Parenting in the Information Age Part 2

This is the second part of a two part blog.  For readings that illustrate each of these goals, see the Reading Lists on our Resources page.  You will also notice that each of the Specialties pages includes suggested readings as well. You can also visit our Facebook page to get up to date posts of articles related to parenting.

Goal 1: Build a home on a foundation of reliability and trust

In our fast paced world, there are many demands that make it difficult for parents to be physically present and emotionally available.  To offset forces which divide parents and children, you must be mindful of how your interactions with your children demonstrate how reliable and trustworthy you are.  Creating a daily routine, obtaining high quality childcare, training children to develop self-care skills, and establishing a dialogue about physiological and emotional changes associated with puberty are but a few of the ways that parents make their children feel secure.

Children will also learn about relationships by observing how you display affection and resolve conflict.  Whether you are married or a single parent, children learn lessons about honesty, fairness, responsibility, loyalty, persistence, and compassion by the example you set in your adult relationships.  If your children are having repeated conflicts with a sibling or a peer, begin by asking yourself if you are sending the desired message in your behavior toward others.  When mistakes are made, try to find the opportunity to teach your children how to mend a damaged relationship.  Beyond mere apologies, sensitive parents take corrective action in order to recover trust.

Goal 2: Identify your child’s kind of mind

The paradox of the Information Age is that children are exposed to more educational resources than ever before, yet struggling more than ever to achieve academically.  The cause of this paradox is twofold:  (1) the new world demands new types of learning and (2)  more children than ever are neurologically vulnerable.

Parents and educational professionals may cling to ideas about the kind of mind that was successful when they were children a generation ago, but the new millennium requires new cognitive abilities.  Schools reward kids who can read, write and calculate on grade level, but the world demands adults who can fly airplanes, design computer software, slam dunk, resolve hostage situations, or create multimedia entertainment.  Therefore, the goal for parents is to recognize and encourage each child’s unique talents, even if it doesn’t fit the script that parents had originally envisioned for their child.  Unfortunately, our educational systems have become more bureaucratic and rigid at the very time that our children require greater flexibility.

The decade from 1990 to 2000 was called the “Decade of the Brain.”Advances in our understanding of how the neurological development of children affects learning in school were unprecedented.  Scientists now understand how variations in the brain can lead to learning disabilities and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.  However, there is also much misinformation about why Johnny can’t read.  Parents today face the challenge of determining who to trust when it comes to meeting the learning needs of at-risk children.

Goal 3: Cultivate emotional intelligence in your children

In a world marred by school shootings, widespread drug abuse, and teen suicide, parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the emotional stability of their children.  The best inoculation against such tragedies is well-developed emotional intelligence, also known as EQ.  The ability to control impulses, delay gratification, and display empathy for others all have their roots in EQ.  Parents who want to cultivate the emotional intelligence of their children are known as “emotion coaches.”

An emotion coach teaches children to label the wide range of positive and negative emotional experiences.  When faced with frustration or hurt feelings, the emotion coach encourages a child to express emotions in socially acceptable ways.  Sensitive parents realize that some children will acquire this skill almost effortlessly, while others will have to be taught social skills step by step.  These differences in emotional development are due to a combination of factors including temperamental predispositions, neurological vulnerability, and family circumstances.  During a child’s lifespan, the transition from complete dependence to independence is made.  This is only possible if the child displays good decision-making skills.  Therefore, emotion coaches teach children how to “think outside the box” when faced with interpersonal problems.

Goal 4: Preserve values and traditions

In the Information Age, children are bombarded by advertising which promises happiness in the form of the latest fad.  In a consumer-oriented world, selling new product is more important than observing traditions.  Parents need to function as a gatekeeper to determine which new innovations are compatible with the core values of the family.  In the face of rapid cultural change, simple rituals in families create a sense of connection that can serve as an antidote to the anonymity of the Information Age.  Although families often think of rituals as annual religious rites, there are many other ways in which family members do things together that say to each other, “we belong.”Whether it is a certain song each night before bed, a dinner using the good china, or a weekly family conference to plan family outings, parents in the 21st Century must set aside time to preserve rituals and traditions.  Parents also need to instill in children a respect for the beliefs and practices of other cultures.

Goal 5: Master the new technology but use it to connect and cooperate

In this brave new world of cloning sheep, virtual offices, and telecommuting, it is easy to be seduced by technology.  Consumers must stand back and ask what value these technological enhancements provide.  If e-mail allows you to retrieve your messages after your daughter’s ballgame, then technology is beneficial.  If, however, carrying your cellphone to dinner only increases the odds that you will abandon your family for that “call that can’t wait,” then technology has become the problem.

On the other hand, technology can improve the quality of life.  Due to remarkable medical advances, children with disabilities will fare far better in the 21st Century than they did in the 20th Century.  Meanwhile, the internet can create a connection for people who are either physically or emotionally isolated.  Some ingenious individuals have gone beyond themselves to satisfy that thirst for connection and they have formed “virtual communities.”  So technology can be a tool to help people overcome the obstacles of mobility and fractured extended families, as long as the technology itself does not become an obstacle to communication with those close at hand.  Like any innovation, the potential for misuse of electronics and new media is a real danger.  The difference in the on-line world is that our children are generally more sophisticated about the technology than we are.

Goal 6: Keep abreast of research in child development but maintain a healthy level of skepticism

In previous generations, parents typically copied what they saw their own parents do.  For additional advice, parents might turn to clergy or doctors.  In today’s world, many of us receive parenting advice from talk show guests and magazine articles.  With all the contradictory opinions of so many “experts,” it is imperative that parents critically evaluate the quality of the parenting information flooding the airwaves and filling the bookshelves.  If the goal is to remain adaptive in the 21st Century, then parents need to distinguish between what is good advice and what is good marketing.

As parents in the increasingly impersonal 21st Century, it is our obligation to provide our children with a deeper appreciation of themselves and others.  We do this by cultivating a sense of belonging within our families and communities, despite how rapidly our culture is changing.  We must teach our children the importance of personal awareness and the value of contributions made to others.

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