The Dilemma of Raising Kids in the 21st Century

It’s no secret the world is changing fast, very fast. I’m a millennial dad, and already I don’t recognize the majority of shows, toys, characters, and songs geared toward my young daughter and son. This fact has brought to my attention the following thought: We are now in the age, for the first time in history, where parents are raising their children in a world drastically different from the world the mother or father grew up in. This makes me question how well parents can effectively raise their children.

This means that parents can’t rely significantly on the experience they had as kids to inform the method in which they will raise their kids. Is this a problem? Maybe not, but it is curious to think about. 

History is the Story of Change

To be fair, there were moments in history where dramatic political or war events caused the next generation to experience a vastly different environment, but never a continual, organic change that we now see with no perceivable end in sight. For example, surely those children of Roman citizens lived quite a different life than their parents soon after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The same goes for the generations following World War II in Europe, the first generations to arrive in the Americas, and the Indian people adapting to British rule, to a name a few examples.

While history proves that the world has always been changing, it’s the rate of that change that’s concerning. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise moment when the rate of change has become “too large”, I think it’s safe to suggest a critical point occurred sometime around the middle of the 20th century. I’m not saying that the rate of change then or now is necessarily too much to cope with, but simply that it’s sufficiently fast enough to cause some alienation of the parents in terms of the experiences of their children. 

Why is Societal Change Accelerating?

I have a hypothesis to the root of the now exponential societal rate of change. Though it’s purely my opinion, I think many will find it at least a possibility. I believe the drastic increase in the speed at which society is changing is largely based on a technological innovation: the internet. In a broader sense, it’s not the internet per se, but rather the ability it provides to communicate 1) instantly, 2) globally (remotely, across large distances), and 3) en masse (e.g. with thousands or millions of people at once). These three features make the internet a catalyst to incredibly rapid change, technologically as well as culturally. 

I think it’s an interesting exercise to reflect upon a very brief survey of communications throughout history: basic speech with those in one’s vicinity, writings or pictures to record thoughts on some medium, signals conveying meaning over a significant distance (e.g. a smoke signal or the ring of a bell), the printing press which enabled efficient copying of writing, the telegraph, morse code, the telephone, the radio, and finally the internet. Never has the ability to communicate so readily been in the hands of everyday people as in current times. Nearly everyone has the ability to post online something that can be read by millions in an instant. This is both a blessing and a curse. Hopefully, in the case of my posting this, it’s a blessing 🙂

As an engineer, I think of this in terms of a critical number of connections that the average person can now make. The internet has boosted each person’s sphere of influence to the point where ideas spread so quickly around the globe that they can accelerate massive shifts in ideologies, beliefs, language, cultural norms, etc.

How long did it take for the “politically correct” culture to overtake mainstream European and American institutions? How long before the definitions of male and female were “corrected” due to pressures from LGBT ideologies? How long before espousing traditional Christian beliefs became a smoking gun for a bigot, in the modern world view? All these new norms took hold in just a few years, some even affecting national laws.

What Can Parents Do?

Now, we parents have to find ways to deal with these rapid developments that affect our children’s education. I know my wife and I get scared when we see some of the things circulating online about the goings-on at some public and private schools.
How do we respond as parents? I think of two options at the moment:

  1. The Isolationist Approach. This approach consists of “sheltering” our children to a degree until we deem them ready to intellectually encounter some ideas that are out in the world. I think this approach is common amongst most homeschoolers, including my own family. It is, in essence, actively creating the “bubble” (though I hate the terms I’m using, I know) that we want our children to experience in their adolescence. In my experience, the rest of the world looks down on the isolationists.
  2. The “If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them Approach”. This way is basically what it sounds like: you can’t “out-influence” the world, so don’t try. Instead, try to engage with your children in the world as they experience it, shaping them along the way. This approach is the way I think many parents choose, not necessarily out of preference, but more out of necessity. It’s incredibly difficult to vet the influences on your child with so many worldly influences from friends, billboards, movies, TV, books, neighbors, schools, and even other family members that you don’t see eye-to-eye with.

Maybe you can’t be one, nor the other completely. My wife and I personally will strive for the former, mainly because where we live and the circles we’ve become involved in support this strongly, which makes it much more feasible. The fact that my wife is at home starting to homeschool our children means this approach is a natural fit. I don’t pretend to know if one is necessarily better than the other: I see a lot of great kids and families following the Isolationist approach, but I also realize that these kids are going to see the real world eventually. 

Now for the most interesting part (for me). Is the world changing too fast to effectively raise our children? How can we respond as parents to a rapidly changing world?

If you enjoy articles like these, let me know by subscribing for more content like this, commenting, and connecting with me on Twitter (@thinkingwest) and Thinkspot.

Published by Christian Bottenfield

Catholic | Father of two | Husband | Engineer | Founder of ThinkingWest blog

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