The following is a reproduction of our article first published in Youthwise Magazine, Autumn 2020 edition.
Parenting in the 21st Century
Every generation of teenagers has marched to the drum that announces, “You don’t understand me! Things were so different in your day! Why don’t you trust me?!”
It’s safe to say parenting has entered a new era of unchartered waters. As a parent of a teenager in 2020, you have a litany of challenges with no guidebook available. The growing concern is that you are no longer confident you actually know what’s best for their teenagers.
A life of Unpredictability
If you’re raising a teenager today, it’s likely you were a teenager yourself somewhere between 1980 and 2000. Trends considered less than favourable to parents were emerging (such as Grunge Rock, hard(er) drugs, dial-up internet and chat rooms, evolving computer games), but they were a slow burn and took a number of years to become ‘mainstream’.
Today the evolution of trends and attitudes is exponentially faster, the world is increasingly volatile and information overload is rife. It’s no wonder kids are feeling scared, risk-adverse and dubious of authority, while parents are wondering what the heck is going on in their own lives, let alone how to guide and protect their own teenager’s minds and emotions.
When life is this different and unpredictable compared to ‘when we were teens’, it can feel impossible to find a level to connect with your children.
The first step forward is to drill down into what ‘today’ actually looks like for your teen:
In our time we had war, today we have terrorism
War is predictable. Generally we know where and when a war may start or is taking place, and can predict its movements so as to prepare physically and mentally. Whereas acts of terrorism are completely unpredictable and not only affect the people hurt or killed, but change the safety psyche of the world.
In our time we had a hole in the Ozone layer, today the world is gasping her last breaths
It’s likely you remember tackling one environmental challenge at a time back in the 90’s, with spray deodorant being the key enemy against the ozone causing unnecessary skin cancer. Today everywhere we turn it feels as though we’re on the brink of extinction. Climate change, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon forest, polluted air, the list goes on.
In our time we had financial peace, teenagers today have only known a financial crisis climate.
When the GFC hit Australia in 2008, today’s teens were just learning to walk. Over the years that followed, not only did many of them experience parents losing their jobs, they had to move houses and often schools in the fall-out. Since 2008 we have all lived with the lingering fear of a relapse, a sense of unease that the next financial collapse is just around the corner.
In our time we had newspapers and 30-minute news updates, today information is inescapable.
A teenager in the 90’s may have caught the front of the Morning Bulletin delivered to their house each day (likely flicked straight through to the cartoons) and then overhearing 30 minutes of news updates on the 7pm news while impatiently watching the clock until ‘Friends’ came on.
Today, news is fed to both our children and us constantly. A quick check of socials in bed before getting up in the morning has us updated with the latest natural disaster, protests across the globe, increases in gun crime, Royal Family gossip and who wore it best to a Thursday brunch.
In our time we tackled bullying and gossip within a 20km-square radius, today it knows no borders.
Bullying and comparing ourselves to others has existed as long as people themselves, but we used to get ‘breaks’. The hours at home before school were peaceful, separated from the cruel playground whispers or fashion critique. After we escaped the school gates we could return to a place of safety, at home and appreciated by our loved ones.
Today there is no escape. Social media has gifted the world with unlimited connection, both across the globe and throughout 24 hours of each day. Which presents a serious reduction in respite.
So how do parents connect with their children in this new world?
Arming yourself with a more comprehensive understanding of the world your teenagers are growing up in is designed to empower, not paralyse you.
Now knowing the above situation analysis, some strategies you can use to navigate the ‘You have NO idea what it’s like!’ tantrum are:
1. Recognise that your teenager is living with a heightened sense of anxiety. This is being fed by navigating everyday existence in an unpredictable world. Conversations that feel unnecessarily agitated or angry need to be diffused by staying calm and trying to get them to drill down into what is at the core of their frustration or concern.
2. Give yourself a break. Hopefully your parents instilled you with some solid groundwork around raising kids who are kind, respectful and fun, but you haven’t had many others go before you to navigate these particular waters and throw you a floatation device. Seek out reputable guidance and ultimately, follow your gut instinct.
3. Bond over shared concerns, but be productive about it. If you too are worried about climate change, sit together and research ways that you can make changes as a family, or undertake a sustainability project together. If your family was affected by the financial crisis, talk about how you’re better educating yourself and measures you’re putting in place to be better prepared if the next one hits.
Parents remain some of (if not THE) most important people in a teenager’s life to help them recalibrate in times of unease. You know your child better than anyone, and often better than themselves. Making efforts to connect with them regularly sets you both up for a reduction in life-anxiety and an increase in self-confidence, balance and a fulfilling future.
All of which ultimately helps them navigate an ever changing world that we are all learning to live in.