Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gen X parenting: Everything new is old again

Going down the clickhole again...

I saw a piece on the Washington Post site about being a Gen X parent and straddling that divide between the pre-internet/social media era and now in regards to raising children.

As a parent (albeit of an infant) who is technically of that generation, I had a few thoughts (which somehow I found a few moments to compose).

The author started by mentioning when she takes a carpool of adolescents to school each morning she points out a river by the road, trying to get the kids to look at nature, and how they all just look at their phones. She uses that to frame the larger topic of how her generation are pioneers in dealing with child rearing that is so drastically different than how they were raised, before any of this high tech world was ubiquitous.

While I see her point, the piece suffers from a bit of solipsism (although I get the feeling the writer is aware of that), carrying an implication that not having a foundation for dealing with Facebook, etc., is somehow dramatically more difficult than anything parents have faced with previous generations. It somewhat blithely ignores the reality that every generation of parents (at least over the past century) has had something come up that their kids had which they didn't back when they were children.

The only unique aspect of the scenario at hand is that Gen Xers are now the ones looking at the their offspring and having that "what is wrong with kids today?" reaction—just as every generation of parents before them did.

I'm not pretending it's easy to figure out how to navigate a very scary online world and what it can do to manipulate or endanger those whose brains haven't fully formed (especially what they will do without thinking that could come back to bite them later). Social media certainly exploits teens inherent narcissism but it's not as though it made the teens narcissistic.

But as has come to pass with every societal change that parents had to figure out in the past this won't be what brings society down. Kids will do stupid things with their phones just as kids did stupid things with whatever they had in the past. But they'll grow up and (with any luck) wise up and then when they have children they'll encounter situations for which their experiences leave them unprepared.

The author implies her kids will have it easier because they grew up with this tech, but that's only from the short-sighted perspective ignoring that the internet wasn't the first parental hurdle and it won't be the last. She also puts the gauze of nostalgia pretty heavy on things from her youth when one had to actually talk to others.

I think it's na├»ve to believe that if smart phones existed twenty years ago that Gen X wouldn't have responded exactly the same way Millennials do… especially when you look at parents these days and see them staring at the screen in their hand.

In the old days we had to talk; we didn't have other options.

Social media and devices are merely the latest manifestation of a longstanding issue parents have faced. However, as each generation reproduces and has to put up with teens they get to enjoy the same petty benefit middle age offers: being able to tell those young people tales of "back in my day" (and pretend it sounds any less ridiculous than when their parents did the same to them).

Now everyone get off the internet and go outside. Once the ozone layer has completely depleted and we don't get to do that anymore then parents will really have a challenge, so let's enjoy our quaint current iteration in the cycle of parenting issues by taking a respite in the out of doors while we still can.

Or check Facebook. You could do that too (and probably will).

I'm going to check on my infant son and take some solace in the belief by the time he's old enough to want to use devices that society will have better come to grips with its relationship with devices and the online world.

So, in a decade or so, look for an essay from me lamenting not knowing how to keep him off whatever the technological advance of that time proves to be. (My guess is it'll be easy to get: it will be beamed directly into your brain.)


The comments on that Washington post piece, as one could anticipate, devolve immediately into generational jabs between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

Clearly we may need to worry about how adults who didn't grow up with the internet are interacting with it—perhaps more so than we need to worry about the young coming to grips with it when they've not known anything else. We stress to children the importance of being civil to each other, but grown-ups seem to operate outside of that much of the time.

Claiming adults of either generation are "fully developed" may be a stretch, at least the way many conduct themselves in the online world.

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