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The Challenges Of Being A Parent In The 21st Century

Jun 11, 2008
We all remember being children, looking at our parents in disbelief at the oversights, misunderstandings and plain daft ways they behaved towards us. At the time we promised ourselves that one day we'd show them just how it should be done. So here we all are, wondering where on earth it all went wrong. Our children are now shaking their heads at us whilst looking sadly at their pitiful parents, almost certainly promising themselves that one day they'd show us how it should be done. Such is the comedy of life. The truth is that being a parent is never easy, and there have always been dangers, traditions, expectations, risks and issues that have had to be tackled. However, the biggest challenge parents have always faced is that the world into which they bring their children is not the same as the familiar world of their own childhood, and this is where the problems start.

The biggest change in the world which we as parents can see is the introduction and proliferation of computer equipment and technology. As young children ourselves, some of us would have had some experience of innocent little units that could do relatively little, others of us had no experience at all - it was another world. Today, we are bringing our children up in a world we could not possibly have imagined, and seems as far removed from our own childhood as is possible to conceive. Whereas we spent hours riding round on empty streets on our bikes, our children are stuck indoors mesmerised by the images on their computer screen. Our challenges involved cycling all the way down the hill as fast as we could, our children's seems to be to unlock the secrets of the Shrine of D'Gaarn or kill as many Wailing Jarpees as possible in the hope of a good drop. If this leaves you cold, or dazed, then welcome to the club.

Of course, no one is going to suggest that simply because we are the generation of parents that we somehow lost all ability to cope with life in the 21st century - we can, most of us, use a computer perfectly well, and see it as a handy tool for sending emails, looking stuff up on the internet, maybe even creating letters or a graph. But perhaps it's simply who we are as a generation, but the appeal of posting our intimate secrets on the internet for the whole globe to see is lost on us. We shred any personal documents or bank statements before burying them deep within the depths of our bins, and hate the idea of photographs of us being owned by anyone. Yet our children seem quite happy to publish embarrassing photographs and stories for all to see. They talk about friends, but have never met them, and this even challenges our definition of friend. To us, a friend is someone we are close to, hang out with, and spend time with. Our children's friends seem to be distant, with the only interaction taking place in a virtual world.

Naturally, with so many news stories about the terrible things that happen as a result of the internet, with people masquerading as children in an attempt to lure them into meeting up in the real world, and then never seen again. If you have considered the idea of simply binning the computer and saving a lot of trouble, you certainly wouldn't be the first parent, or the only one to have such concerns.

But the truth is that it is not the computer which is dangerous, and the internet is not an enemy or something dark and subterranean that we should, or could, avoid. Every day we take many risks that could potentially endanger our lives. We drive a tonne of metal at sixty miles an hour just feet from other lumps of metal coming the other way, and accept this as perfectly normal. We stand far more chance of being killed driving on the road than we do of encountering danger on the internet. The difference is both in perception, and understanding. We perceive danger in the internet largely because of a lack of understanding, but because we understand the nature of the risks of driving, we see less danger. We wouldn't drive on the motorway blindfolded, because we'd almost certainly be killed. Being voluntarily blinded to the risks of the internet not only increases our perception of the danger, but the actual level of risk involved.

It's important, therefore, that we appreciate what the real risks are when using the internet, because the more we know and understand what the real risks and dangers are, the better we can help inform and advise our children. If we allow them to take advantage of the incredible technologies that surround us, but hold their hand through the learning stages, then we are all far more likely to come out the other side unscathed. If you can understand more about chat rooms, messenger clients, profiles and online games, then there will be more of a chance to chat with our children about what they are doing. We all accept, I'm sure, that we can't ban them from living in the 21st century, and so we have to accept that, just as we had to learn the dangers of the road, which was not an issue back in our own parents' or grandparents' days, our children have to be taught the dangers of life on the digital highway.

We are familiar with teaching our children about the dangers of the streets, and they are well aware of the risks associated with strangers. They know not to open the door to strangers, not to talk to strangers, not to accept lifts from strangers, and to simply run away and report anything suspicious. But on the internet, strangers can have names, faces, profiles, histories, and the advantage of distance. The problem is, of course, that our children don't see a stranger, when they are looking at a profile of someone they're enjoying chatting to. The fact that the photo of a child their own age, with a name, a school, hobbies and family, could all be fictitious is ignored. It is so easy for people to hide behind fake profiles, and thereby lull children into revealing just enough information to identify them.

Possibly you may already be aware of the fact that there is a wealth of security software available for parents. These enable you to lock down and protect your computer, installing filters and logs, restrictions and blocking tools, guards and scanners, but to be honest most of this will simply cause our children to be ever more curious about what really is on the other side of the wall you've built. We were children once, and we know that the first thing you want to do if told not to look over the wall, is to look over the wall, and most children are smart enough to work out a way of getting past the security. A far more effective way of supporting and protecting them is to communicate with them. To have the computer somewhere publically visible so that you can see what they're doing, share an interest, and talk with them, is far better than trying to lock everything down and then running away to pretend the dangers will go away.
About the Author
There are many parents blogs on the internet and some offer very useful information on everything to do with kids. From tips on illness, nightmares, schooling and much more. Take a look, from kids to teens, interesting reading.
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