Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The 'me' generation

It's funny, the things that happen when you starting putting stuff out there. After the long hiatus between conceiving the idea of this blog and then finally plucking up the courage to commit myself to words, things are flowing thick and fast towards me that are relevant.

A friend of mine posted this 'image' on Facebook yesterday. I'm not sure of the origins of this story - if you Google the school principal's name and the school, there are a gazillion entries listed that all repeat the statement made by the judge - who isn't named anywhere. If anyone out there can find the back story behind this image - which seems to have been posted and quoted everywhere from Facebook to LinkedIn, commercial sites and various people's blogs - I'd be interested to know.
The comments that accompany this on the various sites appear to come from a very broad range of individual viewpoints, but there is consensus on one point - to quote one of them, 'it's about time someone said it.' It just happens that, earlier in the afternoon yesterday, I'd got into a conversation with a colleague at work about our changing society - we get into these hefty philosophical discussions semi-regularly. He was speaking about the essence of true democracy. That in a democracy there is, essentially, a relationship between the individual and a governing authority, but that there is an active participatory aspect to that relationship. On the part of the individual, the benefits are that we belong to a community which has an obligation to protect us; here via laws and policing and from external threats via our armed forces. That same authority is responsible for helping create and govern the resources that are required by the community. Our part, as individuals - as he put it - is to vote, because unless we participate in the business of choosing our leaders, we have no right to complain if tey fall short of our expectations. We must also pay our taxes - because without funds, our leaders have nothing with which to create the services we require. And, we must also be prepared to be part of national service when required, and contribute to that protection of our community. Also, he stressed that this is not a relationship of equals. As individuals, we have to accept that we are part of somethingwhere the other 'party' is something much more powerful than we are...

Now, I get confused about which 'generation' we're up to, and exactly where the boundary lines are between the different labels we have asigned to different generational groups. According to some definitions, I was born right at the tail end of the baby boomer years, and others indicate that I belong to Generation X. I do know that my oldest son definitely falls within Gen Y, but I'm not sure about No.2. In any case, there are various attributes that have been collectively assigned to members of these generation gropus - not all of them complimentary.

This un-named judge hits out at the current generation - I'm not sure what they're called. My own appellation, 'the me-generation' isn't new, and has been applied to generations past, but I've used it again deliberately because I'm not sure it isn't apt for this latest crop far more than any preceding generations.

I brought my kids up pretty old-school as I mentioned in my previous post. We didn't have a lot of money - like my parents before me - so they didn't have a lot of 'stuff'. I covered what they needed, and managed a few of their wants. Anything over and above that had to wait for birthdays, or presents from other family. Like me, they made a lot of their own fun.

They both spent time as RAAF cadets - the eldest for some years. Great character building stuff. With the eldest, that was a deliberate choice on my part - following up on his, then, intention to join the RAAF when he left school. Thing was, he wasn't actually doing anything towards that particularly, at the time, school work wise, activity wise, or anything else - just a lot of talk about being the next top gun and flying fighter planes. So I challenged him to put his time and effort where his mouth was and join the cadets because I figured that if he couldn't deal with the services at that level, he wasn't going to make it for real. It was good for him. He's been doing his own ironing since he was thirteen - I begged ignorance of service standard ironing and left him to it. I left him to sew all the badges onto his uniforms too - again feigning ignorance as to how they were to go - MUCH cursing and needle pricked fingers in the background! But he did it. He learned that if I yelled at him, I'd probably lost my temper for a pretty good reason, as opposed to a drill seargeant yelling at him just because they could...and that he stood a good chance of other people in his future going off at him for whatever reason and he'd just have to learn to deal with it and work out the rights and wrongs of any given situation for himself and respond appropriately, rather than just going off in a sulk because he felt hard done by.

I could go on giving examples, but that isn't the point really. I guess, in reading the judge's comments, I felt myself responding internally with something along the lines of, well, yes, of course. As adults, we know that if we need something to happen, we have to get up and do whatever our part in it is to achieve that goal. If we want something, we have to get up and go earn the money it takes to buy it. If we're not happy about a situation, we have to face up to what is going on and do whatever we need to to rectify it and if that's not possible, find a way to learn to live with it. We know, because life has shown us, that if we put effort in, we get something back. If we sit around waiting for the world to shower largesse upon us, we'll be waiting a long time - probably getting hungry, thirsty, cold and tired while we wait... I don't believe that there is a lower age limit for when we should start teaching our children any of this. When they're tiny, they love to be involved. Doing 'grown up stuff' makes them feel like they're ten feet tall when they aren't even hip high to us. If they think washing dishes looks cool, we can give them a stool to reach the sink, invest in shatterproof crockery, accept that it might not be done perfectly, and allow them to become part of the cooperative that every household needs to be if everyone in it is going to function in a sustainable fashion. In time, they'll learn, with practice, how to get them squeaky clean.

Learning to engage with life, all of it, not just the fun bits, used to be an automatic part of growing up. We all had chores when I was a kid. Certain things had to be done before we were allowed out to play. And when play time came, it was up to us to find things to do. I remember complaining once to my mother that I was bored, only to be told, with devastating matter of factness, "only boring people are bored." I hear a lot, these days, about how tough life is for kids, how much pressure they're under, and how hard it is for them to fit everything in. Undoubtedly many things have changed since I was a teen. Certainly, in many ways, life was simpler then. But I don't believe that the complexities of contemporary life preclude the basics of being an active, participating member of a household, doing chores, finding things to do, getting on with the things that have to be done even if they're not the most fun activities in the world, and going out and getting an after school job if having extra cash of their own is important to them.

