photo by Cassie Jones
I started the day by reading the news. Take my advice. Don't. It's too much. So many disturbed and sad and troubled and depressed and bad people out there. Anyone read about the 12 year old boy who stabbed the 9 year old boy to death on a playground in Michigan? The 12 year old KID called 911 to turn himself in and asked them to "come kill me, I want to end my life". He had apparently taken pills earlier in the day, too, and said something about no one loving him. Messed up, huh. Sooooooo messed up.
While reading the news, I came across this article on CNN, Longing for the Carefree Parenting Style of Yesterday, written by Kelly Wallace. The article is part of the series, The Sixties, that CNN has put together, and examines the differences, good and bad, in the parenting of decades before the internet versus that of today. I so enjoyed the article and highly recommend taking the time to read it. It's a short, easy read (the only kind that interests me).
Basically, in the 60's (and 70's and 80's for that matter) parents were way more chill. Kids played outside in the neighborhood until after dark, parents never even thinking to worry. I can remember roaming the neighborhood ALL DAY without so much as checking in with my mom. We played in creeks. We roamed the streets. We walked to the neighborhood convenient store and bought way too much Laffy Taffy and Sugar Babies and carried it away in a little brown paper bag, devouring it throughout our pick-up baseball games or crawdad hunts or acorn throwing wars. Lunch? Health? Structure? Safety? What were those?
Today, we parents are afraid, we are very afraid. This is 2014, and no child of mine is roaming the neighborhood, even if we lived in a neighborhood, which we do not. I mean, a 12 year old kid stabbed another kid to death in Michigan! I want to be more carefree and "chill" like the parents of yesterday, but it's a catch 22. A lot of our fears are real. We actually can't let our kids roam the neighborhoods like we did growing up. Or could we? I can't even tell what is what anymore. Are there more mean and sick people in the world than there used to be? Or are we just more aware of them than we once were? Are we overly protective? Or does our culture and society demand such? And what's more, if it's not a neighborhood stabbing or school shooting or a world-wide Ebola outbreak that we are worrying about, it's that our parenting style isn't going to produce "awesome" children. The cited article would argue that the internet is partially to blame for our perhaps exaggerated fears as parents, both externally and internally. It's not that bad things didn't exist in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, or that parental insecurities weren't a reality, they did and were, but today, we, as parents, know more. We have easy access to terrifying information whether we seek it out or not, and also to an over-bundance of opinions and pet-peeves about how we are raising our kids, making us more fearful and insecure than parents of yesterday.
One particular point the article's author makes is that before the fears that are arguably heightened by the World Wide Web, kids didn't used to be so structured. Because of fewer reminders of the obviously imminent end of the world, parents had the mental freedom to be less afraid and kids had the freedom to therefore also be less afraid, enabling parents to enable kids to more freely choose how to use their time. For parents of yesterday there wasn't pressure to plan events and to have something organized to do every single day because kids were structuring their own events, using their imaginations to create activities for themselves and their friends around the neighborhood. Parents and kids weren't expecting disaster to be lurking around every corner and therefore kids had the freedom to go and do and be. Kids were expected to just be kids. Now, because we can't let our kids go and do on their own, we are signing them up for every single extra-curricular activity under the sun: baseball, soccer, gymnastics, dance, theater, choir, band (well roundedness and all), art, volleyball, golf camp, football camp, camp camp, VBS... SO MUCH STUFF! There used to be this thing called free time. Can you even imagine? Time free of activities and over-stimulation. And to top it all off, free time was also monetarily free! Now we gotta plan stuff! We have a friend over? Gotta plan something to DO with the friend (something that costs money). We have a day off? Gotta plan an activity (something that costs money). We wake up? Gotta have a structured plan for every waking hour (more money). Oh my goodness. It all makes me want to run the opposite direction. So much so that I'm probably ruining my kids.
