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.
She quickly replied, “How can children learn anything of meaning when they are using devices instead of reading books?”
I asked her, “Did your daughter have access to those things when she was growing up?”
“No, of course not,” she answered.
“Because you didn’t let her or because it didn’t exist?” I wondered.
She replied, “Because it didn’t exist. Why?”
“Because it leads me to wonder how useful it is to sit here and judge a parent to a group of strangers when you could, instead, find ways to support them while they face challenges that didn’t exist when you were raising your own children.”
For the record, she didn’t appreciate this feedback too much. But here’s the thing…I only learned about the internet when I was in high school. I was twenty-five years old the first time I ever had a cell phone. The first twenty years of my life were lived in a world that is very different from the one I’ve known for the last twenty 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 fifteen 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,” they say. “Instead, we talked to each other and played games.” Okay, 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 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 twelve years old and if they pulled any of the stunts that 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 ten minutes. Yes, life is different. Yes, the world is different. With that being said, my children can watch all the Pixar movies they want while we make the ten-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 though is that the struggle isn’t made easier with other parents piling on. Because this isn’t just different for our kids. It’s different for us as parents too. And the harsh truth is, 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!!