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Parenting in the age of cell phones

Why have parents handed over gadgets to minors, assuming they know everything that’s happening?

Parenting in the age of cell phones

It’s summer again. A time when parents get almost three long months of undisturbed company of their own children. I don’t mean this as carrying a positive value, something the parents necessarily look forward to. Yes, they can perhaps get up an hour late than usual in the mornings which some might consider a luxury. But being with your own children all day and night, to see them hold electronic gadgets of one kind or the other, or fidgeting to get one, can be really frustrating, I tell you.

If the kids happen to be in the latter part of teens, you can’t even enroll them in a summer camp for some respite.

Parenting, I must confess, is the hardest challenge in my life, compared to which everything pales. There is no formula for good parenting; each day is a new challenge.

I remember getting pregnant the first time, about twenty one years ago and, while trying to deal with the initial troubles (it was after the first trimester, I guess), asking my gynaecologist when would ‘it’ get better. He replied, and I distinctly remember, “It won’t get better now, not even till your children have children. Welcome to motherhood!”

Most of us feel similarly challenged in having to deal with parenting problems on a daily basis. Newspapers and websites are full of most readable articles and useful tips. Is it then really something worth writing about? What more can you say about this centuries- if not millennia-old job that can address parents’ concerns? Nothing really.

It becomes doubly hard if one tries not to be a conventional parent, and by ‘conventional’ I mean our own parents who could only produce submissive, conformist, unadventurous kids. The opposite to that, you soon realise, is ‘confident monsters’ with a false sense of entitlement. You keep struggling to judge what is/was better and never seem to find the right answer.

What is most worrying to me at this time is the use of gadgets, especially cell phones, that parents have handed over to minors, without thinking much or assuming they know what’s happening. Actually, with a cell phone in your minor’s hands and a working wifi, chances are you may not know what’s happening. And things could go really wrong before you get to know anything. Laziness of parents can prove costly sometimes.

Being with your children all day and night, to see them hold gadgets of one kind or the other can be really frustrating.

My worry is that nobody is thinking about how to curtail the use of gadgets to a healthy minimum, to get the children out to do physical exercise, and meet and make friends in the real world. What is worse, the elite private schools have accepted that each child who is twelve years of age owns a cell phone and, therefore, all notifications, regarding academics and co-curricular, are conveyed on WhatsApp and Messenger groups.

The schools don’t realise that this in itself creates huge peer pressure on the child and a burden on parents who want to delay the cell phone availability for as long as they can.

This is all easier said than done, I know, but no one is even trying. Schools can, perhaps, but they don’t want to engage with parents collectively, for obvious reasons. They may well devise some kind of policy on their own, to discourage the use of gadgets among students and for their own good.

Meanwhile, we helplessly see a whole generation become hostage to wifi-driven gadgets. They are easily distracted and can’t focus on anything for long. They can’t think of a family outing which doesn’t enable them to create Instagram and Snapchat stories, and so on.

That may be the easiest thing to do — blame the children for not doing this or that. But the parents too (no less distracted) must raise their heads from their own electronic devices to see what’s happening around. All is not well if a child is hooked on to a gadget for a long time and is not bothering the parents.

The discipline must begin with themselves; parents need to throw their devices aside and focus on life instead. The connection with the child, even if it appears adversarial, is still better than no connection.

Farah Zia

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