It's time for a nap? Turn on an app! But who does this really benefit?
No generation wants to do things the way their parents did, and the Millennials are no exception to the rule. This cohort of young people, born between 1980 and 2000, are now becoming parents, which is why the New York Times has dubbed them the 'parennials.' This generation is often criticized for its lack of maturity, its inability to cope with stressful situations, and its obsession with narcissistic social media -- all of which makes it rather interesting to see how they're handling parenthood, arguably the most challenging job in the world.
Many things are different when Millennials are in the parenting seat, as the Times points out. Whether it's redefining gender roles, raising kids in a secular home environment, struggling to make ends meet while working in the gig economy, life has a wholly different feel for today's young parents than it did a generation ago.The biggest difference, however, is the role that technology now plays. While the Times article did not make out this particular point to be any bigger than the others, it had the biggest impression on me, and it's something I've written about on TreeHugger many times.
For the parennials, it's Google, not Grandma, to whom they turn for advice. The Internet (and its dubious veracity, at times) is their oracle of wisdom. These parents follow baby websites religiously, reading about fetal and infant development week by week. (I know because I did it, too.) They download apps to track breastfeeding and naps. They search online when they're trying to figure out what's normal and what's not.
While it's amazing to have this volume of information at one's fingertips, it has the unfortunate downside of eroding communication within communities, neighborhoods, and families. When questions are not asked and wisdom is not handed down, it becomes harder to connect with others around you. And the Internet won't make you dinner and offer to watch your baby while you nap, no matter how desperate your search history is. A friend, aware of your struggles, will.
Smartphones and tablets then become entertainment for babies and children. They're constantly available and an easy way to keep a child quiet. The problem is, this rampant use of screens is contrary to the most recent advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says children under 18 months should have no screen time at all. It affects behavior and sleep. But this is a tough habit for both parents and children to break.
This obsession with technology extends to creating YouTube accounts, Twitter handles, and hashtags for babies -- a concept that I find rather disturbing. One parent described social media's influence on her child's name:
"I knew I wanted to name her Brynn, but when considering middle names, there were a couple of ‘A’ names we were thinking about. We chose Brynn Avery because I could get the Twitter handle @BrynnAvery."
When I went digging on Twitter, however, I could only find an account with that handle that had been suspended -- which leads to the obvious point that many people, like myself, would probably look up that baby girl's Twitter account after reading the Times article, and perhaps that is why it was suspended. Who knows, but is that not slightly creepy?
This speaks to the parennials' tendency not to worry about online privacy, at least not to the extent that they probably should. There's a frustratingly carefree attitude to throwing around their children's photos in the online world, as if those children had consented to having their lives paraded for all to see -- which they most definitely have not.
Parennials will figure it out, no doubt, and not all conform to the stereotypes described in the Times article. But I do fear the effects of our technology addiction on our children, who deserve to make their own informed decisions someday about how much of their lives be made public, and who also deserve to have rich, rewarding relationships with neighbors and family members who will love them far more than a smartphone ever could. But that needs to start with parents talking to other parents, grandparents, and friends, and realizing that there are things Google will never, ever be able to give them.