The virtual world has become a playground for kids of all ages. Now we are entering a period in which parents who have grown up in that world are becoming parents themselves. The latest issue of Time Magazine (October 26, 2015) has an interesting article addressing the positive and negative impact that online parenting will have on kids. The article states that 90% of millennials are social media users. That level of usage is bound to affect parents and children in significant ways.
Millennial parents are already doings things differently than gen X-ers and baby boomers. As children raised with so-called helicopter parents they have moved away from programming every moment of a child’s time with tennis, soccer, piano, yoga and the like. They are more likely to follow the interests of their children and provide opportunities that fit with those interests. They are also more likely to take a laid-back approach—not structuring every moment of their child’s day. A good move!
As a baby boomer (actually we were even a little old to be baby boomers) I wanted my children to be “well-rounded.” It was an abreaction to my mother’s insistence that we be scholars and little else. So we enrolled them in music and art, soccer and baseball, gymnastics and theatre. When my third son Dan said that he hated soccer we told him he had to try it because he needed to have some type of sport in his life.(I have to chuckle because now his daughter, Ruthie, also hates soccer. Hmmm!!! What will he do?) Some people feel that the focused attention on the children of baby boomers has created a bunch of spoiled and entitled kids who believe that the world revolves around them.
Millennials are also focusing a lot on self-expression and individuality for their offspring. They are encouraging them to be themselves and try new things. As the TIME article states they are “attempting to run their families as mini-democracies, seeking consensus from spouses, kids and extended friend circles on even the smallest decisions.” p.38. Running a family as a democracy takes a lot of time. You are polling all family members about what movie to see or where to go to dinner. You even discuss major decisions with everyone at least having a voice. Some are hesitant to veer away from the authoritarian model that older generations have grown up with. They make dire predictions about children running amok. But as I have talked about in my book Family Entanglement @https://www.createspace.com/4008162, I. think it can be an effective way to parent. It is especially true if the family also has rules and guidelines that are openly discussed and agreed upon by everyone. A democratic model presupposes mutual respect among all family members and will probably save a lot on therapy bills in the future.
Perhaps the clearest advantage for millennial parents is that it allows connection as never before. That has a good and a bad side but this week we will focus on the good. Your baby is up all night screaming? Check the Internet for answers. You’re a stay-at –home Dad and you feel isolated? Go online and find some kids and parents nearby for a play date. Your child has an unusual illness? There is probably a support group out there for you to join for help and moral support. Maybe the grandparents live a continent away. If you post pictures every day you can share the precious moments with them. Parents can give their kids cell phones and stay connected with them all day. The cell phones may drive the teachers crazy but everything has a down side, right?
Next week I will talk about the down side to online parenting because I do believe it has one. But like every other trend that comes along we make dire predictions about the untoward consequences and then we adjust. I will also make some suggestions about how we can adjust so that we don’t raise a generation of droids!
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.