Archives for posts with tag: parenting

eggGoogle, the lazy way’s person to start a blog post. But if you search “damages children” it gives you a pretty good idea of how prevalent is the idea that many things ‘damage’ children.

Parental separation, child care, attachment parenting, leaving babies to cry, never leaving babies to cry, too many after school activities, not enough stimulation, free range parenting , working mothers, stay at home mothers, tiger mothers, hang on where are the fathers here? Geez it’s not surprising that young people today are the horrors they’re portrayed as with so much stuff ‘damaging’ them.

The nature of this damage is often unclear. Stuff is bandied about regarding ‘self esteem’ or ‘stress hormones’ but a lot of time what ‘damage’ spells is: ‘Mothers this is your fault, why have you perpetuated/not stopped this damage that is happening to your children RIGHT NOW’.

Parental guilt is journalistic catnip, and is yet another thing constantly thrust at parents, most often mothers, until they start believing it because we all feel guilty sometimes don’t we? About how little time we spend with our kids? About how we’re buying their love with material goods? About how our relationship with their other parent didn’t work out?

I’ve never seen, though, anyone talk of another way of looking at this – of understanding and accepting  that we probably won’t bring up our children to reach their maximum possible potential. This is really what media talk of ‘damaging children’ amounts to – all those working mums, or attachment parents or single parents or just somewhat flakey parents are not ruining their children’s lives. The Media and The Internet and Advertising are not going to rot their brains. Because kids are resilient. Humans are resilient. If we weren’t, we’d all be in a state of mental fugue by the time we were 12. We can cope with the fact that Mummy often said she was busy, or Dad shouted sometimes or once Mummy didn’t give us a cuddle once when we were feeling sad, all other things being basically OK.

And yes, the way we parent will most likely have some negative impacts on our children. We may bring up kids to be too averse to conflict, or bad at taking criticism, or too uncompromising or with a short temper. But you know what? Despite that they will most likely still enjoy friendships, satisfying and lasting relationships, educational achievements and decent jobs. Your mum and dad do fuck you up. But only slightly.

Middle class parents are portrayed as agonising over the slightest decision: ‘What if seven is too late to start classes in Mandarin?  He’ll end up cleaning toilets for a living and HATING me’, ‘If I don’t do a good princess castle cake for her birthday no one will be her friend and I’ll have ruined her entire childhood’.  The flip-side implication being, I feel, that those parents who can’t stretch to the cost of cello lessons are assumed immune to this sort of thing because they ‘don’t care about education’ and think good parenting consists of shouting lots at their numerous uncouth offspring and keeping them quiet with expensive gadgets bought with the immense wealth of benefit payments.

Classism aside (mostly as that’s a whole other post) I feel if you are worrying, even a little bit, about whether you’re doing the right thing, you are probably doing the right-enough thing. If you find parenting hard and the decisions a bit worrisome, that’s fine. If you’re being crushed by guilt that your every decision could send their future lives into a swan dive, I’d say ‘Calm down, you’re only their parent’.

The media likes to present research on profound neglect, such as the heartbreaking lack of care suffered by Romanian orphans, as though it is some kind of continuum on which your children may be found if you’re not careful. If, for example, you go to work before a certain age, or don’t constantly hold in-depth conversations with them or don’t have a family meal every day. Not only is this insulting to the genuine sufferings of the appallingly neglected, it’s also insulting to humans’ general ability to be the parents that their kids need them to be in the vast majority of cases.

It also rankles with me that privileged parents are encouraged to cluck over minutiae when plenty of children endure experiences rather more testing than not being selected for the school debating team – persistent poverty, imprisoned parents, being a carer to a family member, childhood illness – and nonetheless come through with flying ‘being a sorted human being’ colours.

A lot of parents need to forgive themselves more, stop looking into the crystal ball of doom and appreciate that, actually, their kids, right now, are basically OK and are very likely going to stay that way. So don’t start saving up for a psychiatrist just yet, and if they do need one later, swallow your pride and accept it might not be all about you.

ImageI think I hate Hollister. Not that this will overly concern that particular brand – after all, their buggy-unfriendly, loud, dark stores are expressly designed to say ‘Oi! Sod off!’ to the likes of me. I’m almost surprised it lets me on its website.

Sour grapes? Embittered at my lost youth and now that some places are too young for me?

Not really. What really sticks in the craw is that Hollister is going out of its way to be alienating for those older than its core market, while peddling the most pedestrian of conformity.

Navy and taupe and grey. Preppy sportswear. Chart music.

The message: ‘Rebel against your parents by conforming with big brands and mass market pop!’

