Dreams of Filipino youth
Every Filipino child, it seems, grows up with the notion that it is his or her “duty” not just to support parents in their old age, but to bring the entire family, including siblings and other relatives, out of poverty and raise their standard of living.
Such expectations are invariably bred into Filipino children by years of parental pressure and “guilt tripping,” with silent admonitions for a child to do well in school and strive hard to make good grades, graduate, and find a job or profitable occupation. The goal is not so much self-fulfillment or achieving one’s dreams, but most likely to help see the family through difficult times, especially when parents reach old age.
This supposition is supported by the findings of a survey conducted last year but released only recently. The survey, conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) and commissioned by Youth Leadership for Democracy (YouthLed), found that nearly three-quarters of respondents, or 72 percent, consider “being financially helpful to parents and siblings” as their top aspiration.
Exactly 4,900 respondents age 15-30 years old nationwide took part in the survey conducted from March 14-29 last year. The report says “the results revealed comparisons on the state of the youth in terms of personal health, pride in being Filipino and satisfaction with the way democracy works in the country.” YouthLed commissioned the survey to help strengthen the youth’s civic engagement with updated information about this age group.
A similar survey was carried out in 1996, said SWS vice president Gerardo “Jay” Sandoval, involving 12,000 respondents.
While helping the family was the dominant sentiment of the youth taking part in last year’s survey, smaller numbers expressed contrarian views, with 36 percent saying their top life goal was to live independently from parents; 29 percent mentioning that their goal was to get a college degree; while 28 percent each said it was to start their own business or have meaningful work.
While the findings underline the bonds that unite Filipino families, especially the sense of filial devotion felt by Filipino youth, they also illustrate the negative effects of generational poverty, with parents passing on the burden of lifting the family from its present circumstances onto their children. Perhaps as an expression of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, Filipino parents early on set aside their responsibility as the family’s breadwinners onto their children, who are expected to carry the onus of family responsibility regardless of their own individual dreams, preferences, or even talents.
This cycle of parental neglect and filial obligation is something that government agencies, but especially the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, could address. Perhaps they could start with curriculum reform, including the so-called “silent curriculum” that intensifies the cultural pressure on children to “save” their families at their own personal expense.
A good starting point would be to improve the educational system’s assessment capabilities, find out where a student’s true abilities and preferences lie, and then convey the findings to students and parents.
For instance, so many parents feel the only way out of poverty for the family is to follow job trends here and abroad and force their children into following these paths. Thus, the proliferation of nursing and caregiving schools that serve mainly to funnel Filipino youths into lucrative occupations abroad. Or else pressure them into accepting readily available jobs, such as call-center agents, that offer little career development or advancement. Even worse is the willingness of parents to close their eyes to the dangers of migrant workers, even if they are aware of the risks involved.
What the country needs at this time is a cultural mind shift that liberates Filipino youth from unwanted parental pressure and allows them the physical, mental, and emotional freedom to pursue their own dreams and ambitions for themselves first, and for the family’s sake second.
The government also has the huge responsibility to seriously address the problem of poverty by dedicating resources to creating jobs, and supporting agriculture and other sectors that could lift the poor from the vicious cycle of poverty. Similarly, children of poor families must be given access to education and skills training that will help them get out of the same cycle.
At this stage in our development, young people should be pursuing their own personal career goals and become those scientists, technocrats, inventors, industry and tech leaders who can more concretely help build a more prosperous Philippines for themselves and their own families.
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