More so than ever before, I believe the chasm between adults and the younger generation has never been wider. We have a generation of young people who were born with the Internet and do not know of a life that existed before it. Unlike previous generations that spent time walking and playing in neighborhoods and building relationships face-to-face, this generation has less of an understanding for real relationships, let alone relationships with those outside their age bracket to bring a sense of community, continuity, and purpose to their lives.
If you are an Asian American adult, you may be wondering how can I give back? What contribution can I make to the next generation to bridge the gap? Having spent the past nine months working with both middle and high school students, I can tell you many students are longing for genuine relationships where they can receive encouragement, understanding, affection, and guidance.
Part of my job as a counselor is helping students understand healthy and unhealthy relationships. Another part is giving back to them as a mentor. Teenagers and young adults, truly appreciate adults who have the time and willingness to pass on life lessons in areas such as discipline, self-esteem, adversity, perseverance, and emotional health.
If you get an opportunity to give back to the next generation of Asian Americans, I suggest taking a look at how difficult and much more competitive it is for them to succeed in today’s job market. Everything has gotten more competitive and demanding — high school classes, college admissions, and job openings.
Some of us may feel fortunate to not have to compete like today’s generation but we should not dismiss or minimize the incredible burden young Asian Americans face to honor their families. As a result, I think what the younger generation needs is more affirmation, nurturing, and a feeling that their lives matter and count regardless of what career path they take. So many students cling desperately to the belief that getting into a good college and getting a high-paying job is the only thing that matters. They need the older generation to pass on the wisdom of life and give them a wider perspective on what is a good life. Students today have a very narrow view of success and part of the older generation’s responsibility is to help them formulate their own definition of success.
Some of my earliest mentors came in the form of athletic coaches growing up in Seattle. They not only taught us skills in our various sports but also valuable life skills and good thinking. My high school swim coach was always encouraging despite my lack of abilities and told me even if I didn’t win any races, my participation was enough. He taught me to think about life and my own sense of worth beyond the traditional win/lose, success/failure paradigm.
But even in work and life, I know so many people who see themselves categorically as a “failed” person when they go through challenges such as a divorce or job loss. This victim mentality unfortunately keeps them in a vicious cycle of shame and guilt.
What the Asian community needs are mature people who can pass on a more healthy view of life to the next generation. Let our young know that success means nothing if they do not learn to live for something bigger than themselves. Let’s not only teach them, but show them there’s more to success in the Asian American world than financial wealth; let’s show them love, compassion, community, and the need to give back to those following in our footsteps.