How being ‘full-time children’ is helping China’s ‘chicken babies’ grow up
- These mostly only children are taking care of their parents’ needs instead of their own wants, as the priority shifts from passing exams to being of service to family
- This is a genuine opportunity for young people to mature, and for a parenting rethink: what used to work no longer does in a changing China
From then until late August 2022, when she found a job as a tech support assistant, her calendar was blank for the first time in her life. She helped her parents clean, cook and shop for groceries, and got a modest allowance while taking time to find a job.
Their emergence is an indication that young people face shrinking opportunities in an economy that previously had high growth for decades, enriching the generations now supporting their young. It is also connected with a disillusionment among fresh graduates, some of whom chose to take zombie-like graduation photos to show their disenchantment.
I don’t deny these arguments have their points. But excessively focusing on the negatives overlooks the benefits of being “full-time children” for a generation who are almost exclusively only children.
Only when this route to success is abruptly interrupted does real life begin. For the first time, roles are reversed. These full-time children are helping their parents, catering to their needs instead of their own wants.
Although they get a “pay cheque” from their parents, they know the nature of this “employment” is family. It is a temporary measure, a last resort. The relationship is not transactional. Nobody is going to quit or be fired.
Also, as the centre of their lives shifts from passing exams to being of service to the family, these young adults are having down-to-earth experiences. The displays on social media are all about the nitty-gritty of everyday lives and a tranquil affection between them and their parents.
Of course, this can’t be all rosy and idyllic, and struggles and anxieties are obviously an undercurrent, but this is not all bad, either. With their parents’ support, it becomes an opportunity for these children to truly grow up.
When my niece was in her final year at university, she was still just a big child in many ways. But when we had a video call last September, soon after she started her job, I felt she showed maturity.
Could she have achieved the same growth without that period of struggle? I doubt it. Will her period of struggle affect her life? Absolutely. And it is much better to enter working life as a mature young woman than as a big child.
This “full-time children” phenomenon shows that parents are not always right. The road they have tried to pave for their children is not as smooth as promised. Changes are needed to adapt to a new era.
Parents, too, can do some growing up.
April Zhang is the founder of MSL Master and the author of the Mandarin Express textbook series and the Chinese Reading and Writing textbook series