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The profound struggles of parenting in the digital age

Dazzle Ng Sy

Marketer, writer, mother. Works for theAsianparent.com.

Singapore | Fri, July 21, 2017 | 10:04 am
The profound struggles of parenting in the digital age

In the advent of the awakened consciousness brought about by social media – shaming, fake news, viral stories and all – parenting has become much more… mindful. And that’s a good thing. Albeit exhausting, for millennial moms like me. (Shutterstock/File)

I was reading to my two-year-old daughter at bedtime and randomly pointed to a man in a car, asking, “Who’s that?”

“Mama,” she answered, after a moment’s thought.

I was about to correct her when I took a second glance at the illustration – short hair, wearing jeans and a shirt, in the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, that’s Mama!” I said instead.

I’ve often told my friends how teaching my child is like programming a robot.

You start with a clean slate and anything she learns is whatever you’ve pre-decided for her to do.

I could very well teach her that blue is green and dogs are cats. (I won’t, of course).

Reading to her that night made me realize that we shouldn’t just be teaching the correct facts, we should also be taking extra care with the opinions we’re shaping.

In the advent of the awakened consciousness brought about by social media – shaming, fake news, viral stories and all – parenting has become much more… mindful. And that’s a good thing. Albeit exhausting, for millennial moms like me.

Read also: Study: Nearly 60 percent of children like reading for fun

So what are the great mental-behavioral/ethical/philosophical/social debates and dilemmas the age of digital parenting has brought upon my generation? Here are but some of them.

We must question everything

In certain instances, you realize that what you’ve always accepted to be right and true, may not necessarily be so. Most of these instances involve the internet telling you so.

Case in point: I once read an article about how forcing kids to kiss their elders can make them accept as truth that affection must be given to people in positions of power (teachers, coaches, older boyfriends) if they ask for it.

That, plus a few minutes to think things through, was all it took for me to message my husband to say that we’re not making our daughter kiss and embrace aunties/uncles and even grandparents anymore if she doesn’t want to. It’s our job to explain to them that it isn’t about a lack of respect for them, but teaching her to respect herself. She’s been given the option of high-fives or just a friendly wave since then.

Read also: Temper tantrums not to be retaliated with anger: Child psychologist

Our head of content for the Asianparent Indonesia, Putri Fitria, was just telling me how news on research breakthroughs backing up old traditions do well for them.

This is what widespread, instantly accessible information has allowed us to do – we now have the power to check whether lathering a certain oil on our babies or feeding them this or that have actual benefits or even the potential to harm.

We’ve moved from “I said so” to “Google said so” and only time will tell what impact this will have on the passing down of cultural traditions.

Who am I doing this for?

My daughter’s wearing her cute new dress - can’t wait to post a photo of her.

Baby learned an adorable new trick. Awwwww. Quick! Take a video for everyone to see!

Does the hotel have WiFi? Gotta send photos to my mom chat groups!

I honestly hate the term ‘Instagram-worthy’.

Yet there are times when I find myself curating and cropping to my heart’s content before uploading a “candid” shot. Cringe for a second then ask, who are we planning these adventures (great and small) for?

Is it no longer enough to just be in the moment? Does it have to go LIVE somewhere for it to count, or can we just live it?

Of course the answer is that enjoying and immersing ourselves in the moment when a wonderful memory is being made, should be enough. But it’s easier said than done nowadays, when our virtual personas take on a life of their own.

Read also: Oversharing isn’t caring: Consider this before posting about your kids online

Ah, to iPad or not to iPad?

The great debate: Do I protect my child from the negative effects of screen time for as long as I can or will doing this cause him or her to be left behind with tech being the future?

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed its guidelines from no screen time prior to the age of 2 to some exposure at 18 months. But parents shouldn’t take this as a green light to hand over the devices to their little ones’ eager hands and impressionable, still rapidly developing minds.

“High-quality programming”, like Sesame Workshop, is the recommendation, along with parental guidance (i.e. explaining to your child what’s going on and how this applies to real life).

Limited screen time and offline family activities, among other things, are important for older children.

I’ve personally seen how my daughter acts around gadgets (like a kid in virtual candyland) and the bratty after-effects of taking them away. I kid you not, she once even got “addicted” to an electronic toy smartphone with a blue screen and dots that form into numbers, letters and animals. She took it to her crib and couldn’t take her nap!

Read also: Signs your child is stressed

It “disappeared” shortly thereafter.

I know that as she grows, exposure is inevitable.

I suppose my best compromise is to make sure that the media she consumes educates way more than entertains, and for offline learning to outweigh online, especially in her formative years.

Will she get left behind? I think my part is to make sure that she’s the best learner she can be. If she wants to take up programming, graphic arts, app-developing, or any other tech skill I have yet to foresee, then she will be able to catch up because she’s got aptitude in her back pocket.

No. Yes. I mean, definitely don't do that, but you can't do this either.

The pivotal scene in the movie Bad Moms has the main characters ranting about the many *bleep*ing rules of parenting today.

Don’t punish. Don’t say no.

Whereas, I’m sure my own mom and dad just pretty much went with their gut feelings in raising us (and they’re fantastic parents who happened to say no a lot and punished us too).

Many of these rules and schools of thought are just downright contradictory. So the one guideline my husband and I follow nowadays is common sense.

Don’t believe everything you read.

Do your best to extract the wisdom and practical applications of each piece of advice you encounter and if it makes sense for your family, then by all means, apply the heck out of it.

The parental instinct is real.

There you have it – the profound struggles I deal with 24/7 as a millennial mom. Care to share yours?

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Dazzle Ng Sy works for theAsianparent.com, the largest parenting portal in the region, reaching 10 million users monthly across Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

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