Don't be a virtual parent

20:02, May 21 2012

This is a tough time to be teenager. And it's certainly not much easier to be an adult and a parent. To paraphrase Dickens, this is the best of times and it is the worst of times.

Outwardly it would seem that both sides, through societal and technological change, have been able to enjoy the benefits of great advantage and advancement: the rise of social media and mobile communications have given our children at least a sense that they have some freedom and control over many aspects of their lives, while parents will know that both have also helped them to keep tabs on their teenagers' whereabouts and relationships.

It's a delicate compromise that appears to work for both sides, but can also paper over the cracks created by poor parenting and under-pressure families.

And it raises interesting questions about how much we rely on such modern conveniences and devices to make up for the lack of our being there, at home with our kids, if only because we are working two or three jobs at minimal pay so that we can afford these new must-haves.

It's a conundrum highlighted by Dr Donna Swift, a Nelson-based social anthropologist and author of a two-year study into the development of the teenage girl.

Some of her observations are not surprising: "They [girls] dress like they are 18, they look 18, but they have the mind of a 13-year-old. They are just girls."


Despite such outward displays of confidence and maturity, she says these young girls still want and need their parents. "They want their parents in their lives, they want parents that show concern, that are interested."

Many parents may be surprised to hear this, may struggle to believe that despite their teenagers' loud and frequent protestations, those same "children" still need and respect some guidance, and even discipline, in their lives.

Certainly parents and adults could be forgiven for thinking that their children seem fairly self-reliant and more knowledgeable and worldly than they were at such an early stage of life. Especially the girls. They are definitely bombarded with a great deal more stimuli, and from many different directions. Some of it is helpful, much of it is not. And a portion of it is downright dangerous.

But as Dr Swift points out, our children may have access to far more information and communication but they are still children. They need help and the benefit of our greater experience to understand the context and know the boundaries.

We cannot afford to let our kids fall into a vacuum of reduced responsibility and consequences. We must not assume our children's greater contact with this vast range of stimuli equates to greater knowledge and maturity. We should not rely on faceless Facebook friends and potentially dubious social media sites to make up for our own lack as parents.

Even if our kids don't like it. Because they are just kids. And not for very long.

Taranaki Daily News