Today’s parents have some new issues to deal with as well as some new twists on the old ones. Here are some examples, based on my recent experience, of what is going on in the parenting realm nowadays.
Today’s parents grew up with television, in a different way from how my generation did. It came to me yesterday, when I was thinking about how the parents of my young charges use TV, that to these parents TV is as much a part of their daily life and experience as radio is to me and was to my parents. Quite a large number of people nowadays like to have the TV on, whether anyone is actively watching or not, in the same way my generation and several before mine would leave a radio on all day whether we were actively focused on it or not. (I still tend to do this with the radio occasionally, until the noise starts to get to me…) It doesn’t seem to occur to some of today’s parents that it might be inappropriate or even harmful for their children to watch many TV programs, or just to be sitting in front of the TV when they could be engaged in more active or worthwhile pursuits. I don’t fault these parents for not thinking along these lines – they get little encouragement from our consumer-oriented, media-saturated culture to question the status quo. This is just an observation, and something I will continue to ponder and occasionally voice. For those who would like to explore the issue of children and TV in greater depth, an excellent resource is The Plug-In Drug, by Marie Winn, which was released in a new edition a few years ago. My personal favorite book about TV, though, is Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander (lots of used copies are available from abebooks.)
Feeding children and babies… I won’t even get into my views on breastfeeding, as that could be a many-paged essay and there are much more competent writers on this issue. Check out La Leche League's website for comprehensive, reliable information on the topic. Anyway, I thought that it was settled years ago that the primary source of nourishment for babies up to the age of one year should be human milk, or if that wasn’t available, infant formula, but apparently parents today are not being told that. One mom told me her doctor recommended that she start feeding her 5-month-old "solid food" on a regular basis so he wouldn't refuse it later. I’d love to see some research on this one! (Why feed babies baby food from a jar if you want them to eat real food later, anyhow? There isn't really any resemblance between the two.) Also, years ago parents were encouraged to avoid feeding their children food laden with additives, nitrates, saturated fats… I thought that issue was settled, too! But in the homes I have been sitting in, there is a reliance on hot dogs and other nutritionally deficient foods that is truly remarkable. And it is not like these families cannot afford to feed their children well; that is not an issue. Is it like the TV issue – people are so used to eating junk that they don’t even realize anymore that it is junk? Are people afraid their children will starve to death if they refuse to feed them in ways that are unhealthy? In reality, these children’s bodies probably are starving for the nutrients that are missing in their diets. Or do they just think it doesn't matter what kids eat?
I read an interesting (though limited) article in the Charlotte Observer this morning (10/10/05) about how parents really could be feeding their young children spicier and more varied diets; according to this article, it might actually be okay to feed children the same food that their parents eat! What a novel idea. I don’t think too many parents are subsisting on a diet primarily of strained peas, "junior" meats, rice cereal, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, Goldfish, and chocolate milk, so paying attention to suggestions like this would probably be an improvement in most babies’ and children’s diets. (Here's a link to another version of the article.)
One other issue, something I came across in the newspaper yesterday… There apparently is a movement afoot to train babies as young as a few months old to use the toilet instead of diapers, an idea that people in my parenting generation would have found hysterically funny and quite ludicrous. But now that paper diapers have become the norm, this idea makes more and more sense. Our environment has got to be adversely affected, to say the least, by the thousands of tons of soiled diapers that go into our “sanitary” landfills each year. There has got to be a better way. People in other cultures have been "potty training" their children from an early age for many generations, so certainly it is possible. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting idea…if you have heard anything about this, or had experience with it yourself, please let me know. Check out this link for more information. And here's another one that is very well-written and convincing.
Enough for now… I need to get back to my real life… :-)