In the early months (or shall we say, years) of your child's life, you're faced with acute sleep deprivation and never-ending days of pre-treating stained clothing, followed by regular visits to your GP after your child came home from preschool with yet another stomach bug. And when those gruesome tantrums (appear to) become less frequent, you think that you’ve finally made it through the terrible twos (and threes). Well, not so fast.
While you’re trying to avoid as many visual stimuli as possible when hitting the stores, you already know that it is virtually impossible. You know that saying ‘No’ to that tablet will probably lead to an apocalyptic meltdown right in front of your eyes. And then you remember how your parents would not have hesitated for an instant if you even dared to throw a tantrum like this in public. As indifferent as you pretend to be at first, you’re fuming inside. All because you wanted to ‘save’ your child from technology while you can still keep your finger on it.
You may be practising strict rules at home when it comes to the use of tech devices, but when your child's friends spend their free time on tablets and mobile phones, you have some explaining to do. Of course, we can lose ourselves in nostalgic discussions about ‘the good old days', when nothing brought us greater joy than climbing trees with the neighbours' kids. The fact remains that technology has made our lives easier. And the World Wide Web had us equally addicted if we didn’t continuously pull ourselves together - which, let's admit it, is as tough as getting up at 5am to make sure everyone eats a wholesome breakfast.
But how do you equip your child with the skills needed to survive in the 21st Century?
Without being a helicopter parent, that is. It's simple and starts at the very foundation - you. As his first point of reference, your child will see the world through your eyes, and ultimately learn to understand how it functions. Describing the colour and shape of that flower petal, or mixing up your pace and voice when reading that book aloud, does take time and practice, especially as a first-time parent. But it's worth the effort.
And as you enjoy these little moments while they last, you dread the day your child enters primary school, a.k.a. long, overwhelming days filled with compulsory sports and extra-mural activities, and even longer homework projects, which usually require a parent's involvement in one way or another. And if you haven't already given in to your child's request for a tablet, his stationary supply list at school will stipulate his access to a mobile phone and the Internet.
Technological advancement is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, exchanging (homework-related) WhatsApp messages with his teachers and classmates can help your child resolve the one or other problem, but at the same time, you will nurture laziness and apathy. Maybe it's time to introduce exercise bikes in classrooms, which is already quite popular in Austria and one way to get children excited about both technology and fitness.
We underestimate the importance of teaching our children not only good manners but also self-sufficiency. By mirroring your behaviour, your child will be able to distinguish right from wrong, and what it means to be compassionate towards others, no matter the differences - a big step towards self-acknowledgement.
Even if you want to protect your child from all the evils in this world, you can’t.
And you shouldn’t. How is a child supposed to comprehend people’s dynamics if he never witnessed a quarrel between his parents? Change and disappointment are inevitable, but the way you approach these fears together with your child is key. Seeing the flip side of the coin, or knowing that when one door closes, another opens, is a powerful skill, and can luckily be acquired with your guidance.
We mustn't forget that the ability to communicate well and to possess strong social skills is a top job requirement in almost every business. Your child will only progress if he retains his curiosity and openness to learning. We teach our children to be leaders, but to be humble at the same time. Not taking ‘no' for an answer may be seen as disobedient when your child is still young, but will make for a respectable person once he is older.
A child will draw his confidence and strength from his home base, and unconditional love. It's hard enough living in an ever-changing, fast-paced world where expectations are high, and the competition is even higher. So open your arms (literally), and lend a sympathetic ear. Although next time you pass the electronics aisle, stand your ground. Your child won't thank you for it, but you know that you've made the right decision - for now, at least.