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The Top 10 Parenting Trends of 2010: Coping with Cyberbullying, the iPhone As Binky, and Questioning Fatherhood

Was it a good year for you?

One thing you can say about parents today: We always try to do better.  This year was no different.

For example, in 2010, many parents confessed their addiction to smart phones and promised to cut back in 2011. We also discovered that having an iPhone is like having a tiny Mary Poppins, able to sooth an upset child in mere seconds and without any sugar! And we also asked, Is that a good thing?

The dangers of technology were front and center this year, with cyberbullying and privacy concerns on everyone’s mind.

Other topics we talked about: How we parent (OK, we fought about this); the importance of marriage (or lack thereof); sharing breast milk.  So what were the top 10 parenting trends in 2010?

1) Smart Phones as Pacifiers for Parents and Kids. Parents were called out both for using smart phones too much when they were with their small children and for handing the smart phones over to little ones. Turns out smart phones aren’t just crackberries for grown ups.  (The problem of the smart phone/”crackberry” invading family time was noted throughout the blogosphere.) Still, just because an iPhone is an effective babysitter in a restaurant or car doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

2) Parents Use Cell Phones They Give to Teens For More Than Just Phone Calls. According to the good researchers at Pew, parents use those cell phones to keep track of teenagers, to discipline them, and to figure out what they’re up to.  Are parents being invasive when they check on the snapshots kids send each other, or are they being responsible?  Everyone’s doing it, but is peeking into a child’s digital world like reading a diary?

3) Bullying, Cyber and Otherwise. The Wiki leaks scandal may have showed the world that even state secrets aren’t safe online, but parents have been worrying about their kids virtual lives for a long time now and this year, the problem of cyberbullying was front and center. In the digital world, kids can be cruel and parents don’t always know what to do about it. (And when they do do something, they don’t always do the right thing, or even close.)  But attention must be paid to how kids are relating online because kids’ mental health and well being, and their lives, are at stake.

The tragic series of suicides by young teenagers Asher Brown and Ty Smalley,  the suicide of the Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi after cyberspying, and the powerful story of Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns, heightened awareness of school bullying and cyberbullying, particularly around sexuality.  But the complexity of the issues calls for a textured response. As Marjorie Ingall wrote in Tablet: “When we divide the world into bullies and victims, demonizing the former and beatifying the latter, we don’t do actual kids any favors. For many kids, power dynamics can shift. A kid can be a loser or cool kid from one school year to the next, from one social setting or peer group to another, during the school year as opposed to the summer. When we ponder how to stop bullying, we need a nuanced approach.”

4) Attachment Parenting: A backlash against the backlash? The Wall Street Journal published Erica Jong’s screed against attachment parenting, setting off yet another round of spilled ink on how we parent. In her essay, Jong mimicked the French Elisabeth Badinter’s argument that attachment parenting and its expectations “victimize women far more than men have ever done.”

Provocative for sure. Is Jong right? If you want to read Jong as saying mothers are making themselves crazy with guilt and and high expectations,  Paula Bernstein says she has a point. As far as the barriers to professional success that a young child creates, though, Madeline Holler notes that it’s not exactly a parenting philosophy that’s keeping women out of board rooms.  No.  Attachment parenting’s got nothing on the lack of structural supports like affordable quality health care and  child care when it comes to that.  And, while some, like Katie Roiphe are still complaining about overparenting, others, like Babble’s Jane Roper, ask us to consider just what’s this future we’re preparing our kids for anyway? The back and forth makes me wonder, are we ready to stop arguing about overparenting? Pretty Please?

5) Say No To the Stroller. Now that we have the breast vs bottle arguments down, we can move on to strollers vs. baby carriers. (Some get irate if you suggest a stroller.) Of course, if you have a toddler and an infant, or multiples, and you want to go to the grocery store, you probably won’t even bother with this precious little debate.

6) Give Away the Milk for Free! If we’re all about breast being best, then why not share breast milk! If you know about breast milk storing, then you can probably make it happen. Docs don’t like it, but some moms do.

7) Wonder How to Parent? Take a class. Celebrities take them by choice and because they have to. Some take parenting classes because they want to learn the pros and cons of picking up a crying child. On this last point, RIE, or Resources for Infant Educarers, a parenting philosophy that’s been around since the 70s,  got a nice dollop of press in 2010 thanks to celebrity fans like Felicity Huffman and Helen Hunt.

8) After Attachment Comes Helicoptering. If people weren’t talking about attachment parenting this year, then they were (still) talking about helicopter parents. You know, those parents who hover around their kids no matter what they’re doing because they can’t carry them on their backs anymore.  (Wait, so we’re supposed to be involved but not too involved. Just like we’re supposed to be available on our devices, but not on them all the time.  Confused? Me, too.)  Whatever. If you have older kids, you were urged to lay off.  But if you want to pay someone to check the homework so you don’t have to, you could do that. Does it count as hovering if you’ve paid someone else to do it? However you answer that, some ask parents to leave the kids alone already.

9) Does Marriage Matter? Everyone’s been talking about another Pew poll, this one done in collaboration with Time magazine on the declining importance of marriage.  Co-parents, blended families — we’re all figuring out what family means now that there really aren’t any rules anymore.

10) What Are Fathers For?  For a long time now, we’ve been told that children in families without fathers have been statistically at risk.  But is it the father we need or another parent? Apparently, those studies all compare single parent households to married households — not a fair comparison because when you compare two parent households, you find it isn’t a male dad that’s required for a happy home, but a quality parent.  (Would research  show similar results for two father households as well, meaning moms are unnecessary? I wouldn’t be surprised.)   But fatherhood is noble and male dads, they want to be good parents, which means they want to be around their kids, which is hard when they’re the primary breadwinner. Studies show this is causing more stress and discontent among dads.

What do you think were the biggest trends of the year for parents?  What affected your family the most?

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