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Charlotte de Vreeze-Nauta questions whether parenting has become harder in the internet age.
We spent Christmas with my parents and one of my brothers with his wife and their children. Right before we sat down for Christmas dinner, there was a squabble going on between the parents and the children about the phones.
The adults wanted them off the table and out of sight, the kids treated them as an extension of themselves. We ended on the consensus of phones on the table but facing down and no touching. Sigh…
My parents, not having partaken in this discussion, looked at each other happily and said life was so much easier when they were younger and raising kids.
There were no phones, tablets or computers. There were no discussions about being allowed or not to have a phone in the bedroom during the night. There were no YouTube distractions, TikTok or online games when homework needed to be done. There were no excuses that a computer was indispensable for schoolwork.
I mean, growing up, we had a computer, but all it really was was a fancy typewriter. It just had a screen instead of paper and you had to insert a floppy disk instead of typewriter ribbon.
Later on, we were able to play ‘pong’ and Pacman but that’s as exciting as it got. We weren’t in contact with the outside world via chat or email. It didn’t even exist then. So, a computer really served no other goal than to type your schoolwork on.
The only stress my parents had from that computer was when my brothers or I didn’t save our essays correctly and we would need to start over again, swearing and screaming.
But that was it. Easy, right?
Well, I wonder.
Sure, they didn’t have the discussions about phones and other screens that we as parents now have with our children. But there is more to raising children than discussions about phones.
Let’s start with whereabouts. I grew up on the outskirts of a small village in a former farmhouse. Around us, there were still a few operating farms, so behind our house, there were meadows and in front of our house there was a dike behind which there was a large river. Yes, yes, it doesn’t get any more Dutch.
Anyway, my brothers and I would play outside all the time. We would be in our garden, climbing trees or building huts, but my older brother would also sometimes disappear out of sight. The meadows were fairly innocent. Not much to do there but look at cows. However, the riverbed was super exciting. Of course, it was forbidden by my parents, but he went there anyway. His friends and he would build dams in the river’s forelands. Or get stuck on ‘an island’ when the water was a bit higher.
He ignored the fact that someone had drowned there. He overlooked the fact that climbing the pillars of a bridge is stupid. He would just run off the minute my mother would look in another direction and she would just have to hope that he would come back safely from wherever he hung out. It was utter freedom for him.
Our children have a smart phone. We know where they are at all times. We can even follow them around via ‘Find my’. If we want our kids to have the same amount of freedom – which I don’t – we have to turn off our phones or tell them to leave their phones at home. But we don’t, because we feel more comfortable knowing that we can always reach them. Anytime. Anywhere. Every second of the day.
There is also the little matter of boredom. Growing up, a rainy Sunday was exactly that. Rain on a day that is in itself rather boring. It allowed us to do, well, nothing. Of course, we made it through. After all, I am alive and I don’t need therapy, but days like that would pass utterly slow and I am sure it drove my parents mad at times.
Having one off-the-wall-energetic kid (ADD didn’t exist then, nor did labelling or Ritalin, for that matter) that would always think of something stupid or dangerous to do; one kid that looked up to the wild big brother so would follow him blindly; not to mention one strong-willed little girl that demanded her share of attention, rainy Sundays weren’t exactly a relaxing walk in the park for my parents.
If tablets had existed in those days, we would probably have been allowed our fair share of screentime so that our parents would have a bit of a breather.
On that note: driving 12 hours to a holiday destination with only a few cassette tapes with children’s songs on them was also a challenge. Nowadays backseats of cars are high-tech entertainment units. Want some quiet time? Go for a drive.
Of course, there are many other aspects to consider. Weed, vaping, alcohol. I think we can all agree that it has become a lot easier to get your hands on drugs than 30 years ago and that kids start experimenting a lot sooner. As the saying goes: little children, little problems; big children, big problems.
However, because we are more informed than our parents were, I think we can have better conversations about it than our parents could. My parents knew nothing about drugs and were therefore not in a position to inform or educate us, in my view. My husband and I are not only better informed but also, albeit it only very slightly, more experienced with it. It may be naïve, but I am hoping that this will work in our favour when it comes to informing and cautioning our children.
I guess the bottom line is that things aren’t necessarily harder now or when I was growing up. They’re just different. And seeing how much time we spend in the car, either in traffic jams in Luxembourg or when travelling to the Netherlands or elsewhere, I am very grateful that we now have screens and do not need to play ‘The wheels of the bus go round and round’ for the gazillionth time.
Thank you, technology!