A teacher says "students lack a historical perspective and fail to examine themselves in the light of China's history." One student complains that "some teachers are wordy and talk about things unrelated to the classes; for instance, when they come into the classroom, the first thing is to ask for money for tuition or materials" and another bemoans that he had "hoped teachers could give me more knowledge and the classes would be more lively; that teachers would teach the students all they know."
The qualitative research conducted in Hunan early this year uncovered the consequences of rapid change and increased distance between youth and the generation of their parents and teachers. Young people are significantly influenced by the international media: movie, music and fashion. These influences are either unfamiliar to parents or written off as either Japanese and Korean influences of Asian youth culture or American and European influences from the West. For the parents of young people in Changsha, the living memory of the past is present and shapes every facet of life; for the youth these events are irrelevant.
The research report contains over thirty pages of processed and raw data gathered over four days of focus groups conducted by local volunteers trained to facilitate discussions. These discussion groups are designed to solicit various perspectives of the needs, attitudes and values of youth in their region. The volunteers conducted and reported the results from over thirty-five groups. Their reports were read, organized, processed and reviewed by the lead consultant and five indigenous volunteers working with young people in various programs in the region.
Key issues and questions for which the agencies working in the region sought answers, ranged from family relationships, attitudes toward education and religion, influences, ideals and social interaction. The answers provided in the report are drawn from the raw data that was collected in the discussion groups. These answers provide some interesting insights; however, as is often the case in research, they also raise additional questions to be answered and hypotheses to be tested.
Some of the key findings include the conclusion that youth admire leaders who are strong, decisive and will employ any means to achieve benefit for those who follow them. They want their leaders to listen to their ideas and share their knowledge and insights in ways that will lead them to action. Action to combat boredom can be either virtual or actual, so these young people seek out adults they can trust who will empower them to actively address the needs and challenges they face. Often these are not their parents.
While family is important both to youth and to how they view society, both youth and parents recognize the disconnection between them. In an attempt to provide material plenty for children, parents neglect the value and importance of personal time spent listening to the ideas, aspirations and fears of youth. Parents are reported to shield their child from the difficulties faced in society, and this intent to protect seems to be interpreted by youth to mean that parents have no confidence in their ability to contribute, are guarded in their disclosure and lack transparency. Parents, on the other hand, feel that children should focus on school, ignore the influences of the international youth culture and allow themselves to be guided by the adults. The gap is further widened by parents' unfamiliarity with media such as video games, the internet, contemporary music and film. Often they do not recognize the degree to which these shape the thoughts and values of youth. Since adults exhibit little interest in finding out why such activities are interesting to young people, the conclusion is drawn that parents are not interested in youth. Parents generally respond to young people by offering advice and prescribing behaviors in ways that reinforce young people's assumption that adults do not listen, do not care and are irrelevant to contemporary life.
Studies and education fill much of the time young people have, even though they express the concern that what they learn does not prepare them to get good jobs, support their families or know how to live successfully. An interesting conclusion was drawn by the analysts when considering the frequency of youth reported to isolate themselves in their homes. It was felt that the reports from the discussion groups indicated that there is an unhealthy combination of being overly absorbed with school, a sense of insecurity, a competitive nature of relationships with peers and the ease of staying in and playing video games, going on line or watching television. This combination means that the safest way to cope is to opt out.
Despite the evidence that youth have a desire to succeedvariously defined as engagement in community, making a difference in the lives of others, having a good job or providing for familyyoung people are unsure of themselves. They are uncertain that their parents and teachers respect them, they are unsure what the future holds and they feel that although they have abilities and talents, they are given very few opportunities to develop these into skills for the future.
The moral formation of youth is not demonstrated in the evidence reported in this study. Some youth said that to be honest makes it impossible to be successful; others stated that you need to protect yourself so sometimes you have to lie. It was felt that there are times to be honest and other times when it was foolish and nave to be truthful. Regarding romantic relationships, youth are equally uncertain as to what path they should follow. Some are very conservative and think that all relationships should be avoided. However, it is acknowledged that while youth pretend not to be interested, it is an all consuming topic of conversation. Although the reports did not indicate that youth were sexually active, those interviewed felt that nearly everyone in university is involved in relationships, and these usually lead to sexual activity. Some of those in the groups felt that society should be more open to alternate relationships, and others suggested that experimentation is the best way to know what you are doing when you are married.
Most young people do not have a clear idea of God. They are told that God is like a father, but their parents, especially fathers, are generally perceived as harsh, critical, and unsupportive. Parents are often not good role models of prayer and scripture reading. Generally, youth do not have relevant evidence or experience of God helping them, and those who want to be independent think it is not good to rely on God. Most young people in the study do not see how Christian practice is connected to the reality of everyday life.
In this age of information, since programs must be designed to help youth who have a high priority on communication that flows both ways, program design must take into account that they want to hear, but even more, they want to be heard. Programs designed to address the needs of youth and children should help students learn, but equally should give them an opportunity to share their opinions and ideas. Overall, they want to be involved in helping others and finding self-fulfillment and personal success. The activities used by programs should avoid coming across like another training; they already feel that they have too much information forced on them that others feel is important. Rather, programs should give youth opportunities for self-expressionallowing them to experience life in an environment where they can learn and are given an opportunity to lead. Whether at home, school or church, it is important that they are able to evaluate the success of their efforts and learn life lessons from either success or failure in these programs.
Parents, teachers, or youth leaders who are involved in programs with youth should be good examples of a balanced life. These leaders must use their programs to show that everyone (including the leaders) has problems, and that problems are only effectively resolved by application of good character. As such, adults should not come across as having all the answers or knowing what needs to be done in every situation; adults are not God, they make mistakes too. Adults must also model getting along with others, not quarreling or competing, whether in the home or in public institutions.
It is hoped that this brief synopsis of the study will stimulate the reader to more closely examine both the conclusions and the raw data. In doing so it is possible to design programs for youth which will give them an opportunity to know the truth and so be freed from their fears and self-doubt.
For further information or the complete report of the Changsha research portion, contact Bruce Yee at bruceyee(AT)onehope.net
Image credit: Stepping Out by █ Slices of Light █▀ ▀ ▀, on Flickr