Raising children can be a daunting task; it takes skill, determination and a great sense of humour. Raising them properly is a seemingly impossible task. Parenting has evolved so much over the years, it can be hard to keep up with current advice, but have babies changed? It’s hard to imagine babies are different enough now, to warrant such a drastic change in our parenting techniques in the last few decades.
Back in the not so distant past, almost every mother stayed at home, raising the children and keeping the house, while the father went to work. Times were different. If a mother took her baby to the doctor simply because they were crying too much, or they were fussy, they would be told they had an embarrassing case of ‘the mummies’ – the remedy? Stop cuddling them so much. If a doctor were to say that to a new mother now, it would be straight to the tabloids! Yet we see recently, that crying babies are the most common reason for unnecessary phone calls to healthcare professionals. For some reason we think our babies shouldn’t cry, even from a young age they shouldn’t have to be upset. Everyone is so hyper vigilant about screwing it up that they have forgotten how to trust their own intuition. The internet plays a big part in this. When someone has an issue with their baby, they no longer seek the advice of their elders, they turn to the plethora of online forums, bursting with parenting ‘experts’, waiting to dish out a multitude of worst case scenarios, many of which contradict each other so much that it’s no wonder a new mother doesn’t know whether she’s coming, going or yet to arrive. They have us sprinting like Usain Bolt to the nearest ‘out of hours’ every time the baby burps.
We bring our children up to fear the world around them, of course it could be argued that we live in a much more dangerous time, but we teach them there is a potential predator around every corner. It wasn’t uncommon right up into the 90s, for primary school children to walk to and from school themselves. They were waved off with a smile, and they survived. Now, there are teachers guarding the exits, ensuring no child leaves without a parent, secret passwords for if someone else is picking them up, and even some places refusing to hand over a child to someone, unless they have their ID on file. I am not saying all these precautions are a bad thing, of course no one would ever want anything to happen to their child, all I’m saying is that we could perhaps be doing a better job at teaching them how to recognise and deal with danger, instead of just removing every single one. If we never let our children do anything on their own, within reason of course, then it should come as no surprise when they grow into adults who are still completely incapable of doing anything for themselves.
We are also now very conscious of upsetting a child; we will go to great lengths to avoid it. School sports days are now full of stickers and certificates just for taking part; it makes you wonder what this is teaching children about being rewarded for zero effort. Again it should come as no surprise when these children grow into adults who expect maximum reward for minimum input. Schools even go so far as to ban any games that could be deemed dangerous. Football is now only allowed in playgrounds when it is played with a soft ball, even skipping ropes were banned in case a child trips over them. Any form of potential physical or mental harm is completely removed from childhood. There was a headmistress in Dundee, who suggested changing the colour of the uniform, as red had been linked to increased respiration and heart rate. It is important to note here that neither the school, nor indeed the parents are necessarily doing anything wrong, they are simply doing what they think is best for their children; it is not until these – incredibly sheltered – children grow up, that some parents can only stand back and watch in horror, as their darling little snowflake melts.
One phrase we associate with the past is, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, however these days, the world is a much smaller place, and families can often be spread across the globe. When it comes to neighbours, everyone is so busy out working, that in most cases we barely know the people on our street. It used to be the case, that if a child misbehaved two streets over, they would be disciplined there and then by whoever saw them, they would then be marched home to be disciplined again for embarrassing the family. It made children much more conscious of their behaviour, as they knew they would be held accountable no matter who could see them. We tend to see now, that children do not care who they upset or offend, could this be linked to the fact the next door neighbour is no longer allowed to administer that, well deserved, clip around the ear?
By refusing to be the ones that teach our kids how to deal with being knocked down, we never give them the chance to learn how to pick themselves back up. This means that one day, when we aren’t there, and they do fall – they fall hard.
Rates of teenage depression and suicide have increased dramatically over the last decade. We are creating children who have no knowledge of how to handle stress, disappointment, or their own emotions, because they have been shielded from it so much as they were growing up. More and more teenagers feel the need to access ‘safe spaces’, because they have grown up scared of the world; this in turn makes them less daring, and narrows their horizons. Parents also tend to avoid controversial subjects with their teenagers, amid fears they could corrupt their minds. Studies have shown that where parents have open and frank discussions about sex, it results in teenagers who are more likely to wait, less likely to rush to find out all the information for themselves, either from their peers, or through seeking out their own experiences. The result of this of course, is a lower teen pregnancy rate. We seem to be so worried our kids will grow up hating us, that we do everything in our power to keep them happy, we remove anything that could cause them to be upset. Instead of equipping our children to deal with life, we deal with it for them.
By the time they reach university, they are so full of emotions that they have no idea how to process. At Oxford University, considered to be one of the top in the country, law students are now officially notified, if a lecture could contain anything they may find upsetting. Studies have shown that one of the reasons for university dropout rates, is that students simply don’t know how to fend for themselves, as many as 30% are unable to boil an egg, 42% don’t know how to iron a shirt, and a staggering 50% have no idea how to use a tumble dryer. We are not helping our children with their future; they are growing in to an entire generation that struggle to leave home.
We are on a parenting knife edge. Every decision we make will be judged by one side or the other. I find it a rather terrifying ordeal, having to wait until they have grown up to find out if you have done your job right, if you have – well done, if you have not – tough – there are no resits, you have just contributed to the generational fragility.
I’m just a mum, desperately trying to prepare my children for life when they grow up. I live in the west of Scotland and love nothing more than a good debate. I have some controversial views on many things and discussing them with people of opposing views can be great fun as it often gives everything another point of view. I work in our local high school which is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and I am currently studying to be an English teacher. I enjoy spending time trying to grow my own veg or looking after my chickens. We have quite a quiet way of life up here.