In a globalized world where borders seem increasingly porous, the question of how one’s ethnic background shapes their identity has never been more salient. This question has sparked curiosity and deliberation among sociologists, psychologists, parents, and children alike. A recent survey of parents and children shines a spotlight on this pressing issue. The insights gleaned from this survey are intriguing – children believe that their cultural upbringing, significantly influenced by their parent’s ethnic backgrounds, plays a vital role in shaping their overall development.
As children grow, they absorb values and customs from their surroundings. My interviews with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds underscore this reality. They revealed stories of growth and self-discovery, often heavily influenced by their parents’ cultural heritage.
Consider the story of John, a 12-year-old with Caribbean and American parents. His upbringing exposed him to a variety of perspectives that he credits for his open-mindedness. Unlike some of his peers from more homogeneous backgrounds, John finds himself more receptive to differing opinions and ideas. His parents have fostered a nurturing environment, encouraging him to explore his interests and follow his dreams.
On the other end of the spectrum is Jessica, a 14-year-old with a Chinese heritage, whose upbringing had a more traditional hue. Her parents’ high expectations acted as a catalyst for her relentless pursuit of excellence. But their influence wasn’t restricted to academics. They exposed her to diverse cultures, sparking curiosity and broadening her worldview.
As I interacted with students at the Washington Center, a pattern emerged. Regardless of their ethnicity, parents’ traditions—be it culinary practices or holiday celebrations—had an indelible impact on their children’s identities. These experiences shape how children perceive the world and their place within it.
Conversations revealed that these parents instilled in their children a sense of pride in their cultural heritage, taught them to appreciate diversity, and even encouraged them to chart their own course. For example, a Trinidadian mother, Natasha Small pushes her children toward success but refrains from dictating their futures. She has internalized Jelena Obradović’s research, which underscores the dangers of over-involvement in children’s activities. Small understands the importance of stepping back and letting her children take the lead.
However, not all parenting approaches align with this laissez-faire approach. Take the case of Chelsea Odonkor, who migrated from Ghana to the United States at four. Raised in a family with rigid expectations, she experienced first-hand the pressures of a predestined career path. Despite her family’s desires, Chelsea chose to listen to her heart, eventually becoming a teacher, an initially challenging decision given her father’s vision of success.
These narratives remind us that parenting and ethnic backgrounds are not monolithic. Rather, they are a complex interplay of diverse practices and beliefs that mold an individual’s perception of the world. Supportive parenting, coupled with an openness to explore, empowers children to define success in their terms and shape their future.
While our ethnic backgrounds undeniably color our worldviews, our parents’ love, support, and guidance remain the compass that helps us navigate life’s journey. Different ethnic backgrounds can enrich a child’s life, making them receptive to diverse cultures and encouraging self-exploration. While their journey might diverge from the norm, it is merely a testament to their uniqueness. After all, success is a deeply personal concept, and the path to it is as unique as the individual themselves.
Written by Karesha Graham and Edited by Abolaji Omitogun