I’m steeling myself for the fact that being a parent now means a constant battle on some level between consumerism and you for your kids’ hearts and minds. It’s scarily easy for some marketing type in his or her Soho office to know more about what your kids like than you do, especially in an environment where kids’ media choices are more and more personalised, and increasingly easy to receive without parental mediation. It’s not so much porn and violence I’m worried about as the drip-drip of precision-marketed material aimed at tuning kids into what marketers want them to be into.

Does this mean I’ll be battening down the hatches, banning media and banishing brands from my children’s lives? No. It does mean that I will make it my business to understand what they’re into, to watch what they watch (or as much as I can bear) make sure I listen to their music and read some of their media (if I can find out what it is, given it probably won’t be off a shelf in WH Smiths). Nor do I plan to tell them if I disapprove – God, if that isn’t stoking a fire for adolescent fuck-you-ness, what is? But if they’re into something I feel unhappy about – be it music with violent messages or TV programmes that purport to tell girls to be themselves and live their dreams but are actually telling them not to be smarter than boys and to make themselves pretty – I want to talk to them about what they like about it so hopefully I can open some discussion about the messages from it that make me uncomfortable. And yes, I can hear the laughter of parents with older kids reading this and thinking ‘Yeah, and you’ll be lucky to get anything beyond a “Dunno” or “I’s’alright” out of them. Discussion – LOL!’

But I still feel it’s worth a try, and that certainly there’s nothing to be gained from rolling eyes and going ‘Oh God! Why are you watching this crap again?!’ – because that’s really put generations of kids off being into something and not at all been the subject of countless unnecessary arguments.

Like Hollister, but in a different way, modern pop seems to have this generation-gap/conformism mismatch. You get music that sounds squarely aimed at the under 12s, but which comes with Parental Advisory stickers. You get cheery pop accompanied by a video of a woman in a latex bikini dry-humping a Cruise missile.  There’s this constant low-level-outrage drone behind a lot of pop that’s become so boring as to be not worth commenting on, but I suppose it might still catch the imagination of kids who haven’t seen it all before.

I’m someone who isn’t especially bothered by innuendo in music – it seems obvious to me that either a kid won’t know what it means, or if they do know what it means, then it’s not the song’s fault. I’ll confess that until I was in my early teens I thought all those lines about ‘Doing it all night long’ and ‘Getting down’ were about dancing. Admirably quaint, I know. But pop songs and imagery still send out strong messages about things like how much clothing a girl might be expected to wear on a night out and What Makes a Bloke a Real Man. And it doesn’t distress me because it’s oh-so-rebellious or impure and I can’t take its freakyness, but because behind it beats the pulse of mass marketing, stereotyped and unhealthy gender roles, materialism and shallowness.

Oh, and don’t forget hypocrisy – dollybirds who portray getting their kit off as empowerment, which maybe it is with a million downloads behind you, but maybe not for the majority of women involved with the ‘getting-your-kit-off’ trade. Men who make their money off glamourising violence and objectifying women, but spout platitudes about ‘Yeah, there’s too much hate in the world, we should all love one another more’ to make up for it.

This, to me, is the world represented by brands like Hollister – selling back a sanitised, marketing-approved vision of youth that’s actually all about not changing anything and slotting neatly into the groove assigned to your social cohort.

Mark Easton wrote interestingly on the BBC website about that old chestnut ‘kids today’, noting that there does seem to be less rebellion in the air. But at the same time, some things do speak very well of da yoof – drinking, drug use and smoking are falling significantly among young people. I don’t know if this is really a reaction to anything so much as a cycle of fashion, and getting hammered has become boring and kids have realised that smoking is expensive and unpleasant. And the kids would be absolutely right about all of the above. A strong suggestion is that, with social media replacing hanging out at the bus stop, and giving a forum for chatting, flirting and, unfortunately,  bitching and bullying too, far less need for the social fuels of booze and drugs.

The internet does make kids more vulnerable to targeted marketing, but at the same time gives opportunities for some bright sparks to create alternative voices for young people, for example Rookie from the very talented Tavi Gevinson – a magazine by and for teenage girls who want to explore feminism as well as fashion, with articles on everything from girls who box to ‘How to look like you weren’t just crying in 5 minutes’.

It’s not about ersatz rebellion, it’s not about following a brand or affecting a particular style – it’s about girls expressing themselves; articulately, geekishly, individually, funnily.

In other words, generally the things advertisers don’t want young people to be – exploring, questioning, creative. Then they might buy less stuff and generally be more immune to messages that tell them they need to be more like everyone else than anyone else. Kids by nature are exploring, questioning and creative, and not dumb – we need to give them credit for that so that their bullshit detectors are ready for those who want to sell them someone’s conformist ideals and motivations and call it their youth.