I originally wrote this piece for an April / May 2019 issue of The Panorama
I am a parent who belongs to the last generation of kids who grew up at the same time technology was also growing. I was below 5 when I got to play with the Atari, 7 when I first played Mario Bros on the NES and listened to my music on vinyl, to tape and then CD’s in my high school days. I grew up while technology was fun, but inconvenient and the promise of “instant gratification” was non-existent.
One random shower thought (thoughts that occur while taking a shower) was that raising kids on YouTube today was like raising kids before on canned goods, processed food and sweetened breakfast cereal. I bet our parents had no idea what the long term effects were back then, but boy were these convenient. A can of vienna sausage or a box of frosted flakes made meals so much easier back in the day. If my child who refuses to sit still and eat can do so with a phone in front of him during meal time (and finish an adult plate), then isn’t that convenient?
There are emerging studies that state the perils of smartphones and attention deficiency, but at the same time where do you draw the line knowing that your child is the first batch of digital natives? This is the same batch of kids who will lobby for faster Internet, the same batch of kids who will apply for jobs that still don’t exist today, the same batch of kids that will break down even more real world borders with a matured Internet.
As a parent, I’m worried, excited, confused. I have no idea what world I am bringing my child into. I have no idea what challenges will exist when traditional boundaries have been made permeable. Back then, the dynamics of the village playground was relatively easy to navigate – “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And yet today, the Internet is nothing but words. How do you raise a child where the playground is the rest of the world at a very young age?
Even among fellow parents there’s judgement – from triggered parenting Facebook groups to anti-vaxxers the respite is brief, the compass non-existent.
“But after all this, is there still hope,” you may ask? I believe that the beauty of being a parent is that from the point of view of our children, everything will be okay. I also believe that parenting is a process (in the same way that religion is not just a belief, but a process) and I’ve never had this much introspection into my life as a child, on how I was brought up, and plaster these memories side by side the decisions I am making as I am in my parents’ shoes now:
Let them watch. But not too much. Let them play. But not too much. Let them eat. But not too much. Everything in moderation. Even moderation.
Sometimes we just need to make it up as we go.