How Tech Has Changed the Job Requirements for Modern Parents
Here's what I've learned co-parenting with the internet
Some days I think I'd do better as a parent if I became an Instagram Influencer or Youtuber, and produced a video countdown of my top 10 tips for finding the washing machine and just tagged my kids.
I'm parent-snortling right now, giggling into my jumper. Seriously though, they're more likely to watch a video of me embarrassing myself online than to meet me in the laundry. This is the modern parent conundrum, the attention-economy is upon us, and the tech is sexier, funnier, more colourful, faster-paced, and hence more interesting than my lesson on how to use the hot wash setting on the strange analogue machine in the laundry. My eldest is 20, she's a "legit Instagram Influencer" who gets sent products to promote on her channel, and my son 15, he's a Twitch livestreamer, Gamer, and YouTube channel moderator. So my kids are tech savvy, let's be clear. Me, well I'm middle management in the family tech dynasty, an 'earnest learner'. I'm part of the first generation of parents in history who have raised their kids with high-end consumer technology in the home. While most of us are still reeling from the speed of the demise of the old parenting paradigm, including me, here's a few things I've been learning as I've been navigating this parenting and technology terrain over the last 15 or so years.
1. We didn't know what we didn't know, and we don't know that much now either. Let's have some compassion for ourselves for that.
I can remember the advent of the handheld Nintendo DS and 3DS, the PlayStation phase, the Wii U phase. The departure of the desktop, and the arrival of the iPhone and MacBook Air. I've never been against these shiny devices, they've captured my imagination and attention too. I just didn't know as I welcomed each new generation of device how quickly and effectively the technology was infiltrating my parent domain, and bidding more compellingly than I was, for my kids attention.
I did struggle emotionally through "the great fall" from my god-like position of "parent-highness-of-know-everything-ness" when the kids were little, to lowly house-keeper and fridge re-stockist as they transitioned into tech-savvy teens. There were times I tried dragging my power back, hiding the Xbox in the top cupboard and such... but they were vain attempts to reclaim a lost hierarchy of power. I was no longer the center of their lives, or the natural top she-dog of the family pack and I knew it. For some years I truly didn't know what to do about it, and yes I was silent about it like many of my parenting peers, because we were "supposed to still be in charge at home," and we all knew we weren't. Many of us gave up quietly, it was easier than fighting with the kids. Some of us took the fighting to the parents bedroom with accusations, and "you shouldn't have bought it in the first place" thrown back and forth without sadly making any difference.
The kids attention was captured and the parenting landscape was changed forever. I needed to find a way to get accustomed, and figure out a new game plan for becoming relevant again in their lives. It was the mid 2000's, I was info-irrelevant, but still emotionally valued when knees were scraped, and other kids played unfair in the play ground. At home the kids and I were all asking 'Why?' to Siri and the Google-god, and the house was strangely quieter. It was disconcerting sometimes and it was freeing too. Parenting had been a pressure-cooker for me from the moment my bundles o' joy arrived. I was actually relieved quietly to have an extra babysitter that didn't charge by the hour, I could play on my own computer and microwave the dinner. The info-universe was expanding at rates unimaginable compared to when I was a kid... our equivalent had been the Encyclopedia Britannica... LOL.
I didn't blame the school system for bringing the computers into the classrooms when they finally "caved in" and did so. The schools weren't much help on the issue for parents along the way, though they did their best. It was obvious the system was as 'caught off guard' as we parents all were... and the first round of responses in the primary school years were a mixture of sheer overwhelm, hiding from the issue, and some clandestine conversations at school parent info nights (where we whispered quietly out of our kids' earshot) about how we "should" be setting limits, and we "need to" work out how to use those parent controls. I remember trying the parent controls once at home. My son realized what I'd done and figured out how to unlock the controls within an hour. Yep. He was just running rings around my understanding of it all at nine years old. I couldn't learn at the same speed that he was soaking it all in... it was actually inspiring at times to watch him operate it all like a young ninja tech master. Learning to be appreciative of his and his sister's skills online is one of the ways I'm now learning to share some genuine curiosity with them as a tech companion in our co-working environment (our home), and as a student of theirs in the digital realm.
