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Whether it’s due to the influence of technology or crime and the often harsh realities of modern day living – our kids are often unable to experience the joys of childhood as we like to remember them, resulting in significant psychological effects.

It’s easy to blame the media when it comes to our kids wanting to behave in adult ways – from the clothes they choose to wear and the music they enjoy, to their sexual curiosity and desire for experimentation and self-exploration. But is it really fair to avoid taking responsibility for your child’s behaviour? Let’s take a closer look at the various influences responsible that may explain why many children today seem depressed and bored with life.

The effects of a digital world
When I look at kids today, (and I’m not that old!), one of the most notable features that I have recognised – whether it’s at a shopping centre or waiting to fetch my younger brother from school – is that it seems to me as though every kid has a cell phone. Is this necessary? – I ask myself. Just then I get a text message from my 11-year-old brother to say that he is running late. Again I question whether or not this is really a convenient tool for a child to have and can not help thinking that it is somewhat abnormal for children to have the same kind of privileges and responsibilities as adults.

According to Child Psychologist Jenny Shaine, the culture of children having their own cell-phones has become more an issue of peer pressure than of necessity. “Giving your child a cell phone has its place in terms of security, however kids tend to spend far too much time busy on the phone, often engaging in dangerous chat room conversations such as ‘mix-it’, as opposed to doing other activities which are much healthier and developmentally appropriate,” says Jenny.

Similarly with children having their own computers, while it’s a great resource for school projects, the risk is that they can download anything, anytime and will often have the desire to explore sexual material that is not suitable for their viewing. “This is where there is a gap between the age that they are at and the knowledge and the things that they are exposed to, which are completely at variance,” says Jenny, who believes that the media sets an example for kids to sexualise a lot younger, without really understanding what is actually going on.

A time of crime and stressful living
“While the media has a subtle influence, crime has a huge effect on making children grow up very quickly, where they are exposed to hearing about it from people who have had experiences and that robs them of their freedom”, says Jenny. Furthermore, what forces kids to grow up most, is when they are faced with difficult situations in their home environment and community. They may have to deal with a divorce in the family, the death of a close relative, the effects of poverty and can even have their own financial stresses, where living under such circumstances will definitely challenge and impact on a child’s maturity.

“Children are made aware that life is not great – that things can go wrong and it’s not always a happily-ever-after scenario. What often results is that there is a lot of negativity, resentment and sometimes depression”, says Jenny. We can’t completely protect our children – they need to know what’s out there in order for them to protect themselves, but as parent one has to therefore try and find that balance where our children are aware of the harsh realities of life but at the same time are not hearing about it and seeing it and thinking about it all the time.

So what can parents do?
Monitoring how your children are spending their time, especially with adolescent children, is certainly not always possible, but there needs to be a sense of knowing what your children are getting up to and that certain boundaries are in place. “You need to make sure that your child is not spending 3 hours a day on a computer game and if you find that they are – then you need to work out a way to manage or stop that – whether it’s verbally setting limits or actually taking the game away”, says Jenny.

Sometimes as parents we are scared to monitor, or we may be too busy and involved with our own pressures to intervene, but it is so necessary. “Far too often we give in to the easier route and will buy computer games and turn on the TV because it demands less of our time and energy in terms of entertaining our kids”, she says. Planning activities and taking kids on outings where they can have fun just being children is essential. Going to the park or perhaps a gym with a tennis court are both great places for them to run around and play creatively. It may take a little more effort, but it is a much healthier alternative and will also help create a positive value system within the family.

Tips for parents
Here are some other tips on how to ensure your children are safe and happy while maintaining the fun and discovery of childhood.

  • Create structure for your child – Routine is vital for children in terms of feeling grounded. Make sure that they know when mealtimes are and when it’s time to go to bed, and be firm about keeping to that which you have set to do on a daily basis. Good habits need to be put in place from very early on, until around 10 -11 years old, as that’s when you have a chance to set an example that will hopefully be absorbed and lead them to becoming more self-sufficient as they grow older.
  • Have rules – Rules and boundaries must be put in place and know that it is okay to say “no”. You are not your child’s friend and they need to respect you. So if you have house rules and they are broken, then discipline must be put into place for this.
  • Take control – Don’t indulge your child with technology – rather encourage him to try different sports, or music, or something creative. You are in charge of what comes into your house and you must put your foot down about not allowing violent video games or films in the house. If you don’t want them, there shouldn’t be a situation where they are permitted.
  • Trust your kids – As parents, you need to create a level of trust with your child. This will allow you to be able to communicate and talk to them. If your child shows you that you can trust them, this will enable you to let them have more freedom.
  • Build on their esteem – It is important to raise your child to have confidence and self-esteem. Allow them to have opinions and think for themselves and put them in situations where they have to make a decision. Making the wrong decision is part of a learning curve and something your child must experience. This will give them the confidence to stand up to peer pressure and the ability to defend themselves.

In Conclusion
Today’s children are not really any different from previous generations – they are just surrounded by different things and modern day challenges, where their experience of playing with one another socially has changed. They may tend to spend more time watching TV or busy on their computers and cell phones, but it must be remembered that as parents it is our responsibility to take action in monitoring that such facilities are used for their intended purposes and that they are not abused. While it’s impossible to completely shelter our children, creating opportunities for healthy play, setting limits and positive examples and just by letting them know that we are always there to help guide them – will give our kids the best possible childhood experience they deserve.

Recommended sources for more information:
Toxic Childhood – How the Modern World is Damaging our Children and What We Can Do About It; by Sue Palmer; Orion House, 2006.

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