Parenting in the Twenty First Century

Blog Kathie Sarles

Growing up in America has taken on a new dimension in the recent decades. Children are exposed to many more “truths” than they were in the baby boomer generation. Our generation hid the adult issues, talking in whispers when the children were around or sending them out to play when adults needed to talk. The old adage: Children need to be seen and not heard, was largely touted as the way to raise children. The advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet, however, opened up a world of wonder, knowledge and violence for everyone, including children. Exposure to this information came with a price for the American family.

When there is a spotlight placed on American Children, it is often directed at the disrespectful children or the disruptive, dis-regulated youth. Many say that bad parenting is responsible for the increase in juvenile delinquency, gangs and the general disrespect among our young children. Although it is never a bad idea to reflect on our parenting, the changes in society and the increase in technology play an important role as well. This is not a judgment, but an observation.

We now know, due to a new body of research, that children respond to their parent’s emotions at a younger age than we ever thought possible. We also now know that social emotional development is central to positive outcomes and learning. When children are exposed to information they can’t process due to their developmental level,( or delay), but are aware of their parent’s stress, they respond by either withdrawing or reacting. Social emotional development, especially empathy is as a crucial a learning skill as is problem solving. John Gottman author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child reminds us to create an “empathy reflex”: “Your fist response to any emotional situation.” Gottman further states that you should employ two simple steps,” Describe the emotional changes you think you see, and make a guess as to where these emotional changes came from.” Instead of reacting to the emotional situation, allow yourself time to reflect on it, and respond to what you think is happening. If you do this out loud your child will understand that you are aware of their emotions and that you want to help. By stating the emotion, you are “coaching” the child to handle these types of emotions independently later on. It is important to remember, however, that Children with delay or disability may need repetitive coaching as they begin to understand and register emotions.

Technology can’t foster social emotional growth. That skill needs to be taught through experience and through face to face expressions. John Gottman reminds us of 2 very important relationship principles: “All feelings are permissible; not all behavior is permissible, and the parent/ child relationship is not a democracy; it is the parent who determines what behavior is permissible.” You set the standard for what is appropriate by how you handle what isn’t.

Children are exposed to countless violence and insensitivity on many platforms, and on many screens starting at a very early age. What they see on those screens can’t be left to stand alone, with no response or counter view. Twenty First Century parents have a daunting job to balance the need for technology with the need for positive emotional development in their children. Finding your empathy reflex and using it often as a model to your children, will go a long way to enhancing the social emotional development of your children: America’s future.

For more information and guidance on screen time check out: