I worry about the Smartphone culture and the effect it has on our kids. I’m not talking about kids’ use of the iPhone or Blackberry, I am talking about my use of my iPhone while around my kids. They see me with my face glued up against my iPhone playing with an app or texting throughout the day. What kind of message does that send to them? What do they think about it in their growing brains when they see me so focused on a little piece of metal? Do they think that mommy is ignoring us, or has it just become part of their culture and they don’t know any different?
I am not alone. In fact, I am probably a mild perpetrator of this offense. I have frequently been to the park and observed moms swinging their kids mindlessly while they text. One time I witnessed a mom swing her child like a robot for 45 minutes while her daughter sat in the swing, lifeless, bored, with her limbs dangling. Then there are the moms who are too busy on their phones to notice when their kids are behaving badly.
I find that I am on my phone a lot at home when we are in the long boring hours of the afternoon leading up to dinnertime. I feel guilty like I should be engaging my child in a play dough session or a game of hide and seek.
This leads me to my next topic: is entertaining your children really part of a mother’s job description? Do we need to engage our children throughout the day, or do we just let them entertain themselves and figure out fun things to do on their own using their own imagination? Isn’t self-play part of the creative process? But seriously, why do I feel guilty when I am not playing with my kids? This seems ridiculous, especially when they all have each other to play with.
Things were different when my mom and dad were raising my sister and I. I was well looked after and protected but also allowed a wide berth of freedom. This was the same for all of our friends. For example, my friend Wendy and I, as 10 and 11-year-old girls, would ride our bikes throughout our town of Camino. We would even cross a freeway on our bikes to get to some friends homes. One boy-friend of ours lived on a lake and so we would ride our bike on over to his house and swim in his lake, unsupervised. Yes the water was gross and murky, yes there were strange things that would nibble at my toes in an uncomfortable way, and yes we could’ve drowned, but we were kids on an adventure and it all turned out ok.
Most people I know have no recollection of their moms playing with them. While I am sure my mom did play with me plenty, I also remember my sister and I using our own creative minds — no television or computers , iPods or iPads, Leapsters or Nintendo DS’s – and making up plays (albeit terrible ones) or cooking up pizzas made from dirt, leaves and other tree droppings available at the time.
Kids these days are so much more coddled and protected in my opinion. In addition, my entire generation is raising kids in a general atmosphere of competition. We have this underlying pressure that we must get our kids into the best schools – from preschool through college. We feel in order for our kids to keep up with their peers, we must spend a lot of money on extra-curricular activities. If our kids are going to get a scholarship for golfing, we better start them at age 5 in private lessons. Kids don’t just play sports in school anymore it seems, they join private leagues where parents pay big money so they can get ahead of the game and achieve more, possibly not based solely on talent, but on how much money your parents have to afford you the hours you need to be the best.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he talks extensively about how the great people of our time like Bill Gates or musical groups like The Beatles achieved greatness, wealth and power not only because they were geniuses at their passions, but because they put in 10,000 hours of practice in to become the best.
So far Ava has racked up about 50 hours in swim on the Shark’s swim team and I will tell you, she is no Michael Phelps in the swimming pool. Ava will not be part of the Shark’s swim team this year partly because she didn’t like it very much, and the other part is because Ava is not the strongest swimmer and will most likely not be achieving a scholarship to college for her swimming prowess. I base this conclusion on the fact that during her second year on the team as I was watching her swim the crawl across the pool during a meet, I couldn’t tell whether she was swimming forward or backward.
In the very midst of trying to figure out what extra-curricular activity we could put Ava in that would fill some of the empty spaces in her days while possibly working toward a full ride scholarship to college, I got a call from the ACRO Gymnastics coach who thought Ava would be a perfect addition to their team. First I asked the coach what the heck ACRO Gymnastics was. When that was settled I asked how much this new sport was going to cost me. The answer: $3,000 by the time we paid for practices, choreography, coaches fees, competition leos, warm-up leos, competition entrance fees, etc. Three thousand dollars to have my 6-year-old compete in a sport that she has never tried and may not even like or be good at. So I signed her up. Maybe this would be the sport that Ava is really good at and that she would like to continue through her school days. But probably not. Either way, as long as it is a positive experience I am totally on board.
The other night in a random moment of epiphany I told Chris that I think parenting is very hard in today’s culture because there is so much pressure on us and competition within our culture to create successful kids. In decades past it may have been most important to make sure your kids had some new clothes for the start of school, had a lunch packed, were healthy and were loved, and were polite and kind to other people. Today all previously mentioned is important, plus the fact that your kids not just be average, but that they receive a full scholarship to Harvard (perhaps an extreme example, but you get the point).
We don’t let our kids be as free these days, partly because if you go on the Megan’s Law website to browse child molesters in your area, you will find them lurking on practically every street – and those are just the registered offenders. Yes, there were child molesters when I was young, but perhaps not as many and for sure not as publicized. I remember freedom when I was young as being exhilarating; off we would go on bikes or on foot through neighborhoods jumping from one friends’ house to the next. My friends of today tell me that on weekends or after school they would walk out their front doors and not come back until it was starting to get dark. This is not part of our parenting in the 21st century.
So when I lamented to Chris about the difficulty and pressure of being a parent today, I was talking about this concept of “helicopter parenting” that is so prevalent with my generation’s style of raising kids. Helicopter parenting is defined by Wikipedia as “a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” I really don’t see how one who is a parent is not a helicopter parent to some degree in today’s world. We don’t let our kids be free as much; as parents we are required to manage and supervise constantly. I recently heard a story about a mom who stole her children’s cell phones and then copied the names and addresses of all their friends, then created an excel spreadsheet and sent it out so everyone so all the other moms could micro-manage what their children were doing at all times. This is not mothering, this is called smothering.
What would happen if we had a “Free the children, free the parents day” and just let all of our kids out our front doors (6 and up) and let them run amok. Would they wander aimlessly not knowing what to do without themselves and feeling unsafe in the cautious and sheltered world created for them? Or would they run for the hills screaming in glee that their leash was let go? Maybe I’ll call Jon Stewart and see if he wants to take the lead on my “Free the children, free the parents day”.
My intention is not to rant about how hard us parents have it these days and how much pressure we are under to create perfect and talented adults. I am interested in the in raising my kids the right way, and I don’t think I will ever know what the right way is. I want my kids to have independence and freedom, but I don’t want to put them in harm’s way. I want them to be successful in childhood and on into adulthood which means that Chris and I will have high expectations of them, but I don’t want to pressure them too much or break our bank trying to get there. My intuition tells me to go with my intuition. Parenting isn’t easy but our society today doesn’t have to make it so hard and I don’t have to get swallowed up in the “best preschools”, “private lessons”, “helicopter parenting” way of doing things. I don’t have to, that doesn’t mean I won’t.
Here is a thought: what if it isn’t such a bad thing to spend all your money bettering your children and giving them the most opportunities you can, or watching your children every so closely to make sure they are safe, or researching preschools at nausea and putting your child on a waiting list when they are only a year old?
Here is the bottom line in my humble opinion: we all just love our kids and want the very best for them. Every parent has a dream for the kids and part of that dream, I believe, is that their kids are better and more successful than their parents. In closing, I am allowed to play Word With Friends and browse Facebook while my kids entertain themselves all afternoon with a hose, without having to feel guilty. Yes, I will from time to time create a perfect pig made of play dough or play basketball on the 4 foot plastic basketball hoop with my kids. Of course. I will also remember that I am the mothership, that doesn’t mean I have to be supermom.
Before I sign off I have to share a story about Violet. I took Violet to the doctor last week because she wasn’t herself and had been complaining that her ear hurt. It turned out that she had a double ear infection. When we got home Chris asked Violet what the doctor said and she replied “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”
Until next time, the mothership is signing off.