Why Community is Key in Raising the iGeneration
I spend a lot of my time thinking about the challenges of parenting in the Digital Age and how to navigate these turbulent waters with perspective and calm. Sometimes I think about the day to day, other times I try to take the pulse of where we’re at as a larger global community. A community trying to raise children in an increasingly digitized world that keeps changing and throwing us off balance at breakneck speed.
We live in a world where extended families live thousands of miles away from each other, where people of different cultures and backgrounds mix together in modern cities, where less and less people spend time at local community centers or places of worship. There are wonderful side effects of this 21st century way of life - it’s exciting and stimulating to have exposure to people who are different from us, new foods, customs, ideas etc. There are also some drawbacks - we can feel alone in our customs, missing connection to family, and craving a solid like minded community to raise our kids in.
If we’re lucky, once our kids go to school, a community of sorts emerges from the school’s parent body. After all, being parents unites us all in the shared goal of giving our kids a good education and strong friendships. I count myself incredibly lucky to have landed my kids at a public school in a neighborhood with a wonderful community of caring and open minded parents.
But even with a strong school community, one of the main challenges of modern parenting that I come up against is finding a way to maintain (and transfer to my children) my family’s core beliefs and way of life when so many families around me are going about things in their own way. I know this is not a new story. I remember as a child being acutely aware of the differences between the culture inside my home and that of my friends. But the issue that is new and that plagues parents more than almost any other is how to navigate your child’s Online Life when everyone seems to be on different pages about it.
You might be the parent who feels very lax about giving your kid a smartphone, trusts them to be “smart” and lets them have one at 9 years old. Maybe you’re the parent who thinks 11 is a good age because more and more kids are showing up with phones and your child is starting to beg. Or you may be the parent who thinks 13 or 14 is the right age to give your child a phone, which probably leaves you conflicted about isolating your child from their peers and limiting their social life.
More and more studies show that putting off giving your child a smartphone until they are at least 13 is best for their mental health, you know your child and ultimately it is a personal decision. But it can be really hard to be the one parent with the one kid who has no smart phone if all the friends are starting to get them. What do we do when we don’t want our kids to feel left out, but we want to protect them from the hazards of social media, porn, predators and screen time overload? How do we manage what our kids see or do at a friend’s house? How can we get our community on the same page - parents and kids - working together to help raise a generation of kids who are balanced, self-aware and screen-smart?
I have a couple of suggestions on where you can start:
First, one of the most important things you can do to give both you and your child peace of mind is to reach out to the parents of our children’s closest friends and create community, discussion and ( hopefully) some consensus among you. Think of how much easier YOUR life would be if you had already pledged, as a group of parents, that you would all agree on certain rules across the board for all your kids. For example, you might decide as a group that none of you will allow violent video games, that there will be no screens in the bedroom with the door closed, that you will all keep an eye out for the welfare of each other’s kids, that you’ll limit the amount of time the kids spend on screens when they’re hanging out and make sure they have plenty of offline time together too, that you’ll talk to your kids about having each other’s back and letting a grown up know if things get ugly online.
Consider putting together an evening where you come up with some basic rules you can all agree on. Check in with one another periodically to see how things are going and whether you should all meet up again.
Second, start a Parent Ed program at your school, community center or place of worship. This may come in the form of a parent/teacher committee, a series of expert lead workshops for parents, an ongoing campaign to get kids talking to one another about how to be healthy, smart, ethical and socially powerful online and off. Whatever it is, get the conversation going and give parents the information they need to make smart choices for their kids.
We may live in a world with disparate ideas, but one idea we can all come together and form community around is helping our kids to thrive. No one wants to see a generation of children feeling overwhelmed, anxious, distracted, isolated and bullied. Schools, friends, neighbors, clubs, places of worship - wherever you can find community - start the conversation about raising kids in a digital world. This is the parenting issue of our time, but you don’t have to go it alone. We’ve heard it a thousand times, but there is truth in the overused adage “it takes a village,” so if you don’t have one, start today and make one.