mass protests in 2022 an uprising of the youth against the older generation?

Were the mass protests in 2022 an uprising of the youth against the older generation?

Functionalism sees the family as a crucial institution that maintains social stability by socialising children, providing emotional support, reproducing the next generation, and fulfilling economic needs. It emphasises the roles and functions within the family structure to ensure societal cohesion and order. Conflict theory examines families as arenas where power struggles and social inequalities play out. It highlights how unequal distribution of resources and power dynamics within families can lead to conflict and reproduce social inequalities.

The Marxist view on the family is a subset of conflict theory. It sees the family as serving the interests of the capitalist class by reproducing labour power, transmitting capitalist values, and maintaining social inequality. I consulted a Marxist academic for his insights into the family.

Economist Dhanusha Gihan Pathirana said that according to a conflict theory like Marxism, the family reproducers conditions convenient to make our current socio-economic system going. Especially for a developing country like Sri Lanka, parenting focuses seeks to reproduce self-centred values, pushing children to grab the few opportunities society offers. “Our continued underdevelopment is what helps the first world exploit our labour,” he said.

Children

Parenting is more open in the first world where children benefit the fruits of imperialism. The family here is a unit that reinforces consumerism. According to Alex Brown, a University of Delaware academic, the family symbol is socially persuasive, appealing to one’s role in the family and their corresponding expectations. There is emotional pressure, due to psychological attachments in family relationships. Psychological persuasion in advertising appeals to motivation, attitudes, and personality.

I also asked Pathirana about a slogan that was carried on placards and hashtags during the Aragalaya period. “The slogan ‘You messed with the wrong generation’ is in the past tense,” Pathirana said. “It means that this generation didn’t have any problem being messed with so far until the problem got too out of hand”.

Wanting a more comprehensive correlation between parenting and the lives of new adults, I decided to conduct an online poll. The poll had seven questions and contained multiple choices and open questions. The poll logged responses from 29 participants during a four-day period. I have to clarify that this poll is in no way a survey and susceptible to bias as I didn’t conduct it in the Sinhala and Tamil languages, didn’t take into account the influence of peers and so on.

The first question was to describe the relationship with one’s parents during childhood and adolescence. The poll provided four choices with one open ended so a participant can fill in their personal answer. Around 47 percent said their parents were ‘strict and authoritarian’ while around 38 percent said their parents were ‘close and supportive’.

Question two was reflecting on your upbringing, what aspects of your parents’ parenting style do you believe had the most significant impact on your development and outlook on life? Diverging from their first response, candidates overwhelmingly described the parenting style they experienced as ‘balanced’ (e.g., a mix of rules and flexibility) with authoritarian and permissive coming second and third.

The third question was open ended. I asked them to recall any specific rules, expectations, or experiences set by their parents that they found particularly challenging or impactful and how it shaped behaviour and beliefs as they transitioned into adulthood? My candidates gave a list of restrictions like ‘no partying’, ‘curfew after 8’ and ‘No sleepovers| no movies with friends| forcing to come to relatives house’.

One participant described the rules that were placed to not go out or not letting go for parties safeguarded them from dangers but also made it hard for them to socialise with people. “Also this resulted in major anxiety to go out and have fun when I finally started working”.

Relationship

Questions four, five and six were on their relationship with their parents’ influence on personal life, professional life and overall influence. A whopping 82 percent of respondents said their relationship with parents has influenced personal life as an adult.

Around 68 percent said their relationship with parents has influenced their professional life as an adult. 46.4 percent of candidates described this influence as ‘positive’, 25 percent chose ‘negative’ while 28.6 percent said they are ‘not sure’.

I had a range of broad answers from my seventh Question: what lessons or insights have you gained about parenting and familial relationships that you would like to share with others? How do you envision your relationship with your parents evolving as you continue to navigate adulthood? I had 18 responses but one was very striking.

“Growing up with strict rules taught me a lot about how parents and children should get along. I learned that it’s important for parents to give their children some rules but also to let them make their own choices sometimes. This helps children grow up confident and able to make good decisions.

Talking openly and honestly is key in keeping a good relationship with family as everyone gets older. I hope to talk more with my parents about how we can understand each other better and be more flexible. These experiences have shown me how important it is to balance giving guidance and allowing freedom, aiming to build a family relationship based on understanding and respect.”

My investigations showed a minute glimpse of the issue. There are many unanswered questions in this equation of nurture and result. Our relationship with our parents is just a factor that influence adulthood. In a cosmopolitan world, our education, peers and media play a major role as well.

However, nurture with all its factors is an area that requires serious research in Sri Lanka, especially as a nation trying to recover from various setbacks suffered in each decade. A comprehensive study will yield insights on new generations’ values and worldview that policymakers and stakeholders can use to understand expectations and attitudes Millennials and Gen-Zers have.

Their values on work, social life and consumer habits diverge significantly from older generations and will play a major factor on what this country will become in the future.

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