If we don't teach them these skills incrementally, exactly when are they going to learn them, and understand that the world outside our front doors isn't going to provide them with everything they expect just because they want it?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Parenting then and now

I set this blog up in direct response to a  newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald - my local paper - and then life got in the way and I never got around to writing that blog post, or any since. However, just recently, there have been a swathe of articles on modern parenting that have caught my attention, so I decided it was time to get on with it, wrestle with the inherent family politics of writing a blog about parenting issues (and the possible fallout), and yet another article this morning surfaced when I read the paper, so here goes. 

This morning's piece, The screens that are stealing childhood, resonated strongly with me for a number of reasons. The writer, Andrew Stevenson, examines the 'connectivity' of our children; the amount of time they spend these days plugged into some kind of device as a matter of course. In my own household, I watch Sixteen crawl out of bed in the mornings to land in front of the TV while he eats breakfast. When he gets dressed for school, the last part of his accessorising is the complex wriggling to feed the earplugs of his iPhone through his clothes from the iPhone in his pocket so he has music while he travels in the car to school, where he will spend much of his day alternating between real-time teaching and computer screens for written work and research. Home again, and the TV goes on as he walks through the door, the laptop is set up on the coffee table for homework in front of the TV. If offered a choice, dinner will be on the couch in front of the TV, and after dinner it's time to get together with friends, on Facebook, while continuing with homework. At all times the iPhone is within reach for the constant texting that punctuates all the other activities. 

And this is totally normal. Not only for him, but for most kids his age, and younger. 

In the article, the author looks at the hours our kids are spending engaging with devices rather than people; in stationary rather than physical pursuits, and opens the discussion for the potential long term effects on the way our kids interact, learn, play and rest. The sheer amount of time that is estimated for kids' use of all this technology is staggering,
Parents used to worry only about TV use. Now school students' screen use may begin at home with TV in the morning, continue with interactive whiteboards, laptops and computers in class, smartphones at lunch and on the bus, and continue at home with TV, computer, phone and tablet. Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, says US studies show that beyond the school gates, teenagers are using screens or listening to music for more than 7½ hours a day. In Australia it is more than five hours and rising.
Discussions in the media suggest that this has all crept up on us, as parents. That the advances in technology that we have seen as beneficial and helpful have, perhaps, blinded us to the potential hazards in the long term. On breakfast TV just this week, there was a segment on monitoring our kids' use of the Internet and social networking sites; the importance of setting limits as to how much they use them, and how they use them. But then, there is the argument that this is their world, this is their norm, and to deprive them of it robs them of something that is intrinsically theirs. He quotes author Wayne Warbuton, author of Growing up Fast and Furious,
"Parents say to me they would love to put some limits on their kids' media use but that it is so much a part of their identity - playing the same games as their friends, being involved with the same media - that they feel they would be losing friends, losing identity and having problems if they didn't have access,'' he says.
Another part of the discussion looks at attention issues, and this generation has to always have something going on around them. Gemma Ackroyd, principal of a local Sydney primary school says,
''I'm worried about a loss of time spent thinking creatively and thinking imaginatively because all the time there has to be visual stimulus, otherwise [they say] 'I'm bored','' she says.
To put this into context, I am from the first generation that grew up with Sesame Street. I remember - many years later - when my own children were watching it, becoming aware of the studies that were emerging that showed statistics about kids with extremely short attention spans, particularly in learning situations. Details behind the studies included the fact that there were various sample groups, importantly those who had spent every day in front of Sesame Street from early pre-school days. The segments in Sesame Street averaged three minutes - and that was the average time these kids could focus on a concept. 

My mother was the dragon mother before me... Our exposure to television when I was growing up was severely limited, and there are programs today that many of my generation know and love and are reveling in the reappearance of on the many new free to air TV channels that are cropping up that I've never seen. I did much the same thing with my own kids. The TV never went on in the morning on school days - EVER... Saturday morning cartoons, yes, occasionally, if we weren't doing anything else. Sesame Street and Play School after school some days, if we didn't have anything else planned or it was a cold rainy afternoon and I couldn't kick them out into the back yard. Once they reach homework age, it didn't go on at all until homework was finished. My eldest was given a Nintendo when he was nine, totally against my wishes. It lasted six months when, in response to the constant warring over whose turn it was, and tantrums because the 'stupid game' cheated (!), I sent it to their father's house with strict instructions for it to stay there permanently. When their mates came over and it wasn't nice enough to play outside, the board games came out - amazing said mates, many of whom had never played one. That, or the huge Lego collection.

They are 27 and almost 21 now. They both have iPhones; No.1 has Foxtel and loves it; No.2 plays networked computer games and loses himself in virtual worlds, and has an iPad to which he is semi-permanently connected... Notwithstanding the considerable trials and tribulations of their childhoods, they both have good memories of mad Monopoly wars, building cubbies under the kitchen table, family movie nights with cheap junk food that they didn't normally have, getting into the kitchen to bake cookies or scones for an after school snack, and any number of less 'connected' activities. I don't know that this current generation of kids have the wherewithal to entertain themselves if you take their gadgets away, and that bothers me...

At the bottom of it all - when did we, as parents, stop saying 'no' to our children when it comes to them doing things we're not entirely happy about? It's a word I heard a lot when I was growing up. If I trotted out the usual, "but everyone else...", I was told very firmly that, "you're not everyone else...", and there wasn't really much comeback to that! Despite the resolutions  we all make to never say certain things to our kids that we hated hearing from our parents when we were kids, I did use that one. A lot. I copped it from many of my friends, who were much more permissive than me. But I still said 'no'. A lot.

My kids aren't perfect human beings. I was not a perfect mother. There's no such animal. I stuffed up, I made mistakes. But one thing I can say about both my boys is that they are independent, self reliant, and are both out there living useful independent adult lives, and doing it very well... I don't think 'no' damaged them over much.