Because I married into a Chinese family (my parents-in-law were born in mainland China), I try to think about such issues from a “multicultural” perspective: how does our American idea of children’s “independence” compare to Chinese ideas of “independence”?
Chuansheng Chen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, has done research in the area of Chinese vs. Western adolescence, and has noted:
Feldman and Rosenthal (1991) found that U.S. and Australian adolescents had earlier expectations for autonomy than did Hong Kong adolescents. The largest cultural differences were found for behaviors that would fall into the category of misconduct (e.g., smoking and drinking alcohol) and those related to peers (e.g., "attending boy-girl parties," "dating," and "preferring to do things with friends than with family")…Does the fact that Chinese have “less expectations of autonomy” than Americans imply that Chinese kids are more “dependent” than American kids?
For example, peer factors play a less important role in Chinese adolescents' misconduct than in American adolescents' misconduct because Chinese adolescents spend less time with their peers (Chen et al., 1998).
My wife has explained to me that it is more subtle than that.
Consider which of the following sorts of children should be considered truly dependent:
- Those kids who spend a lot of time with their parents and whose parents work hard to instill mature values and an understanding of the consequences of one’s decisions, so that, when the children finally become adults, they can independently make intelligent and informed decisions
- Those kids who lack an adult’s perspective on values and consequences and are therefore, in reality, heavily dependent on the ill-formed judgments of their adolescent peers.
The Chinese concept of independence is that a child shows independence when he has properly internalized the parents’ teaching and is able to make a judgment similar to the judgment that the parents would have made had the parents been present and privy to all the relevant information.
The American concept of independence means ignoring the value of adult (especially parental) judgment. The Chinese attitude is that true independence comes when the child has acquired and accepted adult standards of judgment.
Most importantly, when a child makes an “independent” decision as a result of bowing to peer pressure, Americans still see this as a sign of the child’s independence, even if the decision is obviously unwise.
To Chinese, this is a sign of a very unhealthy form of dependence: dependence on the ill-informed and immature opinions of other children.
To Americans, a child’s spending more time with his peers is therefore a sign of his growing independence. Chinese have a different perspective.
I think this helps illuminate the “dependency” question we homeschoolers face.
If “independence” means kids’ making decisions without having internalized an adult’s understanding of values and consequences, then, yes, our homeschooled kids are less “independent” than many American kids.
At least, I hope so.
But, if “independence” means that a child is not dependent on peer pressure and can make mature decisions because he has acquired and internalized an adult perspective on decision-making, then I think that homeschooled kids may often be more independent than typical American adolescents.