I don’t know a parent out there who doesn’t feel a constant, nagging pressure to keep up. With everything.
We must keep our kids enrolled in multiple activities and sports so they “live their best life.” We must be their 24/7 source of entertainment so they never get bored. And we must stay on top of every new technology and social media platform there is, just so we know what the heck they’re talking about half the time.
From what I can tell, Generation Y seems to measure their fortune by “things” rather than “memories”, and in the race to keep up with the Joneses, millennial parents will do almost anything to ensure their kid doesn’t go without.
So we cave and we bribe and we give in — all to keep our kids content.
But how did we get here? When I look back on my early ’90s childhood, I remember being left alone for hours to play — only called in from our neighborhood cul-de-sac kickball game when it was time for dinner. And it usually took two or three attempts, as I tried to squeeze every single last moment of freedom out of the day.( So much so that my mom eventually brought me to the doctor to check my hearing. Turns out my hearing was fine; I was just ignoring her.)
My friends and I spent summers swimming laps at the community pool, drinking cherry cream soda, and eating cheese sandwiches on beach towels while my dad played racquetball. We talked to each other on phones shaped like hamburgers and when we really wanted to be fancy, we conferenced in other friends on our party lines.
For much of the ’90s, there were still no cell phones; not for us kids anyway. And that was just fine with us. My neighbor had a Nintendo and it was from his couch where I would spend hours perfecting my Super Mario game while I snuck French Toast Crunch from the cupboard.
We had epic sleepovers, playing Light as a Feather and the Ouji board, and talking for hours without our eyes being glued to a device. We watched VHS tapes on loop from the comfort of our futon couches. (I pretty much wore out the tape on the movie Big, starring Tom Hanks).
We played endless rounds of MASH, the counting game that “predicted” everything from our future job to how many kids we would one day have. But lucky for me, it wasn’t exactly the crystal ball we imagined it to be. (I can barely handle the three children I have now, let alone the 15 that it foreshadowed. YIKES.)
Back in the ’90s, there wasn’t this constant pressure on kids to play five or more sports at a time, and excel at every single one. There weren’t four-day-a-week practices and tournaments every weekend either, with parents hovering nearby, watching their kid’s every play.
Instead, I remember my mom dropping me off at our local YMCA for gymnastics practice and coming back a few hours later to pick me up. My parents didn’t make it to every single event I had, and they didn’t apologize for it. My success (or lack thereof) wasn’t seen as a reflection on them and they didn’t need to live vicariously through me in order to be fulfilled. They had their own lives and they lived them.
The Internet as we know it was just starting to take shape when I hit middle school, but we still looked to Bill Nye the Science Guy for all our important information about dinosaurs and how spinning things stayed in motion (years before we had a fidget spinner for reference).
When we had questions, our parents told us to find the answers ourselves, and we did — inside libraries and heavy, expansive volumes of encyclopedias. We didn’t have every answer at our fingertips and were probably better off for it. We had our imaginations and elementary school book fairs to keep us curious.
Our parents also didn’t feel the need to entertain us every moment of every day. Whenever I’d tell my mom I was “bored,” she would simply shrug and say, “Well, you better figure out something to do then.” She didn’t consider herself to be my sole source of amusement, and I didn’t expect her to be.
When we took our yearly summer road trip to my grandparent’s condo in Myrtle Beach, we didn’t have electronics to keep us busy on the endless stretch of highway. We occupied ourselves by playing I Spy and The Silent Game (Mom and Dad’s personal favorite), and I was forced to listen to my parents’ music from the backseat of our station wagon.
While there are certain benefits to how connected we all are today — able to reach anyone, anywhere and have immediate access to information at a moment’s notice — I feel infinitely lucky to have grown up in an era when our days weren’t ruled by Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
I can appreciate the simplicity of being disconnected, because I remember a time when it was all I knew. But I also can’t help but worry that my own kids will never truly know how it feels to be unplugged. To switch off and live in the moment. To live their lives free of perpetual accessibility. To stick a bunch of glow-in-the-dark stars to their ceiling and dream about who they really want to be when they grow up.
To just be, and have that be enough.