Over the last couple of months I have been blessed to have been able to immerse myself in toddler and baby land as I have been spending time as a grateful nanny.
As a parenting educator whose youngest baby is 27 it has been insightful and wonderful. Since I was a mum for kids under 5 so much has changed and yet what our children actually need has not changed one iota.
I now have an even deeper appreciation of the extra challenges that are present in homes and schools and I am standing beside today’s parents with even more presence as it is definitely much tougher in many ways for most parents now to parent today’s children.
So what’s tougher?
The 24/7 news cycle on really large TV screens:
Thirty years ago the news happened at 6pm and today it happens on the hour, on breakfast shows, on midday shows and in huge digital high resolution. Not to mention on every smart phone, social media news feed, tablet and computer. The world’s catastrophes are instantly brought into our homes and repeated endlessly to the point of saturation. Children this week have been witnessing and hearing over and over of four people tragically killed on a theme park ride in an absolute freak accident. Every other day, they are hearing about shark attacks (when in fact dogs, cows and horses harm more people in Australia than sharks!). For children, these images and stories are frightening and many children have anxiety issues and excessive worrying thought patterns as a result of witnessing images of terrorist bombings, war, violence, car crashes, mass murders, famine and natural disasters. In Australia the vivid repeated footage of bushfires, flooding and cyclone damage is etched into all our psyches and for young children with fragile developing psyches this can be quite terrifying.
The parent market is enormous and to make parents spend more and more $$$$, advertisers make sure parents feel even more frightened or guilty than they already are. The endless pressure to buy stuff is massive and with technology that tracks your likes and shopping habits like Big Brother, it is simply relentless. The overuse of words like ‘stimulating’, ‘educational’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and the endless celebrity endorsements from people with no formal qualifications at all is beyond belief! Then there are products that border on insanity and are unnecessary like knee pads for toddlers learning to crawl and kidnap kits. WTH?
This tsunami that is swamping our world has certainly swamped our homes. We have children who have screen addiction by three years of age and who are struggling with poor sleep because the flashing purple lights have disturbed their melatonin levels which helps with sleep. Too much time in the virtual world is impacting young children’s capacity to be creative, imaginative, to play with others, and to develop emotional and social awareness. Parents everywhere are struggling with managing this and the additional problems it has brought with it. This is really making things tough in today’s homes.
Thanks to the vast tentacles of the internet you don’t have to go looking for pornography anymore… it comes looking for you and your precious kids! Innocent kids are being exposed to things that upset most grownups and when it appears as popups in innocent-looking links on Minecraft pages, Instagram hashtags and even Pinterest – heck that is worrying. Sadly you cannot un-see these sick images and videos, and there has been an increase in inappropriate sexual play in pre-schoolers – so it is impacting childhood in ways never before seen.
Sexualisation of our kids:
With the saturation of advertising online, in magazines and billboards our children are being bombarded with sexualised messages that “being sexy matters”. From the disgusting Wicked van slogans, to four-year-olds asking if they are sexy, full make-up kits for kids, crop tops, padded bras and high heels for pre-schoolers and some of the stuff happening in some dance schools and pageants is really worrying. Research shows girls who dress like teens when they are under 5 become sexually active up to three years before girls who are protected.
Gambling and betting:
The recent saturation of our screen and print worlds from the betting agencies, especially online gambling sites, has been a reasonably recent phenomenon. Our precious kids are also being bombarded with these adverts and what messages are they getting? Betting on anything is fun, easy, accessible every minute and can make you money. Sadly gambling addiction is increasing and it can ruin lives and families, and this overt conditioning is yet another threat to healthy childhood.
Out of a sense of misplaced fear the old ‘dangerous’ playgrounds were replaced by modern plastic fantastic safe ones built by adults to keep kids much safer. Many folks my age have tsked tsked about how parents hover over their kids in these new playgrounds. Well I have spent a lot of time in these playgrounds recently and I need to tell parents to keep hovering over your toddlers! In some of these playgrounds toddlers can climb stairs to a platform – a plastic slide goes off to one side which is OK however to the opposite side is a fireman’s pole. This pole is positioned quite a distance from the platform and if you were standing waiting for your toddler to come down the slide and they turned the opposite way, (and given toddlers have no sense of visual depth) – they could easily step off and fall over a meter and hurt themselves badly. WTH?
The schoolification of toddlerhood:
The push down of formalised learning where we see 4-year-olds doing what 6-year-olds used to do is another area of enormous concern. It seems our youngest are now being targeted as test monkeys or brains on seats instead of ‘whole’ children who need to grow on so many levels not just cognitively. We have a silent epidemic in children’s anxiety and our teens are displaying heightened levels of mental illness and we have a new peak in youth suicide. Young children need to move using all their senses in real and engaging environments in order to grow optimally and that includes some freedom, autonomy and dirt or mud while being surrounded by consistent loving care. Basically kids need to be kids doing what kids are meant to do…play more with more freedom, risk and in the company of creatures with heartbeats!
In a world with an avalanche of information, that is easily accessible and is often conflicting – it is difficult for parents to make informed decisions that enable their children to grow and thrive.
The striving to be ‘perfect’ parents while being influenced by the poorly informed celebrities that drown our newsfeeds in their pathetic attempts to explode the internet by possibly having a photo of their naked bottom being used as a coffee table is another worry.
The good news for all those out there in parent-land is: ‘Good enough parents can still raise pretty awesome adults in today’s world’. Your main challenge is to be vigilant ‘enough’ while still allowing your children to learn ways to be capable and independent.
I am standing tall in defence of today’s parents to encourage them to continue being vigilant, to hover in the playgrounds, to stay informed on monitoring the damaging influences of this crazy world.
Keep your helicopters flying please.