Understanding Adolescents’ Filial Piety in Malaysia: A Qualitative Study

*陳文聰 Chin Wen Cong

陳子聖 Chee-Seng Tan

馬來西亞 拉曼大學 心理與諮詢系

Department of Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Arts and Social Science,

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Kampar, Malaysia


  • Filial piety is the Confucian virtue of honoring the elders in the family.

  • This emic (i.e., culture-specific) Confucian virtue should be viewed as an etic (i.e., universal) construct (Różycka-Tran et al., 2021).

  • Although filial piety has been well investigated in countries with Chinese populations, how filial piety is practiced in Malaysia (a multi-ethnic country) remains unclear.

  • Therefore, the present study aims to explore how adolescents in Malaysia practice filial piety in their families.


  • Part of a larger project on family functioning

    • online in-depth semi-structured interviews

    • 13 adolescents (15 to 18 years old)

    • different ethnicities (i.e., Malay, Chinese, and Indian) and regions of Malaysia

  • Adolescents were asked to describe the characteristics of their ideal families.

    • Interview data concerning the construct of filial piety was extracted for thematic analysis.


  • Filial piety is practiced across different ethnicities in Malaysia.

  • Five main elements of filial piety were revealed:

(1) Showing respect to parents (e.g., have good attitude towards parents)

      • “In order to produce a good environment, the children should be respectful to their parents”

      • “If it’s parents, of course they are elder, we use proper words, we can’t use any vulgar words and even though we are angry, we can’t scold them back, be patient and talk to them normally”

(2) Talking to parents (e.g., take the initiative to talk to parents)

  • “I need to go to them and talk to them and communicate with them”

  • “If like father does not talk, the son must talk, must create any idea to talk with his father”

(3) Showing care to parents (e.g., take care of parents when they are sick)

  • “We, as their child, we try not to like make them so stressed out when we fight or like quarrel”

  • “Taking care of parents when they are old just like how parents taking care of us”

(4) Helping parents (e.g., help to reduce parents’ burden)

  • “I mean like the son and daughter should help their parent, so that the work and the load can be lightened a little bit”

  • “I go to my father’s shop to help him, like tidy the stocks and something easy”

(5) Listening to parents (e.g., follow parents’ advice).

  • “Children’s responsibility is to listen to their parents’ instructions and also maybe if they have different opinion, they can share with their parents”

  • “Listen to what parents say, like follow what parents ask to do”


  • Support the Dual Filial Piety Model 孝道雙元模型 (DFPM; Yeh & Bedford, 2003):

(1) reciprocal filial piety 相互性孝道

  • “Their attitude must be good to the parents, what their parents dream of them, they must try to achieve it and make them happy”

(2) authoritarian filial piety 權威性孝道

      • “Children must give what their parents want like example, their studies, do the best in their studies”

    • This provides further evidence to the applicability of the DFPM to Malaysian adolescents.

  • Partially support the Three-Dimensional Filial Piety Model 孝道三維模型 (TDFPM; Shi & Wang, 2019)

(1) family role norms 家庭角色規範

  • “I always talk to my parents”

(2) good affection 親情

  • “we express our gratitude by … getting good marks in the exam”

(3) balance of interests 權益 (BoI) dimension = not evident

      • Adolescents have lesser roles and responsibilities compared to adults

      • They yet to perceive the need to balance various roles and responsibilities as a means of filial piety.

    • Future studies on adolescents’ filial piety are recommended to use the DFPM, while the TDFPM should be used with caution (especially the BoI dimension).


  • Overall, our findings contribute to a better understanding of the different ways in which adolescents practice filial piety in the Malaysian context.

    • e.g., showing respect to parents, talking to parents, and showing care to parents.

  • Generally, these ways are different from how adults practice filial piety (e.g., visiting parents and supporting parents’ livelihood).

    • Due to different roles between adolescents and adults.

  • Hence, our findings

(1) highlight the need to have a filial piety scale that is adolescent-specific

(2) provide the characteristics regarding adolescents’ filial piety that could help in the design of such a scale


  1. Różycka-Tran, J., Jurek, P., Truong, T. K. H., & Olech, M. (2021). The implications of filial piety in study engagement and study satisfaction: A Polish-Vietnamese comparison. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, Article 525034.

  2. Shi, J., & Wang, F. (2019). Three-Dimensional Filial Piety Scale: Development and validation of filial piety among Chinese working adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, Article 2040.

  3. Yeh, K.-H., & Bedford, O. (2003). A test of the Dual Filial Piety model. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 6(3), 215–228.