In fact, the internet would say that I am most certainly ruining my kids. Hey, and guess what, so are all of you. Someone out there thinks you are screwing up your kids, and they are telling you about it. This is another aspect of parenting influenced by the internet that this article explores. There is no shortage of opinions online, so many qualified and UNqualified folks explaining to us parents that we are doing everything wrong, EVERYTHING. Seriously. Parents didn't used to be so insecure. But now, whichever parenting route we take, someone out there on the internet, whether it be a scientist or our neighbor down the road, is telling us it is wrong. The internet age has us questioning every move we make. We are afraid of the world and afraid of ourselves at the same time.
A few weeks ago I was on the ol' Facebook, about to post this really hilarious and undoubtedly interesting to everyone thing one of my kids did (wink, wink), when I came across an equally interesting kind of status dogging some parenting methods and therefore informing me that I'm failing miserably as a parent. Then as is the tendency of Facebookers, those who agreed with the particular issue jumped in on the conversation and a rant ignited amongst others who apparently wanted to punch some Facebookers in their status updates. You know you've done it. I've DEFINITELY done it. We Facebookers LOVE the opportunity to gripe about other FACEBOOKERS, do we not? It's like passive aggression or something like that. And I guess that's exactly what I'm doing now? DOH! Let's ignore that for the sake of exploring where this is going.
Of course there is the whole freedom of speech thing, which is good. It's GREAT in fact, and by all means, exercise your freedom. I'm exercising mine! But for me, I am realizing some things about my personal freedom of speech and the responsibility that comes along with such freedom. I've realized I have contributed to and even instigated critical and divisive conversations myself. So I'm not throwing stones about the FB stuff or anything. I've done it. Like, way too much. But I never want to ever again. I don't want to be divisive or make other parents who are just trying to be good parents feel terrible about themselves. Cause guess what? We're just trying to make connections, to have friends, to share, and be good parents. Parents are already feeling bad about themselves without those of us who apparently have it all figured out telling them about it. It seems there is a kinder method by which to get across one's point than a pointed Facebook status, many of us being too eager and quick to voice our opinions and often in disregard for the feelings or perspective of others. And there you have the extra parental insecurities of today.
Truth be told, I am geared toward being critical and negative, so it's a challenge for me. But it's a challenge I'm giving myself, to be a positive online person. I am human and naturally suck sometimes, so expect me to fail.
Now, I am generally a proponent of the internet, so after dogging it a bit, I want to acknowledge that this article I'm citing also made mention of the internet's good qualities. There are some by the way. Many, in fact. The potential for good is great. But we people are always messing up good stuff. The internet can be incredibly advantageous for today's parents. Many would agree it's pretty cool to easily connect with parents all over the world who are just trying to raise good kids. It can be helpful to connect with others and, yes, to share. Cause guess what, like they say, it takes a village, and we don't really live in villages anymore, so sometimes we use our internet village. I just want to be a positive light in that village. And sometimes I blow it and screw it all up, but my goals are to nix the negative criticism and recognize that I might be part of the problem. We have the power to lessen the pressures, to encourage rather than criticize, to find common ground rather than honing in on our differences, to embolden rather than induce fear.
So parents, do you long for the carefree parenting of yesterday? Are you like me and are constantly feeling fearful of the world and yourself? Are you convinced you're doing it all wrong? Are you certain you're making parenting mistakes? Well, you are. And I am. And your parents did. And theirs before them did. We are all doing something to hinder our kids from developing into the most awesome human beings with every opportunity to be physically and mentally and socially and spiritually and economically superior. I say we all screw up our kids in support of one another. Here's to raising average kids who want to be good neighbors and love other people! Here's to working through our fears enough to let our kids explore and enjoy the short lives we are given (within reason and with adequate, thought out precaution of course)! And there I go, failing already. Who's with me? Ready to fail with the best of us? Ready to raise the "worst"and least "awesome" generation yet? I'm just aiming to raise kids who will not stab other kids. Kids who are loved and who know it. I want my kids to appreciate life and the lives of others. Bad at sports, terribly uncoordinated, less than brilliant, but socially aware and full of kindness and optimism and love and support and encouragement for their fellow man. And while the realities of the world should not be ignored, I don't want to live in fear. I certainly don't wish for my kids to live in fear. Who's with me?