The internet. I blame it all on the internet.
While the internet has brought about amazing benefits in our world, one way that I think it has been quite detrimental is in the process of parenting. When a woman gets pregnant (or gets the urge to get pregnant) she can go online and find hundreds of thousands of articles, reports, forums and blog posts (the best ever is, of course, written by me!) to give her advice, links to support groups, and lists of games and activities to help raise a brilliant overachiever. In the pre-internet days you had to rely on advice from your parents, friends and neighbours (back then nobody was afraid to make friends with their neighbours), it was advice from people you knew and trusted, advice that had already been used for years, advice that had been proven successful (or not! Still…good to know.)
Back when I was a kid we would play for hours in the field behind our house. There were about a dozen kids that lived on our street and we would all play together, there was never an adult in sight. I’m sure that most of the moms who lived in houses that backed into the park would take a peek out the window in between loads of laundry and dusting but for the most part we were left on our own. That was perfectly normal. We were outside most of the summer (and spring and fall, winter…not so much but enough!), and we were largely unsupervised. (Shocking by today’s standards but oh, how I miss those days!)
Nobody was unaware that kidnappings and violence existed but the chances of it happening to one of us was fairly slim. We all knew not to get into cars with strangers and to run away yelling if someone came after us, our neighbourhood had a parent network program (I can’t remember the name) where a sign was put in a front window to identify a “safe” house that kids could run to if needed. In the 18 years I lived in that neighbourhood I don’t think that anyone needed to use that program.
Now, with the internet, we hear about some sort of terrible tragedy every single day! We can’t escape it, reports of bad things happening to good people show up in banners across the TV screen, they are blasted to our email inboxes as “Breaking News”, they litter the Twitter feed and clog up the Facebook timeline. It starts to make you think that it’s just a matter of time before it’s your turn to be touched by violence and that’s what makes us want to smother our children in cotton wool, avoid the neighbours, never let the kids out of our sight, batten down the hatches and pull up the drawbridge. (I don’t actually know anyone who has a moat but if they have WiFi I’m sure the bridge would be up!)
Studies have shown that the incidents of violence in most areas of North America have actually fallen in the past 20 years, so why is it that we are so afraid now? Because now we hear about the bad things that happen all across the country, whereas before we would usually only hear about something that happened a whole lot closer to home. I didn’t live in a huge metropolis and I’m sure it was different for people who did but I can’t recall any major crimes involving children during my formative years. I grew up feeling safe and I will do my absolute best to make sure that my children do too.
The problem comes when I try to let my children explore in a world that they truly believe is safe. I’m really not a “helicopter” parent (a term from the internet, I can’t stand it!), I remember Big Boy at a swimming lesson, he wouldn’t stop jumping near the edge of the pool. The teacher kept telling him to stay by the wall so he wouldn’t fall into the “deep” water but he was choosing to ignore her. After the class I told her to let him fall next time, (the look on her face!) nothing was going to happen to him, she was right there to pull him out and getting an unexpected dunk would sure teach him to stay away from the edge!
My kids learn best by doing things and seeing what the outcome is. I don’t let them do things that will result in decapitation or complete destruction of a major asset but I have let them climb three or four steps up a ladder and then not come running immediately when they realized they were stuck. I have taught them to get a cloth and wipe up their own spilled juice (sometimes works, sometimes not) and I have let them destroy toys just to show them that if they mistreat something it can’t always be fixed.
If I look on the internet I find that there are several thousand “experts” that would call me a bad, lazy, uninterested, self-absorbed (add whatever unflattering adjective you choose) mother and roundly condemn my parenting style. I would also find several thousand others who think that I’m doing things perfectly! Unfortunately every person that sees you with your children in the grocery store, at the park, driving down the street (I don’t walk) or playing at the beach will have read something, somewhere on the internet that makes them think they know more than you, better than you or just plain different than you.
The internet makes us all feel that we know a whole lot more than we actually do. In an instant we can be transported to a different country and learn all about it, we can instantly find out about traffic jams in our daily commute (I commute from the bed to the coffee maker so traffic problems are rare!), we have instant communication with family around the world, we have learned to expect instant choices to be made available to us and we have learned to react quickly. We are quick to judge each other as parents, quick to shy away from lending a hand to a woman trying to corral three kids and two shopping carts through the parking lot, quick to protect our children from the world by preventing them from experiencing it!
I love the internet and what it represents for our future but there is a part of me that really wishes that we could all exercise some common sense and good judgement when it comes to what we read on the internet and how much credence we afford it. The internet is a tool, and a powerful one, that we as parents are free to use however we choose but we need to remember that as all-knowing as the internet seems to be it doesn’t know us and it sure doesn’t know our children. It’s up to us to use this tool to our best advantage by accepting the good (with a grain of salt), weeding out the bad and completely ignoring the insane.
It’s a big job but we’re parents, we’re used to big jobs.
I have just been informed by my brother that it was the Block Parent program!