It’s hard not to reminisce and think of your upbringing when you look at kids growing up nowadays. With the amount of technology around us and how quickly its evolving, it’s tough to keep up. Utah is adopting ‘free-range’ parenting and, more so, the controversy leading up to it shows how the world has changed and our views of it alongside it. Letting your kids out to play without supervision, a couple of miles away from home, with only the assurance that your kids will make their way home ‘when the streetlights come on’; it seems such different world from where we find ourselves now.
The debate has been too much of what we, as adults, make of it all. Utah’s ‘free-range’ parenting law has much been a debate on how dangerous the world is nowadays on the opposing side, met by ‘we are over-protecting our kids and not teaching them independence’ on the other. Without taking any sides, let’s assume there is merit in both sides’ arguments, and compromise is the best way forward. One could wonder, however if we aren’t too much focused on impressing an adult perspective on the whole situation and invoking too much of our own, and moreover dated, reference framework. Is that fair? Shouldn’t we be looking at this from a child’s perspective, free of our preconceptions?
Let’s look at what we, sort of, can objectively establish what has changed, things we experience regardless if we are adults or kids. One of the most striking differences between then and now is the amount of data available at our fingertips. We get the news almost instantly from every direction. It’s fast, and it is usually short and devoid of further analysis and inescapable. Fitting with the latter, we are also always connected, or at least we have no excuse not be always connected. Mass production has brought us a mobile phone for everyone, with ever impressive screen fidelity akin to having a small TV in your pocket. Having such an excellent multimedia device at all time trumps, in most cases, the desire to get lost in a good book. Now, this is not to say that people or, more to the point, kids don’t read anymore, but it would be hard to argue that this is still the preferred past time for most.
And before you would say ‘see this is about digital detoxing and how bad technology is for kids’, I am going to stop you there. Regardless what I think, or maybe what we all melancholically long for, that element of hyper-connectivity of people, the continuous overload of information and a world in which data is not ‘read’ per definition, but consumed in audio-visual rich manner, that’s not going to change. So, I suggest rephrasing the issue here; it’s not about changing the environment for our kids, it’s about how we ensure our kids have the life skills they need to succeed and arming them to deal with a changing world.
I see at least three areas that require attention, and we need to work on with our kids. The first one is about relationships. Marriage (or civil union) followed by kids is not the default anymore. Children nowadays are exposed to a multitude of configurations which will form the new norm. Arguably we need to make sure, whatever the chosen configuration, that our kids still aim to make genuine connections. Hyperconnectivity is not a substitute for making and feeling true connections, and we need to make sure our kids don’t feel alone in a crowd.
Another area of attention is speech. As technology offers us a springboard to the world, it also provides us with a hiding place from it. Communication for most kids looks like a chat or a comment, no longer is it a face to face conversation. Case and point – I needed to add ‘face to face’ to the previous sentence to not cause confusion. Without the practice of speaking, kids will struggle to do so when it’s required. Speech directly impacts the ability to make real life face to face connections. The remedy is to talk and keep talking. If you need help, there is always a speech therapist.
The last area of attention is food and our relationship to it. In a world where everything is on-demand and fast, we hardly find time to sit down for a meal. It not only causes our kids to have an unhealthy relationship with food and promotes a snack culture, but it also robs us of the opportunity to talk and emphasise the value of making authentic connections.
Reading about the ‘free-range’ parenting law in Utah reminded me of a lovely little indie film called Captain Fantastic (2016). Vigo Mortenson plays a devoted father who tries to, not raise kids, but to raise adults. It’s a lovely film that potentially holds up a mirror to each and every one of us parents and challenges the idea of how we prepare our kids for their future.