As a young mother, I have been thinking about how I will bring up my child in a world that is totally different from the world I grew up in, and the challenges in store for all of us. Here are 7 key differences that are significantly different from our childhood days:
The kids of today grow up interacting with technology from a very young age. It’s common to see toddlers, sometimes even infants, using tablets or smart phones. These kids have grown up surrounded by mobile devices, the Internet, and instant connections, and this has shaped the way they behave and think. Give them a new app and a few hours, and many will have explored it thoroughly, often accomplishing things that we adults can’t.
Their level of comfort and familiarity with technology will likely have some implications for the way they think and learn. Some research has suggested that children today find it easier to absorb textual information when it is in a digital format, while others argue that they are better at ‘multitasking’, or switching quickly between different tasks.1 What this means for us as parents is that we will need to accept that our children may have different ways of learning and absorbing new information that they find more effective. As they adapt, we too must adapt with them.
2. Growing up with instant access to information
We now live in a world where the answer to almost any question is available with a few taps of a finger or a voice command. It has become natural for many of us to look up the most effective way of answering a question or accomplishing a given task even before we have started on it. Want to bake a cake? Search for ‘chocolate cake recipe’ on Google. Buying a car? ‘COE prices 2018’. We often depend on our quick easy access to the Internet and all the information on it. The amount of information available is wider and easier to access than ever. But this can also have negative aspects. The same flood of information also applies to misinformation.
This misinformation can be spread in different ways, from Aunt Evelyn’s emails to Uncle Wong’s WhatsApp warnings to text messages from your mother. It has grown to become such an issue that multiple countries including Indonesia, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and Thailand are working to combat such ‘fake news’ while organisations like the BBC have developed lessons for children to learn about identifying misinformation.
All of this poses several challenges for parents. On top of the increased difficulty in explaining or convincing our children, they may also be exposed to information they are not sufficiently mature to handle. There is also the risk of misinformation or deliberately falsified information. We need to teach our children how to identify trusted and safe sources, educate them on the importance of understanding the source and context of the information, and recognise the importance of seeking out sources that offer alternative views from our own beliefs. To help, I’ve included a great poster on doing so from IFLA.
3. Social Media
Most of us use social media. Our children are no exception. While most of us typically only use Facebook, our children are likely to be heavy users of apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, or Twitter.
A CNN study tracking the social media usage of over two hundred 13-year-olds found that the teenagers had no firm line between their real and online worlds. Social media was a real part of their social lives and a place where they could develop real and meaningful relationships. Many were driven by the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and social media allowed them to keep up with whatever their friends were doing, even if they were only passively looking at the updates posted by others.
Cutting them off resulted in various emotional effects, with 47% feeling anxious and an interesting but troubling 10% feeling relieved. A number of students also reported receiving inappropriate photos, and those affected were usually much more distressed than the other students studied.
Despite the negative experiences, the 13-year-olds viewed social media positively, with most of them saying that social media made them feel good about themselves, and it was often used as a tool for affirmation and reminding themselves that others cared about them.2
Although about two-thirds of the parents involved in the study said that they restricted or prohibited their child’s use of social media, they had little idea as to what their children were doing and many children shared that parental controls were much less restrictive than their parents thought. Particularly troubling was the finding that parents dramatically underestimated the negative experiences while overestimating the positive or happy experiences their children faced in their lives.
What does this mean for parents and children? It means that your children are likely see social media as integral to their lives, and may engage with it on a level that you are unable to understand or appreciate. Aside from the obvious difficulties in monitoring and controlling such usage, parents must also recognise that we will likely experience difficulty in relating and understanding their teenage children, requiring extra effort to reach out and engage with them both online and offline.
4. Screen distractions
Did you ever feel that your parents were too busy for you when you were a child? When your parents were busy with their own chores and hobbies, and nothing you said got through to them? Our kids live in that same world, if not more so.
