I was at a wedding a little while ago, sitting next to a grandmother of three young children.
“Honestly,” she said, “kids these days have no idea what real values are and they’re certainly not going to learn them from their parents.”
“What does that mean?” I asked her curiously.
“How can children learn anything of meaning when they are using devices instead of reading books? Or they can just text each other instead of talking to each other,” she quickly replied.
“Did your daughter have access to those things when she was growing up?” I asked her.
“No, of course not,” she answered.
“Because you didn’t let her or because it didn’t exist?” I wondered.
“Because it didn’t exist. Why?”
“Because it leads me to wonder how useful it is to sit here and judge your daughter’s parenting to a group of strangers when you could, instead, find ways to support her as a parent while she faces challenges that didn’t exist when you were raising your own children.”
For the record, she didn’t appreciate this feedback too much and the conversation ended there.
Having said that, I—along with a large number of my friends and family—don’t appreciate getting told every single day that we’re raising serial killers because we let our children use a paint-by-numbers app on our computers.
Here’s the thing . . .
I only learned about the internet when I was in high school. I was 25 years old the first time I ever had a cell phone. My wedding was our photographer’s second time shooting on a digital camera. The first 20 years of my life were lived in a world that is very different from the one I’ve known for the last 20 years of my life. I have stood with a foot on either side and experienced them both deeply.
But we are also the first generation of parents having to raise children in this new world and we’re having to do so without much of a support system in place to help us navigate it along the way.
I talk a lot about the village that is required to raise children. But I also talk a lot about the village that is required to raise parents. And the moment one parent sits around a table to talk about how another parent is failing . . . a torch is being taken to that village and burning it to the ground. When this happens, we immediately contribute more to the problem than we do to the solution.
Truth be told, it’s really hard and scary to be a parent right now. I can go online on any given day and stumble across 15 articles dictating all the ways that I’m not parenting correctly and I can do it all before 9 a.m. Granted, this is all I know as a parent and I have nothing to compare it to, but I can still boldly state that I would rather have your help than your criticism.
It’s very easy to see how different things are for our children while overlooking how different things are for us as parents.
Case in point: someone gets super agitated because children are watching movies in the backseat of a car while driving to visit family. “When you were little, we never let you do anything like that,” she’d say. “Instead, we talked to each other and played games.”
OK, fair enough. However, when I was little, I could also sit on your lap in the passenger seat of the car. I could use a minivan as a means to play hide-n-seek. I even once traveled on a 400 series highway in the cab of a pick-up truck while throwing cherry pits at passing vehicles. Seat belts were entirely optional.
Today, my children have to be strapped into a five-point astronaut seat until they’re 12 years old and if they pulled any of the stunts we did as children, we’d not only get thrown in jail, but someone would videotape it happening and the whole incident would be trending on Twitter within 10 minutes.
Yes, life is different. Yes, the world is different.
That being said, my children can watch all the Pixar movies they want while we make the 10-hour drive to visit Grandma and Grandpa. You choose your battles. I’ll choose mine.
Are there immense challenges that come with this digital age? Absolutely. Are there huge imbalances that will have to be leveled out through the generations to come? No doubt about it.
But every generation has had its struggles and no generation has been perfect at managing them.
The truth is that this technology isn’t going anywhere. The world isn’t going to stop progressing because we don’t like seeing kids with computers in their pockets. And it’s not actually serving anyone (especially our children) to create a narrative around how terrible their future is as a result.
Because that same technology allows my kids to Skype with their family who live in another country. That same technology is what enables me to work from home so that I can be more present with my family when they need me. That same technology brings the world’s greatest minds and resources to our fingertips.
There is good in all of this, too.
The point I’m trying to make is that the struggle isn’t made easier with other parents piling on. Because none of this is just different for our kids; it’s different for us as parents, too. And the harsh truth is that we aren’t supporting our children at all if we aren’t supporting the parents who are doing their very best to raise them.
We’re all growing in this. We’re all learning in this. We’re all blindly trying to make our way in all of this.
So, here is my hope for us as parents . . .
The next time we feel the urge to darken our children’s world because it doesn’t look the same as our own . . . perhaps we can pause, and breathe, and redirect ourselves. Perhaps, instead, we can turn to our friends, our daughters, our fellow parents and ask, “How can I better support you as we navigate a world—and a future—that is different for all of us?”
And then we can hop on YouTube together and enjoy the greatest gift technology has ever given us; a never-ending stream of hilarious cat videos.