“I believe motherhood is based on instinct. So far, my instincts have not steered me wrong.”
So declares Melodie Cohn, a social media management specialist, writer, and single mother of a 3-year-old. While every parent’s journey is personal and unique, Cohn’s take is comforting in a sea of digital age distractions, an overabundance of advice (and criticism), and a thorny tangle of parenting culture shifts.
Ultimately, what each generation has in common is the challenge of navigating the expectations around them. While parenting in 2017 includes free-range parents who stand up for childhood independence and hipster parents who embrace the unexpected, moms and dads in 2017 will find themselves encountering some of the same hurdles regardless of what school of parenting they follow. Some examples:
1) Money management in an increasingly digital society
Once upon a time, scoring $1 from the Tooth Fairy was a big deal. Now, consumerism has become the norm—whether families can afford it or not.
“One of the big challenges parents face in this digital age is teaching kids the value of money when they increasingly can’t see it and can’t touch it,” says James Kassam of RoosterMoney, an allowance and pocket money tracking app designed to help parents teach kids about money in the digital world.
Many kids, provided easy access and visibility into a massive range of digitally available products, assume everything is for the taking. “We’re becoming a cashless society. Gone are the days of the ceramic piggy bank and taking your coins to the corner shop. It’s more about kids wanting to buy in-app purchases, online games, and downloading music,” says Kassam.
2) Straight talk about terrorism
“Stay away from strangers” is almost an innocent conceit in a media landscape punctuated by bombs, shootings, and preventable violence. And while the actual danger might, in reality, be only a slight possibility, it’s real enough to make conversations with your kids an unavoidable necessity.
“Parents wish they could shield their kids from terrorism, but pretending it doesn’t exist is not the answer,” says Carole Lieberman, a board-certified Beverly Hills psychiatrist. “This just makes children more frightened. They see things on TV and other media and, when parents don’t talk to them about it, it makes them feel like they’re not supposed to ask questions. But every child needs to know some basics about how to protect themselves.”
After all, if schools are running lockdown drills, your kids are already developing an awareness of the worst the world offers. Straight talk that gives them the tools to stay safe—and to handle their psychological environment—is essential.
3) An overabundance of advice (and judgment)
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate. Private school or public school. Bottle or breast. Single parents choosing to focus on a career and raising children solo instead of dating. So many choices, and way too much advice on how to handle those choices. Dr. Spock’s input about raising babies seems quaint in comparison to today’s saturated market of parenting books, websites, and magazines.
“Life doesn’t always go as planned,” says Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family Brands. She uses breastfeeding, one of the biggest decisions mothers must make for their infants, as an example. “There is a stigma that moms are being judged based on their feeding choices and what comes with that is a feeling of shame when they don’t exclusively breastfeed. No mother or woman should ever feel ashamed or guilty. They should simply do what is best for their family.”
Whether it is self-inflicted guilt or societal pressure, “Parents are thwarted at every move, never sure they are making the right decision because there are so many variations, directions, and ways to parent,” says Susan Bartell, parenting and child psychologist in Port Washington, New York. “In my slice of the parenting world, 2017 parents are extremely anxious and self-doubting. They are so inundated with advice from all ends that it has impacted their ability to parent successfully.”
“The idea of parenting toward your specific child is lost, so many kids aren’t having their own personal needs met (emotional, academic, etc.) because parents’ insecurities are impacting their ability to do what is right for their own child.”
4) The threat of surreptitious social media
A portal for teens’ 24/7 documentation of everything from the mundane to the spectacular moments of their lives, Instagram has increasingly been on the defensive, with one research group in the UK calling it the most damaging social media network for young people. Of course, Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media entities have been known to create feelings of anxiety and inadequacy among teens (and adults) as well.
And it’s not always simply a matter of monitoring accounts: For instance, many teens have taken to creating “finsta” (fake Instagram) profiles, secondary Instagram accounts made available to a smaller group of friends, and not necessarily subject to the same parental controls.
An argument could be made that finsta accounts could actually offer a relief from the angst of maintaining one’s public persona and enable a more authentic interaction with peers, but parents like Kristin Wahl, a mother of two teens in San Jose, California, is not convinced. She believes the platform trends more toward supporting alter egos and a darker side of sharing. “These social channels allow teens to get validation for their bad choices,” says Wahl.
Whatever your opinion, social media is a tricky, evolving landscape all modern parents must find a way to navigate.
5) An overscheduled youth
While kids try to keep up with and impress their peers through social media, they are often overextended socially and academically, sometimes by their own choice, and just as often by their parents’ encouragement. “Expectations on parents, children, and teachers are excessive, in a time when the risks our kids face are great and the demands on our time and attention are extraordinary,” says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, parent coach and co-founder of ImpactADHD.
“We need ‘white space’ in our lives (or on our calendars) to be in the moment, to process what has happened in the past, to prepare for what is coming in the future, and to allow for creativity and connection.”
Extracurricular activities start early for kids, from Mommy and Me classes to a high school existence where all free time is booked. “Even one generation ago, kids were allowed to just ‘be kids.’ Parents did not feel the need to enrich their lives with camps, lessons, sports, etc. Those were fun things to do if your kid wanted to, but they weren’t seen as a requirement,” says Amy Webb, mother and child development writer with a doctorate in human development and family sciences.
6) Attempting perfection
Do you have memories of a perfect childhood? Probably not. That’s because perfection doesn’t exist. And attempting to create perfection for your own children is an exercise in futility.
“One of the biggest differences between parenting today compared to past generations is the amount of responsibility parents feel now to make their children’s life ‘perfect.’ In this organized, scheduled, and enriched environment, kids lose out on some of the freedom and self-initiative that kids in past generations learned on their own,” says Webb.
Leaving kids to their own devices is where the actual enrichment is, allowing them the room to make mistakes and figure things out on their own. After all, what fun is an overscheduled life as an adult? Kids are being conditioned to live at a frantic pace when they finally reach adulthood.
“There are economic realities that add more stress, with two-parent working families—and/or two families—and long commutes limiting parents’ and kids’ ability to have ‘down-time’ and connect,” says Taylor-Klaus. “We have this strange value in our culture around ‘efficiency,’ which often has us filling in every waking moment with little time for flexibility. But our creative brains need room to explore, to think, to ponder.”
“That is where creativity happens. That is where self-reflection happens. That is where dreaming and visioning happens. That is where kids get to be kids.”