Sunday, February 5, 2023

Raising kids

 My parents relied on Dr. Spock. No… not Mr. Spock, Dr. Spock.

My mother had a dog-eared, tea-stained, well beaten-up, paperback bible from the good doctor aptly titled Baby and Child Care. I see in the Wikipedia entry that Benjamin McLane Spock was not merely a pediatrician but also a left-wing activist. Can that account for my progressive political inclinations? Unlikely, because I’m pretty sure that most of the parents of my conservative-inclined peers were also slaves to that seminal book on post-war child-rearing.

I spent the best years of my childhood in the early 1960’s in a brand-spanking-new Montreal suburb with a ton of other kids. For grades three and four I walked one-and-a-quarter miles back and forth to school, often solo, four times daily. The path was along the shoulder of a country highway. The destination was a quaint, modest, very retro, 19th century, two-story, four-room, red-brick schoolhouse. It had a bell in a gable on the roof with a cord that dangled in the ground floor hallway. Lucky kids got to ring it. That was before the new, closer to home, mid-century modern elementary school was built.

My friends and I spent our summers ranging all over the former rural landscape on our bikes, hunting frogs, digging in sand pits, climbing trees, building forts, slogging along creeks in our billy-boots often mired in deep mud and getting “soakers”. We often collected empty soft-drink soda bottles from residential construction sites. We trucked hundred of bottles home in our wagons, rinsed off the mud in our driveways, then took them to the grocery store a couple of miles away to collect the deposits. As soon as we pocketed the cash, we headed down the mall to Woolworth’s to buy plastic model cars and WWII fighter planes, glue and paint. 

We did all that as 9 to 12 year olds, all on our own. No cell-phones. No parents. Most often miles from home. We’d set out for hours at a time. Our mothers had absolutely no idea where we were, or what we were doing. I never recall any motherly-angst, from any of our mothers. 

In the evenings we’d gather in front of a TV and watch some shows, on a rainy day maybe Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian and that crazy gang.

It was wonderful.

Leap forward 20-30 years, and we were raising our own kids. TV played a much bigger role. Our two or three year-old daughter memorized Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Team sports like soccer and hockey were also a big deal. Bikes, much less. Foraging in fields and forests, not at all. Our kids didn’t roam like I did. Never. There was no Dr. Spock. We bought diapers in boxes, and baby bottles were plastic. As a parent I don’t recall being stressed out. Sure there was an occasional trip to the ER, some head-scratching moments at parent-teacher nights. But overall, I wouldn’t say any of it was a challenge we felt we couldn’t comfortably handle.

Fast-forward another 20-30 years. We have grandkids. They request an iPhone from mom or dad and at three and four years old, they swipe through photos and videos on the phone with what I can only call great skill and confidence, easily finding their favorites from among hundreds and hundreds of tiny thumbnails, with an ease that sparks a certain envy on my part.

And that’s where the looming challenge lies for our kids as parents. It’s as scary as a leopard stalking unseen in tall grass. When do their kids get their own phones? Obviously not now, but almost certainly that day will come all too soon. And with that phone, come games, messages, email, and SOCIAL MEDIA.

There is no doubt whatsoever that social media is poisoning public discourse and infecting society. That’s the least of it. Much too often it is proving to be lethal among children and teenagers. Truly deadly. Often suicide, lately spawning swarming by kids who commit assaults, and here in Toronto, a recent random murder.

How do you raise children to become confident, resourceful, socially mature, responsible, and capable adults when there is a truly threatening, ubiquitous, and poisonous environment, constantly present that’s impossible to see or apprehend and neutralize?

Ban cell phones, computers and tablets? No that’s not really an option. The schools are increasingly requiring those devices as part of the curriculum.

That means that  the worst aspects of social media are inevitable in the near future for our grandchildren. Likes and dislikes,  misinformation, inappropriate selfies, virtual cliques and gangs, bullying, extortion, blackmail… 

I wish this was an unreasonable overreaction on my part, an irrational delusion, my unreasonable fear, or my paranoid delusion. 

Unfortunately I truly believe, very regrettably, that it is a not-too distant reality.

I find myself asking what I would do as a parent? Where would I turn for reliable guidance? Where is the Dr. Spock for today’s parents? 

Is the answer to be found in just a few clicks on the internet? It’s a sea of information, and there is no Dr. Spock dominating the digital horizon, offering wise advice to spare. There is no shortage of advice, but where is the good, effective, reliable advice?

I don’t know.

Do you have any insights or guidance you can share? 


bocutter ed said...

I remember walking a mile and a half up Hwy 27 to the 4 room, 8 grades schoolhouse at Schomberg.

David Masse said...

Ed it's amazing how times have changed. Now there are traffic jams with parents dropping off kids at school. I have to think that our experience contributed to our sense of independence and acceptance of responsibility.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.