Let me share with you a grandmother’s perspective of parenting today. I learned a lot during a holiday visit from 5-year-old Joshua and his parents.
Parenting today is even more different and difficult than I realized. Every generation is a bit different from the last because the world changes. But the rapidity of change has never been greater nor its effects more potentially troubling.
As I have said before, my parents’ modest home was truly a castle that protected their values. No outside influence could cross the figurative moat. Today? The world…with all its violence and vulgarity…enters our homes through numerous screens that are all over the place, relatively cheap, easy to use, extremely attractive (and even addictive) to our young.
The visit was a joy for me. Joshua is a smart, affectionate, curious child who expresses himself well.
He is exuberant and noisy but also very gentle with our old dog. He is also physically active (he moves his arms and body a lot) and daring (he climbed all over the place and even splashed in our unheated pool.) He showed responsibility and could be trusted to take our dog out for what we call a “1-2-3 pee” and bring in the papers and mail without wandering off.
Joshua came up to me our first day and softly touched my neck asking, “Grandma, what’s that?” I told him truthfully it was my wattles and we talked about aging skin losing elasticity. Then we talked about things that were elastic. Next we talked about things that stick to you like candy that sticks to your teeth. He said this was “magne-cious” and told me this word (his own) means when something sticks like a magnet but isn’t a magnet!
Does this young charmer have any negative behaviors? Yes, Joshua has a tablet and there is parental concern and conflict over its use.
Dad: “I hate it when Josh tells me we can’t go to the park until the program is over. No way I can compete with blankety-blank Pixels! I’ll always lose. I say we should ban it completely.”
Mom: “I actually need Josh to use his tablet when I get home from work. I need time to switch myself back into a Mom. Plus if we ban it so Josh doesn’t see the latest Batman or whatever, he’s ostracized at school because that’s what all the other kids are playing.”
Grandma’s opinion? Both parents make good points. And Joshua admitted the tablet was a problem at home.
All parties agreed to a family meeting so we sat around the table with Grandma convening. I appointed Joshua the Chair, went over some rudimentary parliamentary procedures, and suggested he call the meeting to order. He asked if there was any new business and each parent in turn said the tablet was a problem. Tablet rules were deliberated and two motions were proposed and voted on. The first motion was that tablet use was hereby limited to 30 minutes on the way to school in the morning provided he got ready for school without a fuss. And 30 minutes sometime after school but no more.
The second motion contained sanctions. If Joshua was not obedient, sassed his parents, or physically hurtful (head butting, poking with a finger, elbowing) tablet privileges would be taken away. This part of the meeting was a hoot to me and a revelation to his parents. Joshua said the tablet should be taken away for three whole days. Mom and Dad amended this motion to one day, two days for repeat offenses. Josh was stricter than necessary!
I already knew that when children are asked how to solve a family problem and respectfully listened to, behavior “miracles” can occur. And, yes, kids can be very strict.
The physical “attacks” were troublesome to me. Little boys have played a version of war from time immemorial. But today’s screens teach many ways to defeat your opponent and Joshua (and classmates) imitate what they see on the screen. In school such behaviors are not allowed.
Why can a teacher curtail such misbehaviors while parents struggle? Consistency and peer learning give the teacher an edge but when parents are on the same page and keep their cool they can get the same results. Both parents and grandparents should monitor the content of what the kids watch. Videos marketed to children sell lots of sticky candy so marketers make money by promoting unwanted behaviors.
Kids today seem noisier than ever. This may be that Grandma’s hearing aids are working well but Dr. Heins suspects that noisy homes, schools, and public places affect children’s behaviors. Everybody has to speak over the noise. And this becomes a habit. Of course five year-olds are naturally noisy but malls or commercial indoor playrooms are even louder. As are many toys that not only make noise but also flash repetitively and brightly. These are popular but diminish imaginative play. I also noticed Joshua imitated many sounds of mayhem when the tablet was off.
Talking quietly at home, keeping down background noise and minimizing toy clutter can foster calm instead of chaos. Family walks and quiet hours are helpful.
By the way to illustrate parental flexibility, tablet rules can be temporarily modified for plane trips and long drives. This modification also allowed us grownups to have a quiet dinner together.
How can us grandparents help? We can understand how difficult parenting is today. Have sympathy not criticism for the parents and listen to them. Role model a quieter voice and slower atmosphere when you can. Spend one-on-one time with each grandchild listening to tales about today’s world and telling your own story about a different world. You didn’t have TV, Grandma? What did you do? In my house a couple of weeks ago this led to a conversation about radio, a victory garden, and cars without seatbelts. Joshua and I agreed that progress can save lives and be good as well as evil.