Open conversation with Parents

After posting the article about “Encouragement and Expectation”, I received several emails from students. Some agreed and some disagreed with me about parents and children need to have “open conversation” to discuss career options. A student wrote: “It is easy for you to write that parents would listen to their children. The fact is my parents think they know better than me. They want me to go to the top university and study Computer Science because I can make a lot of money after graduation. To them getting to a top university with a Computer Science degree is like winning the World cup….”

I wrote back to him: “Your parents love you and they believe that getting into a top school and study Computer Science is guaranteed for your future. The problem is they do not know your interest and abilities. Without knowing your abilities, asking you to go to a top school could be a disaster. It is not easy to get accepted to a top university but even if you get in, it requires a lot of efforts to do well in the field that you may not interest in.”

“The reason your parents think the top school is important because of your society values degrees from top schools. It is possible that when your parents were at your age, there were only a few people who could go to top universities so to them it is an important factor. Maybe your parents pay attention to what others think about their children so having you go to a top school and study the best fields such as Medicine or Engineering has become their pride. This type of confusion also gets you into a conflict. That is why having an “open conversation” is still the best way for both sides to understand the issues and knowing each other better.”

“To have an “open conversation”, you need to stay calm and listen to their view first. Give them a chance to explain their interest and expectations knowing that they want the best for you. Either you misinterpreting their intention, or they do not know how you feel. Whatever the case, unless you hear their view, you will never know. You may ask questions to clarify their view so you understand them better. If you do not like what they say, stay calm to avoid any argument such as saying “You make me do this …” or “I do not like this …” Instead, you say “I understand what you want and appreciate that your care for me. I know you want the best for me ..but.” Then explain your view in a calm manner. An open conversation is NOT ONLY about explaining your view BUT ALSO showing them just how much you appreciate them too. It would diffuse any issue later.”

“You need to speak clearly to your parents about your interest and try your best not to let stress or other emotional get to you. Your parents will support you if they understand your view, but they will not if you argue with them. During the first open discussion, not everyone will be clear, especially if something is still bothering them. You need to let them know that this conversation is NOT FINAL as both sides need more time to think and evaluate the options. An open conversation should be continuously OPEN when both sides learn to listen and NOT get into a decision. It may be uncomfortable in the beginning but it must be clear about each other’s view. If one side keeps silent, the issues may continue to build inside and trigger some anger later.”

“It may take several open discussions to understand different perspective but you need to understand that your parents want the best for you. Since they may follow the tradition that “Parents always right” which may not be correct in this modern time, you still need to understand that whatever they do, it is based on their love and care for you and you must appreciate it.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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