As parent of a teenager, I am constantly on the lookout for study (!) material that helps me not only understand my teenager better, but also deal with issues that are specific to the relationship between the parent and the teenager. This news item and associated video, sent by a colleague, soliciting my opinion on the issue, held me spellbound for a few hours. For those that do not want to hit the link or watch the video, the news was about a parent’s (or parents’) outrage over a supposedly “educative” Teen Vogue article on sodomy.
I did not read the original Vogue article, and therefore am not best suited to pass my opinion on this, although my knee-jerk reaction to the derivative article on the link was– why would I let my 13 year old read about sodomy? I, like all parents, continue to live under the delusion that my 13 year old has her “innocence” intact, despite me telling her the bedtime story of the birds-and-bees, as quaint as the term may be, long before she became a teen. Another part of my brain judges the need for any 13 year old to even read a magazine that objectifies the female body. A third part of it chides the second for being a judgemental prick. “Objectification of the female body is not being judgemental” says the former to that. While these mind games rage on, the finger continues to click on associated links and there is more fodder to the already addled brain - the original parental outrage, the outrage over the outrage, the response to the second outrage and so on - until I get the irresistible urge to assume fetal position and stay there until my kid’s teenage has passed.
“Was parenting always this hard?”, I ask myself. Has the age of information morphed into an age of over-information and over-thinking that has mired parenting in the cesspool of largely pseudo or half-truth psychology, philosophy, biology and everything in between? Has the digital era and technological advancements led us into a rut of hyper parenting, thus tightening the reigns that bind us, rather than setting us free?
As a parent, I don’t want to believe that. I can search for virtually (pun unintended) any information I want online – a complicated calculus problem that I am unable to solve? Go to Google. Do I need to know what the Mock United Nations that my kid is raring to attend is all about ? Hail Bing. How do I get lice out of the kid’s hair? Bingo Yahoo. The erstwhile grandparents and phone calls to relatives have been replaced by advice available handy on any topic under the sun.
A more careful scrutiny of the above situation shows that the age of information is a boon indeed. But only when specific answers are sought. For more general education/information, the internet and its various by-lanes can be a serious source of confusion. The last time I took my kid to the doctor for the stomach flu, she gave me a prescription with the advice – Don’t ask Dr. Google anything more. I ignored it as a joke, and resorted to Dr. Google, to spend a couple more sleepless nights wondering if the kid has botulism or something worse, before the meds prescribed by my doctor kicked in.
It is very easy to blame teenagers and youngsters for their overuse of and over-reliance on the Internet in their daily life, but most digital immigrant parents are just as guilty of the act – I know I am. The age of over-information makes us forget that parenting is a unique experience, and is a function of all parties involved, the immediate society, the extended global village, which has shrunk now with the advent of the digital era and there is never a size that fits all. What’s more, there are too many sizes online, and it is exceedingly difficult to find one that fits us, even if there could be one such.
The mushrooming of media and its free availability outside geographic boundaries has further complicated the matter. It is easy to forget that information projected by media may not be agenda-free. Coming back to the introductory case – it is clear that the original article, although published as an educative piece, also had magazine circulation in mind. So, was the article aimed at educating, or at pumping up circulation? Considering that more than a few parents protested, was the second aim negated? Or did the negative publicity do good to it? Would you, after reading this article, seek out the original article and have a clear opinion about it, or would you, like me, after spending hours hopping around in virtual spaces, choose to push your over-informed opinion under the carpet and move on to the next issue that went viral in Social Media?
Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip writer & parent who is on a constant lookout to identify digital pitfalls that parents and children could avoid.
Mobicip is the creator of the most powerful and extensive internet safety software for tablets, smartphones and computers in households today. Learn more at www.mobicip.com.