Peer pressure, celebrity culture and technology are to blame for our children growing up too soon according to parents surveyed in a recent study commissioned by children’s wear retailer Pumpkin Patch.“Many parents worry that childhood is over too soon,” says Laura Demasi, Research Director of the study. “And that technology and media has exposed their children to the ‘real’ world at a much younger age, depriving them of some of the innocence that shaped their own childhoods.”
The study revealed that 58% of parents surveyed believe their children are leaving the world of fantasy a lot sooner than they had as a child. Parents cited issues such as celebrity culture and pressure to follow trends as a concern. And although nearly half of the parents surveyed believe technology such as iPads, iPods and the internet offered their children more than before, they were concerned that it was diminishing their child’s social skills and creative thinking.
So who is to blame for our children losing their innocence and growing up too fast compared to previous generations? Dr. Justin Coulson of HappyFamilies.com.au and Author of “What your child needs from you: Creating a connected family” says it’s all too easy to blame modern society and technology but when it comes down to it, parents are to blame.
“Parents are disconnected and not engaging in their children’s lives”, says Dr. Coulson. “They are too busy and lives are overscheduled. Weekends consist of sleeping in while the kids watch TV and then housework. What happened to living and experiencing life with our kids?”
It’s a great question that forces a few different issues.
Families these days live structured lives, full of routine. There’s work, school, day care, extracurricular activities and the rest of our lives are ruled by technology, leaving precious little time for free play and exploration. Then there is the paranoia that parents feel about letting their children learn through risk and experience, something that we were afforded a lot more often during our childhood. “We need to let kids be kids.” says Dr. Coulson. “It’s much easier to stick a child in front of a screen device than have them get themselves or the house messy. People believe their houses need to look like a Domayne Catalogue these days!”
So what can we, as parents, do about engaging in our children’s lives?
Dr. Coulson says it unfortunately gets put in the ‘too hard basket’ labelled “easy to say, hard to do.” “Most parents nod and agree when they are confronted with the facts but it is much harder to make the changes.” However, the changes don’t necessarily need to be big. “Parents just need to make deliberate and conscious decisions,” he says.
Here are Dr. Coulson’s four best tips for putting families first and help our children retain their childhoods.
1. Work out what you want. What’s your main priority? What’s important to you in life? What’s important for your kids? Are you making these things a priority or are they getting pushed aside?
2. If family really is your main priority then “Put family first!” Work out what you want to provide as a minimum, how you can provide it and what changes you can logically make. Do your kids really need to go to that private school or is there a public one down the road that is just as good? What can you scale back on to spend more time with your family?
3. Take regular holidays. Holidays don’t need to mean trips to the Gold Coast, Thailand or the USA. They can be a camping trip or a trip to Grandma’s. They don’t need to be expensive or lavish just simply time to spend together as a family. If you can make them technology free, even better!
4. Limit screen time. At a global level, we may have lost the war, but at the family level, I still believe this is a battle we must fight. Kids don’t need to be plugged in all the time. Get outside! Invite them into your world and let them invite you into theirs.