Parenting from the old gut in a new world

by Kristin on February 16, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by flickingerbrad

Too much screen time can be detrimental to the emotional and social development of adolescent girls. A new parenting book advises Americans to parent more like the French. And then, of course, 13-year-old girls are walking around malls advertising clothing stores that are known for half-naked models in suggestive poses.

Do these bits of “news” (found here, here and here) add up to anything (besides the fact that I’m starting to sound really grumpy and old-fashioned)?

Unfortunately, I think they do. I’ve been trying to calm my growing sense of distress long enough to think clearly and put my finger on what these trends add up to, and for now I’ve come to this conclusion: As parents, we’re rapidly losing sight of common sense.

When a study has to point out that our kids’ social and emotional development are nurtured not through screen time, but through face-to-face interactions, something has gone wrong.

When we look at French parents who encourage their kids to do basic things like entertain themselves and try new foods, and we think it’s advice worthy of publishing in a book, something has gone wrong. (I admit I haven’t read the book—I’ve just read articles and heard interviews about the book.)

When a parent (like me, for instance) is horrified by the image on the Hollister shopping bags kids are carrying around, but then wonders if she’s just “old fashioned” and “out-of-touch,” something has gone wrong.

Before there was Google, parents had guts

Maybe the real problem is actually this: not that we lack common sense as much as we lack the ability to trust our guts. As parents, we’ve forgotten who is in charge. Let me explain what I mean by that. I don’t consider myself to be an overly authoritarian parent—I’m a fan of listening to what my kids think, being flexible, and choosing my battles. But I think, as parents, we’ve lost our sense of certainty in what we believe—what we know—in our guts.

Instead, we’ve folded under the pressures of “changing times.” We let technology, marketing, trends, and the crowd-sourced opinions of a bunch of kids (and their overwhelmed, baffled parents) make us second-guess what we know about the world. We tell our kids not to give in to peer pressure, but then as parents, we’re giving in at every turn: Sure, if all of your 10-year-old friends are on Facebook, or eating (fill in the blank) for lunch, or staying up until 10pm, or watching Glee, I guess we should let you, too. After all, we wouldn’t want to be seen as the stuffy, out-of-touch parents, right?

While we were eating lunch today, I ran my thoughts on this issue by Jason, and he shared a really insightful analogy. He brought up immigrant families, whose kids know the language and culture far better than their parents do. “The power structure between the parents and the kids suddenly is flipped,” Jason said. The kids are the ones with the knowledge and the parents are the clueless ones, trying to keep up. That’s similar to what it’s like for many (if not most) parents today when it comes to technology and social media, Jason pointed out. Our kids know the language and the “rules” better than we do. Rather than seem old school and out of touch, we defer to others and let a lot of stuff fly.

The importance of remembering what hasn’t changed

I get it, and believe me, I’m susceptible to that line of thinking, as well. But then I read something like this (from the Stanford University study), and everything I’ve known for so long becomes crystal clear, once again:

“When we media multitask, we’re not really paying attention to the people around us and we get in a habit of not paying attention, and thus when I’m talking with you, I may be hearing the words but I’m missing all the rich, critical, juicy stuff at the heart of emotional and social life.” – Researcher Clifford Nass

That’s why it’s so important to keep reminding myself that while so much is changing, certain things are also timeless—rest, balance, conversation, respect, eye contact, emotion. My gut knows a lot about those things. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to apply what it tells me and teach my children well.

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  • A

    Love, love, love this post and could not agree with you more. I think a lot of parents are also not as sure of their roles in their kids’ lives and affections. The way I see it if my kid doesn’t hate me at least sometimes, either my kid is extremely unusual, or I’m not doing my job.

  • Jen

    Seriously, I think we share a brain, a very big and very smart brain, sometimes. Mulling so many of these ideas. I am all for flexibiility as a parent, and yes, sometimes, I do need to hear what the “experts” say. I am thankful for certain books like “Parenting with Love and Logic,” and “Siblings without Rivalry.” I also know that I know my children, and I know myself. And so I have to trust that.

    I think, a lot of times, we lose sight of that. We fall prey to this, to use a common phrase, “crowd source” mentally, that certain ideas apply in all circumstances. BUT. My kids are unique. Every kid is unique. Every situation is unique. When we can’t KNOW that our children need to eat their veggies without having to read an article, then yes. We have lost our trust in ourselves.

    I will put on a beret and serve filet for lunch. Will that work?

  • Nicola

    I constantly feel like my parenting ideals are slowly being eroded – that I have to be happy with a compromise between what I see as important and the reality that’s occurring all around me. And my daughter is just turning 8 next month! Not even close to adolescence yet!

    So, I guess I have to take measure of my successes – where I’ve held onto my ideals for my child or where I’ve held onto them longer than those around me. Surely, that means I’m coming closer to the “common sense” parenting that I strive for?

    I do think that we have to teach our kids to live in the world we actually live in, not the one in our heads. Do I think that means we need to shop at Hollister? No. But, our kids are going to see that bag even if you don’t shop there, so interpretation may be the key here. (Don’t get me wrong – I think that image is outrageous for a store that caters to tweens. The way that sex and “sexy” is marketed to our kids, especially our daughters, makes me insane!)

    Recently, A’s babysitter let her watch some Katie Perry and Lady Gaga videos on the computer. Gulp. Fortunately, our babysitter also has some common sense and the videos they watched were pretty clean. But, they had images and messaging that I wouldn’t necessarily expose an almost-8-yr-old to. A was very excited to have me watch them with her, which I did. And we had some pretty interesting conversations about what was happening and how the women looked, etc. (As A says, “Lady Gaga doesn’t like to wear very many clothes.”)

    So, I’m going to try to stick to my “common sense” ideals where I can and help her interpret the world we live in. I’m not afraid to set unpopular boundaries, and I think that will help. I expect her to be mad at me a lot during adolescence (I’m going to get a dog to love me – smart, right?). We’ll see how it goes.

    This is a rambling comment on a Friday afternoon…sorry!

  • Jennifer

    Yes!! I couldn’t agree with you more if you coated this post in chocolate! The norm I see around me is to let the kids call the shots. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of one of those Saturday morning pre-teen sitcoms where the grown ups learn the lesson every time. (that’s not to say we can’t/shouldn’t learn from our kids. We SO should!) but, our culture today seems to equate any sort of authority as evil, and we’ve put a huge kink in the entire chain.

  • Kristin T.

    A, it’s so perceptive that you’re bringing up affections along with roles—I do think the two often get tangled, especially when parents try too hard to be their kids’ best friends.

    Jen, how nice that you think we share a SMART brain! :) We really do need to trust that we know our children and know ourselves, as you said. Yes, advice can be great—anything we read can help us think in new ways, even if we don’t buy completely into the advice. But in the end, we need to first trust our instincts.

    Nicola, I completely get this: “I have to be happy with a compromise between what I see as important and the reality that’s occurring all around me.” It’s sort of a “choose your battles” situation. For example, I finally gave in and let my middle school girls watch Glee (*everyone* watches it!), but I made sure to have conversations with them about the dynamics and scenarios in the show. I like how you put this: “I’m going to try to stick to my “common sense” ideals where I can and help her interpret the world we live in.”

    Jennifer, parenting middle school kids *definitely* feels like a sitcom—that’s so funny! I think the cultural sense that authority is evil comes from the fact that we seem to have so few role models for how to be authoritative in love, gentleness and respect. We need to find those rare examples and learn from them.