College life gives rise to generation gap debate, growth

Credit: Emily Giedzinski/ Credit: Emily Giedzinski/
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It’s official: I’ve graduated from the kids’ table. In the eyes of my family, my matriculation to college means that I am no longer a child. Although I may not be ready to support myself and am living in the college bubble, I have reached that in-between point in family life where I have a life completely separate from my parents, but their house is still the place I call home. I am expected to be responsible enough to be able to take care of myself at school, but I am still expected to follow my parents’ rules. I am supposed to be making my own decisions about my life, but my parents still expect to be able to weigh in on issues of importance.

However, the biggest change that I’ve experienced with regards to my parents comes in the form of my personal beliefs and opinions. While my views on the world have not changed drastically in the time since I’ve come to Carnegie Mellon, living away from home in a community of peers who are well-informed about the issues of the world has given me a platform and the freedom to explore what I believe in and discuss it with like-minded people. And while my parents’ opinions on the world always made sense to me before college, it’s easy to simply go along with what you’ve been raised on when that is all you know.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I came home and found out that the views of middle-aged people and college students differ significantly. Ideas that I had spent the past semester hearing about from my friends and classmates required explaining to my parents, and they did not always share my views. For the first time in my life, I felt the strain of a generation gap. The truth is, my experience as someone growing up in 2016 is different from the experience of someone who has seen the world change over the past few decades. I found myself explaining concepts of gender and sexuality, the opinions of my fellow students on world events, and news articles I had found on social media sites. In the three and a half months since I had started college, my world had expanded beyond the boundaries of my hometown at an exponential rate, and I was excited to share that with two of the most important people in my life.

Furthermore, it seemed as if I was expected to share these opinions. Suddenly, when politics came up at the dinner table, my parents would turn to me and ask for my take on things. I was asked how I felt about current events, and also asked how I was keeping up with those current events. We had begun to realize that I, no longer a child and now able to vote, am a person with a political voice that can be wasted or cherished. My parents encourage me to be a well-informed voter, as well as an informed person regarding the happenings of the world.

But what truly threw me for a loop was when my ideas and opinions did not match up with those of my parents, not because of a lack of exposure, but a simple divergence in our world views. Our discussions turned into debates, and I felt lost — for a good portion of my life, my parents were the people who had all the answers. As a kid, it felt like my parents were the experts of all things adult. In the presidential election that my middle school held in 2008, I knew nothing about either of the candidates, as I was 11, but I voted for the person my parents were planning on voting for because it seemed like the right answer. When my mom or dad would talk about issues of the government, their views would seem more like fact than opinion. For a long period of time, they were infallible in my eyes.

Now here I was, doing the unthinkable — disagreeing with my parents to their faces. That’s not to say that my views were completely opposite those of my parents, and in fact, we agree on a variety of issues. However, when our opinions didn’t match up, their voices adopted the “we are 30 years older than you and have more life experience than a college student” tone. Yes, you should have an opinion, they seemed to be saying, but remember that you are still new to this world.

It was intimidating, and almost enough to make me concede. After all, I thought, what do I know? I’m a naïve 18 year old, I am financially dependent, and my life at school almost solely takes place within a few square blocks of land. My parents have graduated law school, spent decades in the workforce, raised a family, and seen all sorts of changes take place in the world. Who am I to think that my inexperienced voice stands a chance?

However, sitting with the adults, or for that matter, becoming an adult, means not blindly agreeing. It means having an open mind to new ideas, but not being afraid to challenge those ideas when they don’t align with your convictions. It means realizing that parents, despite the years they have on their children in terms of life experience, are simply human, and therefore inherently imperfect and not always right. After all, if I can stand up to the people who raised me and insist that my voice be heard not as a child, but as a person who is on her way to adulthood, then I can hold my own when I need to speak my mind against anyone.
I have graduated from the kids’ table, and now I sit with the adults. My new position requires a significant amount of responsibility; my opinion matters, and so I have to be able to back it up with facts and passion. The conversation at the adults’ table can get intense, and so I must be able to hold my own. And while that may mean taking a path separate from that of my parents, it also means that I am growing up, slowly but surely.