Parenting and Social Media: Parents, Your Job Will Get a Lot Harder Than It Already Is

Potential future parents must know what they’re getting into

Little girl with long brown hair
Image by talib abdulla from Pixabay

I’m a preschool teacher and mother to two sons, ages 26 and 24. I’ve experienced and seen changes in parenting up close in the communities I inhabit.

For the sake of context, I shall describe such communities as (a) middle-class to ultra-rich Northeast United States, and (b) middle- to upper-middle-class Hispanic immigrant families.

I’ve seen some positive trends for sure. But I’m here to highlight the alarming trends with no end in sight that are making and will continue to make parenting so much harder. If nothing’s done about them, they will eclipse and cancel out the positive.

I’m talking about social media/screens and environmental degradation/ climate change. Here’s what to look out for and a few things we must all do to help, whether or not we’re parents.

Screens and social media: How they get in the way of parenting and will continue to make the job harder.

Nothing replaces the human connection. Nothing replaces the role of play in childhood. Good parenting requires that we provide both, and doing so is getting harder.

I’m 51. I got my first cell phone at 26 when all cell phones could do was make a call. My sons were in high school when social media and smartphones began to become a part of life.

I didn’t have to compete with the addictive power of various screens to get my children to build with real blocks or play outside with the good old sphere you can bounce, hit, throw or roll and that lends itself to so many games and sports with other humans.

An even more sinister effect of screens on parenting is how they suck us parents in. We give our kids access to them at the restaurant, in the car, in the doctor’s waiting room, at home, even when they have a little friend over.

It’s just so freaking easy and incredibly tempting to let them be on a device hours and hours every day when we have so much to do and the device guarantees us peace and quiet.

It’s also the case that when we intend to spend quality time with our children, we just can’t seem to help clicking on that YouTube video, looking at our Facebook, posting that picture we just took to Instagram and responding to texts.

And it gets worse as children get older and social media enters their lives. Parenting a teenager has always been difficult partly because outside influences, both wonderful and terrible, begin to play a bigger role in our children’s lives at a time when they are also becoming more independent and hormonal changes are playing with their minds and bodies.

Current and future parents: Sorry, but you now have the huge responsibility of monitoring where your children are and who they’re with not only in the physical world but also in the vast, ever-expanding virtual one.

The evidence is mounting on the negative effects of social media on youth mental health. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

“Evidence from a variety of cross-sectional, longitudinal and empirical studies implicate smartphone and social media use in the increase in mental distress, self-injurious behaviour and suicidality among youth; there is a dose–response relationship, and the effects appear to be greatest among girls.” (Smartphones, social media use and youth mental health, February, 2020)

How society can help:

  • Support sensible regulation of social media. We can’t leave it to the tech giants to regulate themselves. It hasn’t worked. Regulation needs to cover, for example, access restrictions, some signaling of fact vs opinion, heavy fines for not removing content not protected as “free speech”, and preventing algorithms from nudging users toward ever more divisive and extreme content.
  • Schools must play an important role in teaching children to recognize and tackle the addictive power of social media, how to detect misinformation and propaganda, and how to be informed participants in the virtual world.

Climate change and environmental decline: How these trends will change parenting.

Wherever we live, the negative impact of environmental decline and climate change will just continue to grow. Family displacement will become more common; environmental degradation will lead to conflict as basic resources like water become scarce; and severe weather events that disrupt life will happen more frequently.

Parenting will be made harder both by the effects of climate change and by the changes families will need to make to adapt to and combat it. It’s already happening, so we must take action to limit the damage.

As the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indicates:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, including the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impact for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

Current and future parents: Because we are currently doing too little to combat climate change, you will have an even greater need to change your ways in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You will need to do this as you figure out how to parent.

You will have the essential responsibility to teach your children that protecting the environment is just as important as making money so they can have a big house and buy lots of stuff.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be teaching this to the children of today, just that the urgency increases every day.

When I was growing up, concern for the environment didn’t figure in the worries of parenting. The wilderness and seasons were taken for granted and the sustainability of our lifestyle was not put into question.

This is not the case anymore. With every passing day, our actions place the wellbeing of all living beings — including us humans — at greater risk.

How society can help:

  • We need to take action today, at the individual, local, national, and international levels. This is easy to say and write, but impossible to achieve if we don’t care, don’t know enough, and don’t change our mindset.

Final Thoughts

Parents of today and parents of the future: I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there are no promising changes underway. I’ve witnessed trends in parenting in my lifetime that I certainly consider positive.

When it comes to diverse family composition, things have changed for the better. For example, no teacher bats an eye anymore if a student’s family’s blended, inter-racial, or includes two moms.

I also see more equitable sharing of parental responsibilities; for instance, more fathers doing the picking up and dropping off, filling out of school forms, replying to teacher emails, and making sure their children get on their devices for remote learning.

I’ve also noticed a third positive change lately that’s directly related to the pandemic. More children are outdoors doing things that were just part of being a kid not so long ago. Yeah, I’m talking about good old activities like outdoor play, riding a bike, and going fishing.

Although this change can’t be called a trend given how recent it is, I sure hope it will become one and not end with the pandemic. The change involves no electronics and exposes children to the outdoors and the natural world a bit.

Parenting and the future are interdependent. Both will require a change of mindset in terms of our hopes and dreams for our children.

Parents have traditionally hoped that their children’s lives will be equal to or better than theirs, but this hope has exclusively focused on economic outcome.

We need a shift to a mindset where one of our greatest hopes is that our children inherit a planet as rich (or richer) in resources and human connections as the one we had.

Share Article

Homophobic No More: People’s Views Can & Do Change

Mine did

Rainbow kite
Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

About twelve years ago, my sister told me about a friend who’d said he’d prefer his daughter be a “puta” (Spanish for “whore”) over his son being gay. The saddest part of hearing this was realizing that more disconcerting than the comment itself was how it reflected on the views I used to have when it comes to homosexuality.

I grew up in an environment where it was OK to say such things — and still is to some extent.

Like me, this man I’ll call Francisco was from Venezuela and had a Catholic upbringing. Homosexuality was either a sin or a condition that rendered bullying, rejection and discrimination wholly justifiable.

Also, for whatever reason, in the world of my youth, men could be gay and women whores — never the other way around. In fact, as a child, I thought homosexuality only “affected” men.

As far as my specific home environment, I will say my parents were more compassionate and evolved, so to say, than most. My mother, a generous woman, never subscribed to the view that homosexuality was a sin or that bullying anyone was acceptable.

My mom viewed homosexuality as a disease or disorder — sort of like diabetes or schizophrenia. She felt sad for those afflicted but didn’t judge them as sinners. As a young girl, I thought her views made sense.

I must have been around 15 when I met an openly gay person for the first time and began to question my outlook. Carlos was a pianist, composer and teacher and one of my sisters studied piano under him. He was one of the best-known pianists in Venezuela at the time and my mom was a huge fan.

One day, I went with my mom to pick up my sister at Carlos’s house. I was curious because my sister had already told me he was gay and had a partner. Carlos’s partner opened the door and offered us coffee while we waited for my sister’s lesson to end. Carlos had an artist look to him, very thin, ethereal, long curly hair. All else was unremarkable. I guess I expected exotic pets and over-the-top decor or something.

(Carlos died of AIDS and my mom and sister mourned him deeply. Here’s a mini-documentary about him in case you understand Spanish and are interested in knowing more about him.)

It wasn’t until I was in college that my views rapidly changed, not only on homosexuality but also on other issues, including abortion. When it comes to the latter, I’ve struggled to make sense of my views and where I stand.

Not so with homophobia. Unlike abortion arguments — whether “pro-choice” or “pro-life” — arguments surrounding LGBTQ issues seemed pretty black and white to me.

In a few words: You’re gay, you’re straight, you’re bi, you’re trans, who cares? It makes no difference and we must all have the same rights!

That’s how I thought I felt… until I had children and my prejudice resurfaced.

Many years after college, I went to graduate school for special education and interned in a university preschool program. One of the teachers there told us about a parent who was “sort of concerned” her 4-year-old son might be gay. Her son was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz and said that, when he grew up, he wanted to be a ladybug.

The parent, this teacher explained, was conflicted about even approaching her with questions. She made clear she’d love her son the same if he was gay; she just wanted to know if his interests and personality foretold his future sexual orientation.

In the discussion that followed, a couple of my classmates who, like me, had young children talked about what this mom was really getting at. Was she actually worried he’d be gay? Did she prefer he not be?

How about me? I’d never asked myself these questions, but my default thinking about my own young sons assumed straightness. I’d never worried. Philosophically, I told myself it was all the same to me. But did I prefer straightness for them? My gut reaction said I did, even if my mind said of course not!

To be perfectly frank, I don’t know if personality and interests at age 4 are in any way telling of sexual orientation and preferences later in life. I have now taught 4-year-olds for fifteen years. I’ve had a few little boys who loved to dress up as fairies and princesses and one student who said with great certainty that he’d be a princess when he grew up. I hope he gets to if that’s still what he wants!

Final thoughts

When it comes to homophobia, I’ve seen people move toward shedding their hate and prejudice and others cling to them. I’ve known of parents who sever all contact with their sons or daughters who come out. I’ve known others who embrace their children and whose attitudes begin to slowly change.

When my friend Carmen told me her coming out story, how difficult and frightening it had been and how it resulted in her mother’s and brother’s rejection, I was in awe of her courage.

I’m anything but brave. I admire people who, like Carmen, are courageous and honest in how they live their lives. They expand humanity. I know they’re not doing it for me, but they have my gratitude and admiration just the same.

Share Article