Life Education Survey
Have Taiwan's Students 'Lost Their Direction'?
What does the new generation of Taiwanese expect out of life, and what difficulties do they encounter? Lacking role models to inspire them, the island's young urgently need to find their way in the world.
Have Taiwan's Students 'Lost Their Direction'?By Jerry Lai
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 435 )
The formative years of high school and college are a critical "rite of passage" for many of us. But many of today's Taiwanese youth are facing almost certain unemployment after graduation, and even if they do land a job, they are destined to face ultra-low starting salaries and the stigma of being labeled "the Strawberry Generation" (stemming from the perception that they are fashionable yet fragile).
So just what do these 15-22 year-old "overgrown kids" expect from their lives? What sort of troubles are they facing? To get to the bottom of these and other questions, CommonWealth Magazine undertook a survey, mailing out questionnaires between Oct. 2 and Nov. 4.
What Shyu Hsin-yih, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at Tamkang University, found most jarring upon first seeing the survey results was "that our high school and college students are so shockingly lacking in role models."
Free to fill in the blank on the questionnaire, respondents most frequently stated "no one" when asked whom they considered a role model, with "father" trailing far behind, tied for second with "self" and somewhat ahead of "mother." (see table 1)
Half Don't Know What They Want to Do
A doctor of education, Shyu notes that growth routinely begins with imitation. Lacking role models, nearly half of these college students, newly emancipated from the pressure of high school academic advancement, "don't know what they want to do with their lives" (see table 2)
Chen Fei-chuan, director of National Yunlin University of Science and Technology's Counseling Center, is similarly concerned over the phenomenon of a "loss of direction." She recommends that young people take a broad read in their search for a direction in life, not limiting themselves to business or political figures, but also considering examples from the fields of religion and public service.
Despite lacking long-range life goals, the survey respondents remained very concerned about their relationships with those around them, and this was a major source of self-confidence. (see table 3)
Furthermore, half of respondents hoped that schools could offer more guidance for students on their abilities to take part in society. (see table 4)
When asked, "What sort of person do you most want to become?" over half of respondents simply declared, "an ordinary but happy person." (see table 11)
Psychiatrist Dr. Wang Hao-wei highly recommends that college students preparing themselves to step out into the world get busy and "knock around a bit, get a part-time job, hang out with different friends and take part in different social group activities."
Wang says he once advised a kid with social dysfunction to work as a volunteer in Manila, and within 10 short days there was a major improvement. Lots of Taiwanese people have friends that are involved in overseas business and can appeal to them to take on their child and "give them a shot."
But adults also needn't be overly concerned about their grown kid's temporary bout of confusion. Wang points out that the two most recent former U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, are both known to have dabbled in marijuana in their youths. The process of growing up is obviously not always smooth sailing.
Only Child, Weak Link
Wang was a little surprised that almost a quarter of respondents had at some point contemplated suicide. (see table 5 & 6)
In Wang's analysis, this is directly related to the trend toward smaller families with fewer children and weak intra-familial relationships. In his clinical work he has seen the emotional turmoil of many only children whose "entire world collapses when they lose a relative." Some even need treatment upon the loss of a pet.
In recent years, Wang has also found that children are becoming less inclined to leave home, particularly only children, and there are fewer and fewer kids willing to pack up and head off to a university far from home. The desire for new and different life experiences is evidently fading.
With the relatively recent demise of the extended family, Wang believes nuclear families and the individual relationships within them exist in a fragile state. Added to that, parents are not equipped with this sort of experience from their own upbringings.
"The trend of having fewer children changes not only the number of people in the family, but also the interactive dynamic," he says. Many only children can naturally become "lone rangers," and it is at this point parents need to understand to back off. Let them head out on their own, taking their knocks within their own lives and social circles, Wang advises.
Women Liberated, Men Not So Much
The survey also turned up a trend seemingly contrary to popular perception: Girls are now pursuing their dreams more boldly than boys. (see table 8)
National Yunlin University of Science and Technology's Counseling Center director Chen Fei-chuan attributes this to the rapidly rising self-expectations of Taiwanese women in an environment where "starting a family is no longer seen as a given."
In his work with the Council for Hakka Affairs' "Dream Builders Project" these past several years, Dr. Wang has found the ratio of women candidates has grown increasingly higher and the ideas they are proposing are getting bolder and more eye-catching.
Conversely, the expectation in Taiwanese society for boys to "carry on the family line" and "bring honor to their forebears" remains unchanged. For this reason, when asked, "What is the purpose of life?" the number of boys answering "to find a good partner and start a happy family" was significantly higher than that of girls. The young men were even more interested than the ladies in "falling in love at least once" before age 22. (see table 9)
Dr. Wang points out that many Taiwanese parents view the success of their sons as their own or even that of the entire family; this sort of pressure is relatively less pronounced for daughters.
Tamkang University's Shyu Hsin-yih takes a more positive interpretation, believing a sense of family responsibility to be a positive thing for male children, something to help keep them more grounded in reality when "pursuing their dreams."
But more than a few men are having trouble adjusting to the development of women "going self-reliant." Chen Fei-chuan cites the pair of young lovers she once counseled as an example. The boyfriend had no idea anything was amiss until the day his girlfriend announced she was leaving him. She later told Chen that she just wanted a little more breathing space to be independent, and the boyfriend's incessant handling of every little detail had put her off.
Chen recommends that modern males try to regain a self-identity as people in a broader sense, and not narrowly focus on their masculine roles. Be your unabashed self, blend a little more of the tender with the tough, and ease up the pressure on yourself, Chen advises men.
The survey is also a reflection on the mindset among this group of men, 44 percent of whom, when asked about confronting difficulties, replied "take care of it myself," a far higher percentage than the women. (see table 10)
It is important for parents and friends to help this group of young men bearing the intense pressures of the traditional "strong male" identity to open up and talk about what's on their minds.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy