Global Express
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Asia Focus: Is there a Generation Gap?


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Modern societies have lost the art of marking passages from childhood to adulthood. There used to be complex and sometimes painful rituals alongside celebrations. They still exist in places. People knew where they stood and there was mutual respect.

Now we just have a gap. For some it's small - for others it's a yawning abyss. But gaps can be good for fresh perspectives. Some react so much they dig themselves in deep and have a hard time getting out. Others just step across, taking it all in their stride.

I had a problem with my dad. He probably had a problem with me. I erected a huge wall in my heart which made progress difficult. Over time, it dawned on me that my anger and reactions were my responsibility, not his. Sure, he'd done some mean things, but my response was my problem and was wearing me down. One stormy night I plucked up the courage to talk to him and even said sorry for my reactions. That wasn't condoning what he had done, it was dealing with my stuff. Later, I was conscious of the wall dissolving and a bridge forming.

It's what you do with your generation gaps that matters, not whether they exist or not.

Jean Brown, Australia


Does a certain hairstyle, dress, manner or TV program that your children love annoy you? If so, welcome to the generation gap.

We are all products of our formative years and our habits reflect this. A generation gap ensues when we transfer the values of one age to another set of circumstances. Where there is no difference in values there is no generation gap.

As a parent I have learnt the odd truth whispered on the howling winds of family conflict.

1) It is a tremendous asset to be good friends. This is preferably started early as it is hard to commence during adolescence.

2) Communicate without too many negatives.

3) Nobody, young or old(er), likes being preached to. Keep unsolicited advice to a minimum.

Generally, adults view events in the light of experience. The young look forward; they do not want the fetters of history. They try to stretch out that rare period of life where they enjoy privilege without responsibility. They don't want to shoulder the demands of adulthood before being assured of their value.

My children seem to think that youth should be "downhill, one ski". This can entail risk-taking with alcohol, drugs and sex. Meanwhile, we adults see youth as a preparation for more important issues, such as job-training, long-term happiness, relationships and finding a purpose in life. We cringe at the "damage" they expose themselves to.

Often, I have tried to impose my standards. In retrospect, there were only a few times where it was important to do so. When my children are asked to justify their position, they do it quite well, sometimes painfully so. A tirade from my 19 year old reminds me of the need for more openness and a less rigid role. Learning can be fun but it is usually hard work! I have had to learn to think quickly and seize the moment. Am I prepared to modify my attitudes? Are there some things I still feel are really important

Despite difficulties, my life has been enriched by contact with the younger generation. By the time the grandchildren arrive, we figure we should have just about got it right.

Footnote from a resident of a different generation:

1) There is no such thing as a generation gap. There is only a difference in personalities. Some people easily get along together and others not!

2) It is a myth that parents are responsible for how their kids turn out. Your personality is an individual thing; you acquire those things it fits!

Ana Bailey (and family), Australia


In our Chinese tradition, family unity is very important. Hong Kong has such 'hustle and bustle' that people find it hard to strike a balance between work and family life. Few parents have enough time for their children. Hong Kong's uncertain political future makes them worry a lot, and their plans and expectations for their children do not always facilitate mutual understanding.

The education system in Hong Kong is extremely competitive. Inside many young people's hearts lie fears and doubts. They aren't sure what they are chasing, or what their future will be. As 1997 approaches, even kids say they are afraid of political changes. They think that no-one understands them. They seek excitement to deal with these fears.

There are families who have overcome the generation gap. Some parents form co-operative groups with teachers to help their children's studies (and get to know their kids better). The Hong Kong Government and voluntary organisations arrange activities, such as picnics or leisure classes, which parents and children can enjoy together and thereby develop understanding.

We should not immediately put a negative label on the generation gap. It is a reality. If you believe that it can be overcome then the gap can disappear. Better communication creates better relationships. The generation gap need not block friendship and love.

Man-Yi 'Ari' Chow, Hong Kong


Being 19, I am part of what has been labelled the "Lost Generation". I live happily at home and study dance at college, having successfully completed high school. I am not lost. Like many of my peers, I wonder about the future. But for now, I would rather concentrate on the present. I have seen the "Lost Generation" drunk, stoned, depressed and disillusioned, but which generation has not been? I have also seen the "Lost Generation" having fun - being happy, responsible, successful and dedicated. We can and do enjoy our youth. Our concerns are shared by many older people: employment, environment, war, poverty etc... We should not waste our time feeling sorry for ourselves. If we work and think for the present, we can face the future with optimism, strength and the ability to deal with whatever arises.

Suzy Edwards, Australia


Last year I went to an international conference in Switzerland. The theme was "Past, Present, Future - a shared responsibility". My daughter was involved and persuaded me to attend.

Its purpose was to foster intergenerational dialogue. My discussion group included people from Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Australia. Ages ranged from 11 to 82 - truly a challenge to break down barriers.

In addition to main meetings and discussion groups, there was ample time for participants to relax, mix and talk informally. In these times, friendships were made. The freshness and eagerness of youth blended with the experience of the older generation to produce greater tolerance and understanding. Surely we would like to see this in everyday life in all countries.

Prejudices and stereotypes hinder our personal development and separate us from others. We need to look honestly at ourselves and try to discard these faults. Then we can truly communicate, regardless of age and background.

During the conference, an informal vote was taken on the question, "Is there a generation gap?" 1/3 agreed, 1/3 disagreed and 1/3 were undecided.

I left feeling that we can bridge divides in our families, societies and nations. No person, group or generation has all the answers. Everyone has something to offer, but change must begin with ME.

David Mattingley (age 72), Australia

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:13 (EEST).
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