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Global Citizenship

Societal Influences

People's attitudes about the world and their abilities to interact with it are colored by their cultures. The values, practices, and conditions that characterize a society create the context in which families live their lives. Families located in different areas of the world tend to hold similar values to the people who live near them. For example, parents in Eastern cultures hope that their children will not someday raise children who are not related to them by blood (e.g., stepchildren, foster children), while parents in Western countries hope their children will not live with their parents when they are grown (Watanabe 2001).

Consistency within a culture helps both people inside that culture and those from other cultures to know what to expect. With increasing amounts of interaction among countries and an accelerated rate of change, however, the consistency of values within cultures is decreasing. Families adopt practices they learn from other cultures, they interact with neighbors who come from other cultures, and they migrate and live in other countries for a variety of reasons. When families change in these ways, they are no longer like their home culture or entirely like the new culture (Sakka and Dikaiou 2001). They may not fit very well anywhere. At the same time, children in migrant families may be especially valuable guides in global living because of their experience in intercultural living and identity (Chisholm 2001). Mobility can be both an asset and a liability.

All families, whether they have been migrants or not, have experienced forces that change their values. Changes in the world create situations that require changes in families. A major force in current global change is modernization. Modernization includes moves toward equality of gender roles, shifts toward individualism, technological advancement, and an increasing tolerance (or at least awareness) of diverse views and lifestyles.

Many people see modernization as being positive for women, children, and economies. Modernization, however, brings some challenges for families and societies. For example, traditions and norms in China and Taiwan have focused on the Confucian value of filial piety and the expectation that individuals will assume the role of caregivers as their parents grow older. Modern education and urban residence have caused that practice to decline (Kung and Yi 2001). This leaves a dilemma for individual families who may feel that they have no alternative but to place the older relatives in group care at the same time that they believe they really should care for them at home. Eastern policy makers struggle to find the appropriate balance between either establishing formal care facilities or helping families to care for their elderly themselves.

Modernization also has changed the way Western family members relate to each other. Families were seen as permanent and inflexible in the past; in contrast, many societies now focus on choices in family membership (du Bois-Reymond 2001). This means that divorce and remarriage are more common than in the past, families are smaller, and the balance of power has shifted. Rather than feeling that the lines of family authority are most important, European families now consider negotiation to be critical. Families may not be aware of the modernization trend, and, even if they are, they may feel helpless in influencing it. Nevertheless, they face its impact daily.

Families, however, are not entirely powerless in their interactions with this global environment. Individuals can be a powerful unit of social change. Families both adjust to changes and redirect them. Research has shown that societies adapt their practices to fit the historical trends (Flanagan 2001; Dai 2001). Parents attempt to prepare their children for the world they think the children will face, while trying to maintain the traditions that they feel are most important. In this way they both react to social change and help to create it.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesGlobal Citizenship - Societal Influences, Global Events, Parental Teaching, Children As Teachers, Challenges For Families And Globalization