As a society, we are spending so much time on the various electronic devices that we neglect those around us. What lessons are we teaching our children when they see us being distracted by these devices? Work emails, Facebook updates and Instagram posts are just some of the distractions we face. In the CNN study, the teenagers reported that their parents, particularly mothers, were also heavy users of social media. In a separate study by the Pew Research Center, over half of teenagers felt that their parents were at least sometimes distracted by their phones during in-person conversations.3
Changing our own habits can be immensely difficult, but these changes are necessary for our own sake and that of our children. By setting clear rules regarding our own use and leading by example, parents are able to better enforce such restrictions on and engage with their children.
Here are some of the changes you can consider –
Sign a family contract with restrictions that apply to everyone
Setting up a charging area in a common space to reduce night time digital distractions
Set aside device-free time for the whole family
Turning off or limiting notifications after a certain time
5. Parenting Techniques
Our parents didn’t have the same array of guides and research that we have today. Tiger, Helicopter, Snowplow, Bubble-Wrap, Free range are just some of the parenting styles that have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Every method has its own approach and desired outcome, and this can lead to confusion among parents as well as disagreements between us and our parents, relatives or friends on the best way to bring up a child. This uncertainty may result in conflicting messages to your child or exposure to contradictory parenting methods, leaving them confused or mislabelled as disobedient.
There is no universal best style for bringing up a child as every child is different, but it is critical for both parents and other caregivers to agree on the approach and to implement it equally. Both parents have to be open about communicating with other, agree upon on an approach, and stick to it together. If one parent fails to keep up their side of the bargain, children can pit parents against each other or wind up confused about parental expectations.
6. Lack of Physical Activity
Our children are living a more sedate lifestyle and spending much more time indoors. There are many reasons for this, including the increased addiction to electronic entertainment, the increased stress and demands on time, or the lack of space for outdoor play. These factors have led to concerns about increased rates of obesity, myopia and other issues.
While the authorities have been attempting to address this issue, parents are also trying to play their part by encouraging their children to spend more time playing outdoors and getting more exercise. Increasing the time spent outdoors for children has shown positive effects on their health, including benefits such as reducing rates of myopia and obesity.4 According to Harvard medical school, outdoor activity can also improve their socialisation and executive function skills.5
However, as these children are unused to greater physical activity, they run higher risks of injury as they pursue a more active lifestyle. If you find that your child is tripping more, or experiences pain in their feet or legs after exercise, consult a podiatrist. Being experts of the lower limb, podiatrists are trained to diagnose and treat the underlying conditions that are causing your child to trip or experience pain.
7. More food allergies
Kids today are developing food allergies at a higher rate today. It was rare to hear someone being allergic to a particular type of food, and those were often seafood specific. In fact, bird’s nest used to be the most common cause for anaphylaxis in Singapore during the 1980s.6 These days, however, we are seeing more children and adults who are allergic to tree nuts, soy, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, gluten, and other products.
Shellfish allergies are the most common in Singapore, with over 5% of older teenagers developing an allergy, but researchers are also seeing increased levels of tree nut and other allergies.6 This increase mirrors the trend elsewhere in the world, but scientists are unsure about the cause. Some of the suggestions include better rates of diagnosis, greater availability of information, changes to cultural practices and diet due to greater global trade.7 Regardless of the reason, parents have to be more careful about the foods they feed their child, and reading product and nutritional labels is much more common now.
It is important to teach our kids to recognise symptoms of food allergies and remind them to notify a caregiver or adult if they experience any of the following.
Itching in the mouth
Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other parts of the body
Flushing, itching of the eyes or hives
Abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
Some people recommend an elimination diet, where suspected allergens are removed and added back to the diet one at a time. This test can help link symptoms to specific food, but it is not meant to differentiate between a food sensitivity and an allergy. However, this is less safe as the child may have a severe allergic reaction during the diet.
If you think your child may have an allergy, consider going for a skin prick or blood test. It is important to seek professional medical help rather than relying on an online or self-administered test as these are often less accurate.