I have two kids – a two year-old girl and a four year-old boy. I love them more than words can explain. I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing all I can for them, and if there’s anything more I can give as a Father. I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to this line of thinking. In the year 2014, living in America, my wife and I are discovering parental challenges that have never existed before in the history of humanity. The exponential technological and cultural growth curve that exists in Today’s western culture has caused the world to change so dramatically, so quickly, that the world I grew up in has very little to do with the one my Father grew up in.
Further, the world my children will grow up in will be like an alien planet to that of their Grandparents. It would be naive to think that these changes are superficial, and easy to adapt to, with no learning curve. If you pick any time or place in human history before the 1900s, there is nearly a 100% chance that if a child was brought up by their biological parents, a few major facts would hold true :
– Most children would experience nearly identical childhoods(and adult lives) to their parents and grandparents(probably going many generations back).
– The only guidance to being a parent was provided by the immediate culture/religious influence you found yourself surrounded by.
– Expectations on what kind of love and opportunities a child was deserving of were set considerably lower.
e.g. You were born in Ireland and it has been predetermined that you will be a farmer when you grow up – just like your father and his father before him. You’ve never really traveled anywhere or met anyone with a different worldview. Your courtship rituals, technologies and education has been nearly identical for many generations. There has been a parenting playbook handed to you and it hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.
Obviously, things have changed a great deal over the last 100 years – especially, when you look at it in the context of the roughly 12,000 years of human presence on Earth. And parenting has changed even more radically in just the last decade than perhaps all in 12,000 years combined. There has never been a time in human history where what normal was for parents growing up was so far removed from the world their children will inhabit.
When I grew up, there were still rotary phones. Homophobia was par for the course and seat belts were optional. The internet and computers barely existed. The idea of a Black President, legal marijuana, and having an openly gay host for the Academy Awards couldn’t have seemed farther from a plausible reality(even in 100 years). Yet, here we are – in the span of less than two decades the unthinkable is now a given. My kids will take all of these radical day-to-day life changes as things that have always been there. I guarantee you growing up as a 2 year-old who can proficiently use an iPad vs. not knowing that computers even exist will dramatically change your outlook on the possibilities the world has to offer.
To further hammer home this point, imagine if you had a child in 2009 when you were 32 years-old. Now imagine that you are going to rewind time to all of your knowledge of the world when you were 18 years old, back in 1995. Now imagine the brain of the 18 year-old version of yourself – a world with barely any internet or cell phones, pre-9/11, pre-VEGANS, pre-every scientific advancement for the last 20 years. Now imagine what the world might look like when your kid turns 18 in 2027. Now imagine if the 18 year-old you could somehow talk to your 18 year-old son. You’d probably have a lot of questions for him. Now compare that conversation to one in relatively recent human history with a dude who was 18 years-old in 1700 to his son, who turned 18 in 1732. They probably wouldn’t have much trouble relating to each other. They probably live in the same exact town. They probably have the same profession. And they probably have the exact same knowledge of their universe, parenting, child-rearing, nutrition, psychology, health, etc….
Most of these new advancements are fantastic, some are terrifying. One thing is clear though, technology is the backbone and catalyst of all this change. With the introduction of these brave new inventions and social norms, we parents find ourselves as coaches without a playbook in a game where the rules have fundamentally changed. In the immortal words of Salt N Pepa, let’s talk about something entirely basic and essential to evolution and the human experience : let’s talk about sex.
Biologically, we are changing quite rapidly(evolutionarily speaking). On average, just in the last two generations, girls primarily(and boys too), are now hitting puberty about 5 years earlier than before – talk about a different experience for your childhood. Or really, how much of a childhood do you have left when you hit puberty at 7 years old? Further, like it or not, sex education isn’t solely in the hands of parents, sex-ed at schools, peers, or just left to the imagination any more. For two consenting adults, the fantasy that porn can provide is perfectly safe in moderation. However, for an ignorant child, being sexualized by random internet porn(or hyper violence) would most likely be a real, irreversibly damaging source of dysfunction. Never before has a 6th grade punk been able to stroll up to some 2nd graders and whip out his HD Iphone and bombard them with hyper-realistic images of the most disturbing and graphic of fantasy content. The problem isn’t just being exposed to graphic violence or sex at too early of an age(that’s been producing dysfunction for centuries) – it’s that there is no distinction that what they are witnessing is fantasy.
The most important thing you can do as a parent is make your child feel safe and loved. The more unsettled and threatened they feel as a child, the greater the likelihood of dysfunction in adulthood. Exposing your kids to fantasy without the perspective or experience to understand it as fantasy is uncharted waters. And they will most likely produce negative results. If you expose a kid to horror, action, and super violent porn without any perspective for the fiction at play, I fear terribly you will not ever be able to undo those unsettling and unrealistic influences. One usually has no control over how and when they are sexualized. But, if the manifestation is a traumatic one, science has shown us it does not lead to pretty results in adulthood.
These changes are going to have profound effects on generations to come. And figuring out the best ways to handle these challenges will be a very important task. But, how am I supposed to talk to my kids about sex, when they are hitting puberty four years earlier than when I did, and have access to things I can’t control? Also, unlike when clinical tests are preformed and analyzed for years before a new product hits the market, we don’t get to see the effects of our changes until after our kids have grown up.
Overall, I have faith in humanity. We will figure it out. I’m just hoping that the learning curve isn’t too painful on our journey. As I write this, I don’t really know exactly how the world will look even five years from now. I am not sure what kind of world my grandchildren will inherit. There are so many variables to consider.
The key question is whether we will be able to control the technologies we are now attempting to harness before they control us. I see humanity in 2014 as a child playing with a shiny, new gun.
We are growing up quickly, and generally understand that we possess a potentially dangerous weapon. But, we are still quite naive and inexperienced, and there is a distinct possibility we could blow our faces off before we gain a healthy perspective, and respect for what kind of power now rests at our fingertips. The point of this blog entry was to get people thinking and talking about how profound a statement it is to say that : in the history of Homo sapiens, no parent has ever faced the staggering type of challenge that this generation of parents will face. “Type” being the key word here. I understand that most parents have had a far worse reality than our generation, since both mother and child surviving pregnancy used to be a miracle in its own right. So, while we might have a cushier existence with food and medicine taken care of, we still need to consider all the unknown variables now being put in play. Creating a discussion about it, and trying to predict the myriad of endgame possibilities is the first step in trying to do the best job we can as parents.