When parenting gets tough, the tough get parenting

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

Parenting has never been easy. Adam and Eve, the first parents, had a rough start. Their younger son Cain killed his older brother Abel.

There are very few greater responsibilities than parenting. For at least the first 10 years of a child's life, parents completely control the life of another human being.

Many humans have been parented; have been parents; and have observed their children parent as grandparents. Everyone has an opinion about how children should be raised. Everyone is an expert on the subject despite the fact that, unlike most experts, no formal education, testing or licensure is required. Just working sex organs (or willingness to brave the adoption process).

Every generation believes parenting is much harder in the present than in the good old days. I'm not so sure. Raising kids in medieval times was no picnic. Living in a hovel, eating gruel with a bunch of kids while worrying about plague and endless war does not seem very easy to me. The highlights of the year were puppet shows on random saints' feast days. No Netflix.

However, I am sensitive to the very real concerns of today's moms and dads. Their kids, the iGen, do seem addicted to the four kinds of "New Media" promoted by iPhone-texting, social media, online searches, and gaming. Eighth-graders spend five hours a day on their phones. The average teen checks their phone 80 times a day. Third-graders have phones. Facebook "likes" are the emotional coin of the digital realm.

Whether this screen obsession is causation or correlation remains to be seen, but  today's youth have significantly higher rates of clinical depression and suicide, which seem to be products of a culture of fear and victimhood that requires safe spaces, trigger warnings, and protection from micro-aggressions for the sake of emotional security.

Yet these same kids consume less alcohol and experience sex later in adolescence; they drive less and have fewer accidents; they avoid teen pregnancy; and they appear to be less racist, homophobic and misogynistic than their parents.

So what's a parent to do? "Put down the phone!" The sense that there is nothing the parents can do about the perils of the Digital Age is absurd. The denial of agency is an excuse for selfishness.

But of course it is much harder than just putting the phone in a locked box. Today's kids need to feel safe and secure. They need to be loved. They need to feel they are at the center of their family's purpose. That requires the parents to spend more time with their children, to be more involved with them, to talk to them and to make sacrifices for them. They need to sign their kids up to participate in old-fashioned activities like sports, theater, scouts, clubs, volunteering — anything that fosters interpersonal face-to-face communication and caring, engaged relationships.

It may well be that it is harder to raise kids today than yesterday. 

If so, today's parents need to work harder at being good parents.

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