2. Both my kids are my tech teachers. I've learned to be patient with their mockery, irritation and impatience.
I decided a few years ago that I wasn't just going to learn passively about the technology in the quiet of my own room, I was going to actively ask to learn from my kids on occasion. I realised I could demonstrate how I choose to learn (with genuine interest and warm acceptance of my lack of competence), and invite them to become more patient and kinder teachers as they've begun explaining things to me, and letting me in to their worlds. It's sort of working that we're learning some collaboration together sometimes. It's slow, and at least there's a door open... it makes a difference that we all have a bit more shared understanding. These are the sorts of skills they'll need as they navigate the future of work, skills like collaboration, and co-learning environments. The tech side they've obviously got covered, it's the human skills now where I've finally re-focused as a parent, and got back on track with embracing what I'd call the Parenting 2.0 skillset, the post tech-pocalypse years in my family.
At first when I realised I didn't have the influence I thought I would with my kids, I made it unconsciously all about me being a hopeless parent instead of it more obviously being about the technological evolution of our species that was happening at my house. Finally I "got with the program," and realised it wasn't my fault, the school's fault, or the society gone completely to hell (well maybe a bit). Instead I was starting to realise it was simply time for Parenting 2.0 "the next gen" of tech savvy parent negotiators to emerge. I have this image in my head right now of a scraggly bunch of 50-something parents, standing at the edge of a new horizon, watching the sunrise, stepping forward all blinking with our hands defending us from the light, because we've all been living in a dark cave underground with our laptops, laying in the beds we made for ourselves. Now is our time to forge a new way forward, I say let's do this! Cue the "Eye of the Tiger" song from the original Rocky movie.
3. Google and Siri may own the "knowledge market," but humans still have an exclusive on the "wisdom and creativity markets." Parents have the possibility of regaining their footing at home with a solid dose of both.
With all the talk these days about "humanising the workplace" I'd advocate it could be advantageous to start talking equally about "wisdom-ising the homeplace," and start a Parents 2.0 uprising. Sure there is more robot-tech coming to make our homes operate even more efficiently, from the palm of our hand no doubt, but it won't be the tech we need help with most, it will be the relationships, and some wisdom to look after the non-digital realities and environment that our bodies still live in, the natural one.
Some of the qualities of wisdom, like compassion and good listening skills have been evaporating as the attention span has been shrinking... and I propose it's time as parents we find creative ways to bring patience and playfulness back in vogue. Humans are way more mysterious than machines—it has to be said—and way less predictable in ways that are really often fun, and sometimes really funny. One of my fav Parent 2.0 strategies these days is creating a really special environment at dinner time (we only eat together two or three times a week, so I enjoy making it special, and it entices the kids to stay longer). I light candles, create mood, get out the fancy glasses and crockery, and invite them to bring a funny video to share. Once we've started laughing together it's delightful how easily conversation can take off, especially between these siblings who can banter as fast as their YouTube favorites. It's fun!
The thing is they choose to step off the technology, and they stay longer at the dinner table now, because they're actually enjoying themselves. No bullying or shutting down the household devices, their choice. That's massively important for them to be practicing in the context of habits that are often occurring like addictions when it comes to switching off. So it's another of the wisdom skills, relearning joy, and how to spark and share it, so the choice is easier to pause and break, and be here and human without a blue light reflecting on the face.
Navigating my overwhelming need to teach them more stuff in the "ad-breaks" and "intervals" between swipes can be a challenge and... I find if I focus on creating more joy, it helps me stay focused on my demonstration of parenting patience rather than parenting pressure and negative judgement. There's definitely more to say about that subject, but for today I've probably said enough. Let's just call this article Part 1. It's a beginning, and it's been fun to share this first article with you.
I've been on this notebook now for longer than I planned, it's probably time for a cuppa. I'll raise my cup to you my dear reader, as a fellow companion on the path of wisdom and social wellbeing. It starts at home, where we are, doesn't it? In the messy less-than-perfect, but inherently beautiful ways we're discovering what really matters. Thanks for reading xo
I'm such a chuffed tech Mumma when I see how creative my dear daughter is at sharing about what she also loves to do with Makeup when she's not online :-)