It’s a sentiment that has echoed down through the decades, probably the centuries, maybe millennia – “Kids today!!!”
With their iPads and their PJ Masks and their extensive LEGO collections and their ten-second attention spans and three-second fuses and their jet-skis (okay, maybe not the jet-skis), who hasn’t picked up a newspaper or turned on a daytime TV show to hear how the next generation are monstrous creatures, spoilt by their spineless millennial parents substituting screen time for affection or iron discipline or both.
It doesn’t matter what stripe of expert they are – occupational therapist, teacher, behavioural psychologist, someone who works in the school canteen – they all agree that kids these days are just the worst. Sometimes, the same viral post pops up every year or so – Huffington Post one year, Daily Mail the next. Political differences aside, everyone can come together and fret anxiously about where parents are going wrong.
So, where are we going wrong?
Two words: attention. We’re so busy making ourselves busy staring at the little screens in our palms that our children are being bumped into the margins, or so the theory goes. If we don’t pay them enough attention, if we farm out the childcare to CBeebies, then we fail in our duty to train them in social skills.
We don’t allow them to be bored or hungry or thirsty without rushing around to keep them happy, they say; we teach them that they do not need to wait, to delay gratification. As a result, they will never work hard to achieve goals, to practice the guitar or their free kicks.
Symphonies will go unwritten and unperformed. Civilisation will slide slowly into the swamp. And all because we lacked the gumption to say No when they asked for a doughnut at the supermarket.
Hold on, though. Parents are ignoring their kids AND fulfilling their every whim at the same time? How does that work?
Emotional availability is brain food
If our children’s emotional responses are getting sick and unfit on a fast-food brain diet of TV and, erm, fast food, then what is the healthy alternative, the green salad? It’s emotional availability, ‘being there’ for your children, spending time with them instead of trying to get their shoes on or out the door or off to bed: making the clock your friend, not your enemy.
Chances are it will be much harder for kids to learn what it is to be human without you present in the moment with them to teach them. It seems to make sense. The tricky part is actually managing your time so that you can put in the hours of good parenting.
Don’t forget, though, while you scroll through the parenting blogs and flick through the magazines, that bad news sells and parental guilt sells even more, that those primeval bits of our brains that are trying to assess risk always want to hear about the worst case scenarios.
Think about how much parents teach their kids about respecting others, about racism and sexism, about equality and fairness.
Really, the kids are alright. Just don’t bother trying to find any articles on any news websites that tell you that.