I was lying in bed this morning thinking of the ways childhood and parenting have changed since I was young. I’m pleased to say some things are exactly the same. For instance, my kids are as excited about Christmas as I ever was.
I couldn’t help putting together a list of things that have changed since I was young. Hold on to your hats, I suspect some of the items listed here will come as a surprise.
Us stay at home dads are small in number, but we have it easier than our forebears
Yes, I am horrendously biased on the stay at home dad issue. I think I can say with some confidence stay at home dads are more accepted than in the past.
Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t always easy. I regularly come across examples of sexism and prejudice from people who think women should still be responsible for doing the childcare. Even so, I’ve never come across the concrete barriers that men faced in days of old.
If I speak to men of previous generations, I hear the most horrendous stories. I’ve heard of guys not being allowed into the school playground on the basis of their gender. I’ve also heard of men not being allowed to accompany their children to swimming lessons because women in the pool may feel awkward about them being there. Being a stay at home dad comes with its challenges, but at least guys in my position no longer face problems on this scale.
The arrival and acceptance of same sex parents
Rather like stay at home dads, same sex couples are now an accepted part of the parenting scene. When I was growing up I knew of nobody being raised in such a family, certainly not openly. Within my own circles I can think of several same sex couples raising kids.
It seems society has moved on in the past 30 years. Even so, I think the parenting industry struggles with families of this nature. I never see them mentioned in marketing materials or media releases. I can only think of one advertising image I’ve seen depicting a same sex couple and that was used by a local authority looking for adoptees. Maybe it’ll be different in another 30 years?
This is a tricky one, because I grew up in the countryside and farms, fields and forests were my playgrounds. Believe it or not, I also used to play unaccompanied in a nearby river!
My kids are growing up in the suburbs and have an entirely different existence. Our backgrounds don’t compare but I don’t think outdoor play is as much a part of childhood as it once was. There are too many indoor-based activities and there’s too much traffic on the roads.
I encourage outdoor play as much as I can. I hope my kids value this and encourage their children to play outside too.
Pressure at school
I’m not sure my eldest child, who is in Year Two, feels pressure as such, but as a parent, I do. I was slightly taken aback at the fact she came home with homework while in Reception class. A couple of years later, and I’m more than a little concerned about the amount and variety of homework she is expected to complete.
There is, of course, another side to this. Helen is academically much more advanced than I was at her age. Even so, I know this pressure will increase as she gets older and this worries me.
Screen time has its place, but the opportunities for children to be distracted by screens are so vast these days. I remember my family complaining about the amount of time I spent in front of the television.
I’m uncomfortable with the amount of time my daughters watch TV. On top of this though, there’s the iPad, not to mention mummy and daddy’s mobile phones. Needless to say, we control such things but screen time is all pervasive.
When I was growing up, the advice was to keep kids away from computers. You just couldn’t do that these days. Kids have to be IT literate. You can manage screen time, but you can’t ignore it.
And finally, one thing I don’t believe has changed.
Despite what your average Daily Mail reader may say, I don’t believe the doom merchants who claim childhood discipline no longer exists. This has been on my mind since I took part in a radio talk show the other week.
During the discussion, another participant claimed “kids are having kids” and don’t know how to control them. As I was in my thirties before I became a father, I found the comment mildly insulting.
Yes, we’ve all seen feral kids. Yes, we all know some parents don’t discipline their offspring. It is, thankfully, no longer acceptable to smack your child. I think we’ve learned that it’s better to manage our children’s behaviour, not simply to chide them when they misbehave. Is society really falling apart because of a lack of childhood discipline? I don’t think so.
What approaches to childhood and parenting do you think have changed over the years? Do you think childhood discipline is a problem? Leave a comment, I’d love to know what you think.
Pic credit; Peter Merholz. reproduced under Creative Commons agreement. Sourced from Wikipedia