There was a time when families lived their lives in a very limited space. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, and interacted with their immediate neighbors. Their knowledge of anything more than a day's travel away was sketchy.
In the twenty-first century, families live in a much larger space. They listen to news from around the world, buy products from many countries, and experience entertainment media from all over the world. Transportation, technology, and trade provide often instantaneous connections among the world's people. Because families live in this global environment, they are affected by it, and they necessarily play a role in preparing their members for it, whether they do so consciously or inadvertently. Although much of the discussion about globalization takes place in the fields of economics and politics, families are also intricately interwoven into the international environment.
Families are like musicians creating their own music. Their tunes and lyrics are shaped by the places where they live, the events and changes that occur around them, the songs that they teach to their children, and the songs their children teach them.
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.
In addition to adjusting to gradual cultural change, families also interact with the global environment when specific events occur around them. These events may range from economic fluctuations to weather to wars and ethnic conflicts. Again, families are affected by the events while also being actors in them. For example, the collapse of the communist systems of Eastern Europe influenced many aspects of family life in those countries. How those economic reforms were enacted, however, was influenced by culture. The economic reforms were colored by conventional views of gender roles in Ukraine, so that women were left with few choices and few resources (Lakiza-Sachuk, cited in Skalnik et al. 2001). As a result, women began refusing to carry second and third children until better times. International economic events had an unintended impact on family planning and population growth.
Wars have a devastating effect on families. Instability and poverty dominate the lives of people in any war zone. If the war is a communal conflict or civil war, it divides families, and brothers and sisters may take opposing sides. The breakdown of the public sector, including schools, manufacturing, police, banks, and health services, means that families need to assume many new roles to replace those institutions. They also experience monumental internal stressors and losses when dealing with weapon threats, sending family members to the military, and experiencing deaths of loved ones (Milic 2001; Skalník 2001). In ethnic conflicts, it is possible that the family itself was the source of the prejudice and hatred, however. Again, families both respond to wars and become actors in the course of events.
Families do make choices as they react to events such as war, and all individuals in a society do not respond in the same way. Women and mothers have been given special attention in some of this research. Researchers have found that some mothers may focus on the safety and well being of their own children, possibly at the expense of the well being of others, while other mothers focus on the welfare of all children (Azmon 2001).
Societal or cultural environments and global events influence families. Adults are responsible in some measure for exposing children to many of those events and for interpreting them to the children. Parents teach children directly or indirectly about the world. Those messages are not, however, always clear and consistent. For example, parents may talk about peace while supporting military conscription, educate their children to believe in human rights while passing on prejudices, and preach environmental protection but are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve ecologically sound lifestyles (Somlai 2001). Similarly, parents teach their children more about war than peace and describe more of the actions of war than peace, even though all parents purport to believe in peace (Myers-Walls 2001).
In some cases, it is unclear whether the influence of parents on children's globalization skills and attitudes is due to teaching or due to the environments in which they place their children. Only limited research is available about how parents teach their children about global existence, but studies do show that many parental characteristics are linked to children's attitudes. Researchers have found that parents' educational levels and family social status are related to children's attitudes about their own futures and the nature and future of the world (Flanagan 2001; Tóth 2001).
In the areas in which parents do teach their children, their abilities to do so effectively can be compromised by modernization and other changes. For example, traditional African teaching methods in the Sahel were replaced by formal education. As a result, modern farming methods were introduced, and traditional, ecologically sound practices and techniques were lost. This loss of historical wisdom is seen as contributing to droughts and soil erosion in Senegal (Thioune 2001). Innovations in education and family intervention should take into account the perspective of the people and culture that will be affected by them.
Children as Teachers
The leadership in teaching about the global environment is not always from the parent to the child. An interesting artifact of the globalization process and times of rapid change is what the children can teach the parents. Children pick up innovations first and are drawn to new approaches and perspectives. When the children's world is significantly different from what the parents have known in their own childhoods, it is difficult for parents to be the authorities and guides (Obondo, cited in LaHaye et al. 2001). Young people who have migrated to other countries also have an international perspective that may provide the lead for adults.
Not only can children teach adults about some aspects of globalization, but they also can push adults to re-examine what they believe and what they do. Children see the inconsistencies in the world around them and look for explanations. They ask questions about the meaning of traditions, practices, and stated values. "Children's naïve questions become the nagging conscience of an adult society which has lost sight of its values" (Somlai 2001, p. 21).
Challenges for Families and Globalization
As families deal with this process of globalization, they face a number of challenges. One outcome of information dissemination and immediate transmission of news is the concentration of negative messages. News about earthquakes, terrorist attacks, political scandals, and economic disasters are combined from around the world. This situation may create the impression that disasters and threats are increasing and ever-present. It is easy to build a picture of the world as a dangerous place and believe that humanity is racing down the road to destruction. Families are faced with the task of processing the onslaught of international news and international communication technology and putting them in a manageable perspective.
Another challenge for families is the domination of some cultures in the globalization process. This domination could be described as economic, cultural, and intellectual imperialism. Some of the primary economic entities that dominate the international scene are MTV, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, McDonald's, Levis, and Microsoft (Qvortrup, cited in Qvortrup et al. 2001). Culturally, domination can lead to a characterization of good parenting or positive family life to be defined as the parenting or family life of the dominant culture (Flanagan 2001). The challenge for families that are not part of the dominant group is to assert themselves and define health and excellence from their own viewpoint. The challenge for those in the dominant group is to become aware of their position of power and take responsibility for the messages they share while developing an openness to and knowledge of others.
Accompanying the inequitable distribution of power is an inequitable distribution of the world's resources. The gap between the standard of living in the United States and Western Europe when compared to Somalia and Nepal is almost incomprehensible. "Even in the United States of America . . . there are probably more poor and illiterate people than in any other nation if we take its economic capacities into consideration" (Qvortrup 2001, p. 45). The increasing interactions and connection among the world's people cannot help but make those inequities evident. The poor and the rich alike must interpret the contrast, and efforts must be made to reduce the gap if peaceful coexistence is to be possible.
Perhaps the largest challenge is for families to develop a vision of the type of world in which they want to live. Individuals who are interested in and committed to families need to recognize that globalization is a trend relevant to family life. International issues cannot be ignored. Families can simply accept the proclamations and interpretations of the dominant media and politicians; they can ignore the issue and thereby let the dominant forces determine the global agenda unchallenged; or they can explore their values, culture, and dreams and choose to live a life conscious of the global environment.
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Dai Keijing. (2001). "The Tradition and Change of Family Education in Mainland China." In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
du Bois-Reymond, M. (2001). "Negotiation Strategies in Modern Families: What Does It Mean for Global Citizenship?" In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
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Kung, H. M. and Yi, C. C. (2001). "The Impact of Modernization on Elder-Care: The Case of Taiwan." In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, P., with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
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Thioune, O. (2001). "Families as Environmental Educators in the Sahel." In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Tóth , O. (2001). "Hungarian Adolescents' Attitudes Toward their Future, Peace, and the Environment." In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Watanabe, H. (2001). "Transformations of Family Norms: Parents' Expectations of Their Children's Family Lifestyle." In Families as Educators for Global Citizenship, ed. J. A. Myers-Walls and P. Somlai, with R. Rapoport. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
judith a. myers-walls