The advent of globalization marked the beginning of a new era in modern history. With people and ideas crossing traditional borders seamlessly, societies across the world embraced modernity and the perceived enhancements to life that it ought to bring. However, the world is now paving the way for a massive, rapid digitalization process, blurring the lines separating the virtual from the real. This transition from the universe to the metaverse has vast implications for humankind and life on planet Earth. As it all unfolds, parents around the world are struggling to raise healthy, “normal” children. Parenting in a digital age- raising healthy kids in the age of TikTok.
How to understand and navigate this grand digitalization, and raise healthy kids in the 21st century?
A Silent Coup- Traditional Institutions Fade Away
Even for millennials- those born between 1980 and 1995- home and school have been the preeminent institutions shaping one’s upbringing. Parents spent time with children. When at work, schools took on the responsibility of “educating” upcoming generations. Teachers acted as potential role-models, commanding authority from younglings. As kids develop, they begin to form an identity and forge a personality as they interact across their two distinct societies- the primary one being home, and the other being school. School is a person’s chance to interact with the “outside” world and meet new people. It is also a controlled experiment of sorts. This is since it provides a space for kids to express themselves and learn about the world. A carefully crafted educational curriculum ensures that students gain exposure to liberal arts and sciences, while developing future generations that can think critically, fit into society, as well as lead productive lives.
Today, these institutions are under threat. With the internet taking on a bigger role in our lives, parents and teachers are losing influence fast. A generational divide means that parents do not understand the dynamics at play to start with. Decadent educational curricula translate into lower educational outcomes, the death of “schools” as educators, and loss of students’ attention. This power vacuum is quickly filled by no other than the internet, our world wide web. And with it comes access to a world of ideas, a virtual reality, a virtual escape. Parents are ever-more busy at work. Meanwhile, teachers are pathetic- they fail to inspire, with many still struggling to run a class online on a platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Children are online, on iPads and iPhones and all things connected. The internet, an unregulated jungle, is single-handedly parenting our precious children!
Conscious Decisions- Don’t Buy Your Kid an iPad
You make your own decisions, you suffer the consequences. Parenting is a responsibility. As such, making mindful decisions can go a long way into raising a healthy kid in such uncertain times. Today, as more and more of us parents are struggling to pay utility bills, school tuitions and rent, spending quality time with kids has become an unpopular chore. Rather, it’s easier to hand my kid an iPad, and enjoy the calm in the background as I bury myself in my armchair, have a glass of wine, and unwind after a long day at work. This is as close as it gets to spending time with kids. Really? You can do better than that. Or at least acknowledge that you’re not doing enough to begin with.
Who’s going to ask your kid about their day at school? Who will your kid complain to after a traumatic experience at school, or after being bullied by another classmate? Who is going to accompany their kid as they face criticism about their looks and their behavior? Children are sensitive; they just want love and acceptance. You have a role to play, and you should at least be there to help them face the outside world, in the process building thick skin, a positive self-image and confidence rather than insecurity, fear and rejection.
Now, at least, you know that sitting aside while your kid gets fixated on their tablet is no substitute for proper parenting. The only way to learn about your child, to identify potential problems, and to offer your support is to be there and invest in quality time. Activities range from intellectual activities, reading books, conversing, solving puzzles, to preparing meals and bedtime storytelling.
Communication and Trust- The ABC’s of a Healthy Home Environment
Parents should make the effort to make home a place where your kid can feel security, liberty, love, warmth, and belonging. Just as important is creating the environment that allows a kid to express themselves, share their concerns, and fulfill their personal development.
The secret is communication. By showing your kid that they can confide in you their deepest worries, without enduring any blame or finger-pointing, then you are able to foster a relationship based on mutual trust, responsibility and reliability. Often times these days, kids suffer silently, while their emotionally unavailable parents are never there to address their issues. Only when things build up do parents step in. Not only is their intervention too late, there’s more- blame allocation, yelling, fighting.. Toxic parenting is not the way. Rather, it is imperative that parents invest in fostering a communication based on trust and honesty, so as to create healthy bonds, and thus support an overall parenting strategy that does not hinder a kid’s development.
Back to a Physical World- Books, Playgrounds, Puzzles and Playdough
It’s almost like we’ve abandoned our own childhoods. Those same activities that defined a special period in our lives are now out of favor, thanks to the internet and ever-more-hectic lifestyle. Somewhere in your basement, you may actually still possess that LEGO set. Or that coloring book that took you countless hours to complete. How about shelf toys? Bubbles, books, puzzles and playdough? Remember “Show and Tell”? Parents should reintroduce these activities into their kids’ lives. This comes in place of excessive, unnecessary time online, and supports a more balanced approach. Yes, there are a ton of educationally interactive material on tablets as well. But the point is that our kids also need to learn to communicate with others, to exercise, and to run around at home and in the dirty playgrounds.
More Parenting Choices- A Matter of Time
It’s only a matter of time before we all wake up to the catastrophe that’s befallen upon us. Some parents are already banning their kids from using the Facebooks and TikToks of the world. This is also detrimental to a child’s development, creating outcasts in their social circles- social pariahs at school and beyond, the weirdos of the 21st century. Nor does it support a relationship based on trust and honesty. Rather, it is time for parents to actively unite to foster a conversation with their counterparts at schools. From school educators to school management, we should all get involved to address these issues and enforce a strategy at the level of schools themselves. Parents need to learn more about online bullying, virtual identity and social media. Teachers need to learn new tricks as well.
And it is a matter of time before schools catch up with the times and diverge in their approach to education. Some will embrace the do-all-you-want approach, giving families authority over the content that kids consume online. Other schools will ban access to certain material or applications. Mobile phones may be banned during school hours. Such “policing” comes in close coordination with parents’ preferences. It ensures that vulnerable kids are not exposed to content that is increasingly hyper-sexualized, that increasingly targets children as easy prey for complex marketing schemes, and that is outright harmful to kids. A 10-year-old girl should behave like a kid. She shouldn’t, unknowingly, be influenced into behaving like a 14-year-old or a young woman. See our article about getting back into shape after pregnancy here.