Well, here we are in the 21st century
and, contrary to predictions, we're not yet living in space stations like
the Jetsons. But we are living in a rapidly changing time and need to
think about what that means for us as parents. While we grew up in a more
traditional and less technological world, our children have never known
life without VCRs, answering machines, video games and computers.
We've had to keep pace with changes
in many spheres and discover that every time we open the newspaper we're
reading about some major challenge to the old order -- be it school violence
or school vouchers, the global economy or global warming. What are the
implications for us as parents raising children who will be spending the
large portion of their lives in the 21st century?
Here are some challenges to consider. Let's remember:
Growing Up Takes Time
Our offspring may seem to exhibit
astounding sophistication, but underneath it all they are really just
kids. A five-year old is still just five, no matter how big his vocabulary,
how impressive her computer skills or how many enriching vacations he's
experienced. With all due respect for the intellect and knowledge of a
child at any age -- it's a mistake to be fooled into thinking that our
children can handle all sorts of grown-up challenges. It can be tempting
to turn kids into our confidants or ask them to make mature decisions
about important matters. Certainly listen and consider what they have
to say. But remember that they still require our steadfast support, reassurance,
and guidance. Besides, we'd do well to relish each stage and phase --
even the ones that aren't our favorites. Our kids will experience that
age only once. In an era of acceleration, where faster is considered better
in virtually every enterprise, let's keep reminding ourselves and each
other that human development is one process that can't be rushed.
"Downtime" is Essential
We live at a time when there are so
many interesting organized activities available it's easy to forget that
kids need unstructured time. Not every minute has to be educationally
enriching. Kids need time to daydream, think, digest their day, ponder
and play. The rewards of unprogrammed time cannot always be measured immediately,
but are manifest in creativity, imagination and enjoyment.The benefits
are often long-term.
Innovators have always known that
the best inspirations come when the mind is allowed to wander make unexpected
connections and arrive at creative solutions. Kids need hands-on time
with tangible materials play dough, paint, blocks and dress up clothes
-- time to play where the process is more important than the product.
That also means a chance to engage in physical activity that's not part
of a performance or competitive game, and unhurried time with other kids
- peers with whom they can cooperate, collaborate or just be silly. What
may seem like a waste of time now has immeasurable benefits for the future.
Kids Need Human Contact -- With Parents
Our kids need human, face to face
time with us parents. That means parent and child in the same zip code,
preferably with the TV off. Technology has made it possible to stay in
contact with our kids via cell phone, e-mail and intercom. Yet we all
know that there is no substitute for lap time and hugs for the warmth
and sharing that exists, not just in Hallmark greeting cards but as a
real life possibility when parents and kids share activities together.
Since kids don't talk to us on demand,
we are most likely to hear about the bully at school or the dream about
next summer when we're spending unpressured time with our kids. The unhurried
time may mean a leisurely weekend breakfast, a visit to the library, or
sitting together on a bus. It's playing a board game; talking after the
bedtime story; driving in the car without anybody in headphones.
children can sense when we are too rushed or preoccupied to listen. Time
together is the best gift we can give them certainly more valuable than
the latest CD player. Growing up, many of us took our parents' presence
for granted. Now kids are clamoring for more time with their parents.
Even seemingly indifferent teens need us around to defy, ignore and be
available for those unpredictable but precious moments when they actually
wish to converse.
Technology Demands Scrutiny
While technology has brought us knowledge
and convenience, we need to continually assess what role we wish it to
play in our kids' lives. We live at a time when the average amount of
time American kids spend watching the tube is 24 hours a week that's
the same as three eight-hour work days glued to the set. Media messages
proliferate. Our kids are told what to watch, buy, eat, wear and play
by people who do not have their best interest at heart to say the least.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is now encouraging parents to fill
out a "media history,'' to get TVs out of kid's rooms, and to set
clear limits. And of course the internet has also posed new challenges
to us parents, who are often less computer savvy than our exploratory
As the new millennium brings even
more technological innovations, it will be up to us to distinguish the
helpful from the harmful. We'll need to set limits on use, since too many
hours with even the most wonderful educational shows, games, web sites
or CD-Roms takes time away from hands-on play, imaginative pursuits ,
physical activity, social interactions, and other childhood essentials.
Creativity Is Key
As information becomes more accessible,
creativity is going to assume a larger role in helping us figure out what
to do with all that knowledge. Fifty years from now our kids will be grappling
with issues we can hardly imagine. Many will be involved in careers that
don't exist today. It's important to encourage curiosity, exploration
and the kind of questioning that enables kids to use the facts at hand
to develop new ideas, applications and solutions.
If we foster observation and interpretation
we'll help our kids look beyond the information they are learning to make
connections and find inventive uses for what they know. All of this can
go on in very mundane situations -- noticing what happens on the checkout
line in the grocery store; thinking about how E-Z pass works at a tollbooth.
We can also help them apply creativity to improve their relationships
with friends and siblings and us. Though we often associate creativity
with the arts, at the beginning of this new millennium let's find ways
that imagination and innovation can be applied to just about every endeavor.
Connected to creativity will be the
ability to think through solutions with foresight and heart. Imagine the
world 50 years from now -- and picture our children, grown up, making
decisions about biotechnology, the environment and human rights. Seems
daunting. But amazingly, one of the best preparations will come from exploration
and play since that's what gives kids the chance to see the results of
their actions, set priorities and learn to understand other people. Sound,
creative judgment takes time to develop and is rooted in childhood.
Dialogue Resolves Conflict
Dialogue means listening, thinking
about what the other person is saying and reconsidering one's own view.
Daniel Yankelovich, the social researcher wrote a book called "The
Magic of Dialogue" and indeed dialogue is magic. Listening, reframing,
mirroring -- that is saying what we think we've just heard -- are all
communications tools -- techniques for getting along better with each
other. These skills will become increasingly important in the culturally
diverse future. Childhood is the time to begin developing the framework.
The last millennium taught us that
"might" has serious limitations in making "right."
Now economic power is fast replacing sword power.The ability to cooperate,
collaborate and negotiate to settle disputes peacefully will be of tantamount
importance during the new millennium. Our children can learn to engage
in dialogue. Not to negotiate each and every issue with us!! but as a
way of encouraging two-sided listening, better understanding and win-win
solutions whenever possible
We're All Searching for Meaning
The big question that many parents
are posing at this rather golden period in American history is "What's
the point? What is truly meaningful?" People seem to seek more spiritual
answers during two types of crises: when they are faced with overwhelming
hardship or when their immediate needs are more than satisfied. At a time
of unprecedented material comfort many of us are wondering whether the
next fancy dinner, designer outfit or state-of-the-art gadget is going
to make a difference. It's one of the reasons we're attending services,
sending our children to religious classes and reading books that speak
to these questions.
It's easy to lose perspective about
how our families fit into the larger world. Yet perspective allows us
to put our lives in context and gain insight about what's important and
what's not. Increasingly, our lives are affected by what happens in our
neighborhoods, our city and even on the other side of the globe. Part
of maturity is recognizing that we aren't the center of the universe,
though every child deserves to feel he or she is central to his parent's
world. When we consider our priorities, most of us will recognize that
our kids are way up at the top of the list. So, as we embark on this new
and exciting millennium we need to renew our commitment to our children.
And we need to do what we can to help make this a world where they can
lead happy, productive lives.
This article appears in the year 2000 issue of the Review, published
by the Parents League of New York. All Rights Reserved. Reprint
with Permission Only
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