Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed — these may be the iconic Mother’s Day gifts, but conventional wisdom now holds that what busy moms really want is a break from the stress of caring for others. Mother’s Day now includes annual calls for more societal support, financial and otherwise, to help over-burdened moms often juggling jobs as well as caregiving responsibilities.
That’s all fine, but this year, I’d like to get more specific. We moms could definitely use a more supportive society for raising our kids, but that begins with fighting trends that are making parenting much harder than it should be.
I’ve been a parent for nearly 18 years, raising five kids, and have watched as the culture that surrounds children becomes more and more coarse and hostile to children’s interests. Today, parents can no longer trust that programming billed as appropriate for preschoolers really will be.
Parents used to be able to let their kids indulge in a couple hours of Saturday morning cartoons without really having to think too much about it. Now, parents know that media companies, particularly those targeting kids, see part of their mission as pushing a political agenda. Why have we complicated the innocent world of children’s television so that parents have to wonder about the sexual messages and gender identities of the cartoon characters on our television sets?
It’s not just the media, but the same goes for our schools. Parents used to walk in and out of their elementary schoolers’ classrooms, take part in library time and feel confident that their schools were a partner in teaching not just the ABCs, but positive lessons about personal responsibility and basic good behavior. Today, parents like me are told that we will have to submit a FOIA request, and typically pay hundred-dollar fees, if we want to know the content of our public schools’ curriculums.
Fear of the spread of COVID allowed schools to embrace policies meant to keep parents out of classrooms, libraries and the halls of our schools. Yet these practices now remain. As a 5th-grade class mom, I recently showed up to drop off a gift for “teacher appreciation week” and was told I had to leave it at the front office. I couldn’t actually go into the school to my child’s classroom.
I sadly realized that it was really for the best since I would have struggled to even find my daughter’s classroom, since getting past that front office is taboo. It didn’t use to be like this. Parents shouldn’t have to wonder what’s happening in their children’s schools. School systems shouldn’t fight so hard to keep parents in the dark.
Parents have always had to be aware about dangers their kids face, including what they might be exposed to on the proverbial playgrounds of childhood. Yet today, parents don’t have to worry about what the fastest kid in the school is sharing in terms of bad language, pornography, or other messages.
Now we have to worry about that kid giving our children access to all the most twisted content on the internet, which is always and inevitably a few clicks away.
My parenting obsession of the last eight years or so has been how to ensure that my kids have a healthy relationship with technology. Limiting TV time was pretty straightforward. But then schools began requiring that kids — even elementary schoolers! — all have laptops. Then came tablets. And smartphones.
I embraced the “wait until 8th” concept, but quickly realized that wasn’t much of a solution since my 12-year-old is then just peering over the shoulders of friends who all have smartphones of their own. We were all told parental controls were the solution, but now we know that these offer little real protection and popular-with-kids social media apps — most notoriously TikTok which we increasingly recognize is intentionally designed to foster mental illness among children — serve up content promoting sexual deviance, drug use, even suicide.
Parenting was never supposed to be easy, but it also isn’t supposed to be this hard. Parents are prepared to create rules and deal with skinned knees, mean teachers, and garden variety bad kids. Yet now parents have to fight each day to keep the worst that society has to offer away from our children.
It’s exhausting. We need to do better. Society should consider how we can pull back from these terrible trends, which surely must be contributing to the mental health crisis facing teens and young adults, and reinstate a healthy culture for the good of kids — and for the moms and dads who love them.