We can debate the pros and cons of specific parenting techniques all the live long day, but it’s fairly inarguable to say that parents are responsible for preparing their children to exist independently, self-sufficiently, in the real world. To teach values and scripts for the real-life situations that they’ll one day find themselves — whether socially or professionally or emotionally.
Across the board, this is generally accepted as a parent’s job description.
And so we teach manners, and right vs. wrong. We teach self-help skills and social etiquette, along with formal education for mathematics, history, literacy, etc. We teach them to stand on their own and think for themselves.
Another inarguable fact: Our children are inheriting a very different world than the one we grew up in. Even for parents in the younger Millennial generation (such as myself) — parents who grew up during this technological expansion and experienced the Internet’s boom at a very young age. Even for us, our kids have a very different perspective of “normal.”
For instance, my son only knows a world where Facebook, email, and cell phones are as normal and established as bread, color television, and cars.
So what is this world that we’re preparing them for?
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world that always wants their attention.
Alerts ding, vibrate, and ring — luring our attention to screens and stress like modern Siren songs.
How are we teaching our kids to cope with that? Do we show them that every call, text, and email needs to be addressed like an addict getting a fix? That if we think no one is looking, it’s okay to scan your emails at red lights? That phones are appropriate companions at dinner tables? This all might be a relatively new novelty to us, but it’s normal life for them.
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world that communicates through devices and social media.
Do we teach manners and etiquette for the virtual world, as well as the real world? Do we preach honesty and kindness online, as well as face-to-face? And are we, ourselves, snarky and mean-spirited in digital form — because our kids will pick up way more than we realize. Maybe it’s just one more expansion on the “treat others the way you want to be treated” lesson.
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world that’s dripping in information — much of it contradictory, some of it unhealthy.
Once upon a time, we learned through history books and authority figures. How do we change the educational landscape to include the vast amount of information — the articles and documentaries and EVERYTHING at our fingertips? Perhaps it’s more important than ever to teach real critical thinking, questioning what we hear and read. Perhaps it’s time to teach kids that what they consume matters — in addition to what they think, say, and do. And will they learn that by watching us mindlessly scroll through Facebook for the 15th time today?
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world without secrets or privacy.
How do we conduct ourselves online? And how much do we emphasize the value and importance of personal privacy? Modern parents have a brand new context to teach this lesson, and it’s an important one.
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world of over-abundant accessibility.
Too much of anything is bad. This is a crucial lesson for our kids, considering it’ll be easier than ever to consume what they want, when they want it, as often as they can. Now excuse me; Mommy has to continue binge-watching House of Cards on Netflix.
Were preparing our kids to live in a world with unique stresses and anxiety triggers.
Yet we’re still sorting out exactly what those stresses and anxiety triggers are, and how to better control them. Maybe our kids — or our kids’ kids, or their kids’ kids — will evolutionarily adapt to the changing environment, but we’re all still tight-roping this line between a pre-screen existence and the sensory-abundant existence we have today. We sleep with our iPhones next to our heads, with e-mails constantly streaming in to remind us to go, go, go. We distract ourselves with the Whos and Whats of social media, shoving down envious thoughts and destructive comparisons. We text while driving, creating a brand new killer on the roads. We distract ourselves, constantly.
We’re just beginning to understand that, wait — what? This stuff is how bad for us? And if we don’t find some kind of healthy balance within ourselves, what shot do our kids have when their lives have always been immersed in this technological environment?
We’re preparing our kids to live in a world that’s driven by technology.
Technology will give our kids so much that we never had — instant communication, unprecedented access to information and education, and exposure to a variety of stories beyond the central narrative.
But with the good comes the bad. We’re getting to a point where we can either let technology completely consume our lives, or teach the next generation how to better control it in a positive direction. If not, then our generation will be the last to know a life that’s not consumed by screens and alerts and overwhelming distraction.
So, again, what’s that “real world” we’re preparing our kids for?