Not so long ago, child-rearing wisdom was passed on to new parents from their own parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers, the medicine man or the family doctor in their communities. These days, if you are a parent who has access to the internet, your instinct would more likely be to grab your phone and Google any parenting concern.
Actually, come to think of it, our children are still being raised by a village. But this time, it goes beyond physical or geographical boundaries, and beyond kinship. It is a community that extends to all corners of the globe but is – amazingly – just a click or a swipe away. Some would call it the Global Village; I think it would be more aptly called the Google Village.
We don’t realise it, or at least, probably aren’t thinking about it at the time, but when we search “baby prickly heat” or “terrible twos”, we are letting corporations, experts, other parents – people all over the world – have a say on how we should look after and raise our children. And the funny thing is, we tend to follow the prescriptions of these strangers rather than our own mother’s advice.
I had my first two children in 2002 and 2004, back when the What to Expect… series was the parenting Bible to many newbie parents, including me. I remember lugging those books around everywhere we travelled because I found it comforting to be able to get reliable and ready answers to my questions or worries, whether I was wondering about a runny nose or a developmental milestone. I also consulted a couple of parenting websites when I got the chance to sit in front of the computer and log on to the internet. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be a parent in an era when parenting information was easily available. It couldn’t be more accessible than this, I reckoned.
Fast-forward to 2013, when I was expecting baby number three in an age when “packing bulky parenting books in your suitcase” and “having to sit in front of a computer to log on to the internet to access information” sound archaic. The technological advances of those ten years were so tremendous that I felt like I was re-learning how to care for an infant, in a new and revolutionary way. This time around, my What to Expect… titles are in eBook form; I can Google my child’s symptoms with my smartphone while waiting for our turn at the doctor’s office; and I can even take a photo of my baby’s rash and WhatsApp it to a doctor friend across the globe to get a second opinion instantly.
The information age has revolutionised every aspect of our lives, and the parenting department wasn’t spared. We have become such an information-driven society that we are no longer satisfied with fast access to a high volume of information alone. We want it instantaneous and precisely accurate. Take the baby monitor, for example: These days, an audio baby monitor is not enough. Parents want eyes on their baby, too. Enter the baby monitor with a camera, soon followed by an upgraded version that allows parents to remotely hear and see their babies at home whether they are ten metres or 10,000 miles away.
Capturing the moment
The way we document, organise and store information on our children’s early years and milestones have also leapt to a new level. Since we are never without our phones these days, we are never without our cameras. For parents, this leads to thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of photos and plenty of video.
A child’s life has never been so chronicled until today. With apps, we can digitally record and organise everything that’s happening in our children’s lives. Search “parenting” on the Apple Apps store and you’ll get more than 800 results, ranging from really awesome to ridiculous. You can now keep track of every aspect of your child’s life – beginning from your pre-pregnancy planning to baby feedings, from potty training to toddler behaviour, to weekly allowances and to your teenager’s whereabouts.
Not only will the current and future generations have well-documented lives, they will have very exposed lives, too. As the advancements in technology allow us to access, organise and store tremendous amounts of information with ease, they also allow us to dispense it without much difficulty. Gone are the days of wallets thick with our children’s photos. Now Facebook and Instagram let us show off those volumes of photos and videos we took, while sharing up-to-the-minute narratives about every wobble, step and achievement in our children’s lives.
On this third round of parenting, I have truly found delight and great help in all the technological leaps to today’s gadgets and tools. However, I think a bit of discernment and discretion is in order. Scott Steinberg, high-tech parenting expert and author of The Modern Parent’s Guide, says that today, with the deluge of information on the web, filtering down to what works best for our families is important.
It was already difficult enough before, when our mother and mother-in-law would have conflicting advice on how to look after their grandchild. Today, with thousands of parenting opinions from the Google Village, deciding what’s best for your child becomes even more complicated. But we shouldn’t lose our own parenting voice, because, at the end of the day, we each have to decide what’s right for our own children.
We also need to remember to enjoy our children’s big and small moments with them, and not just behind the camera or while live-Tweeting. As a music and movement teacher for young children, I often find myself reminding the parents to put their cameras down during the hour-long lessons so they can focus more on interacting with their kids.
And finally, despite our eagerness as proud parents, we need to apply prudence when we publish the lives of our children to any social networking platform. I agree with Randi Zuckerberg, former executive at Facebook and now founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media (and yes, sister to Mark Zuckerberg), who, during an interview, shared her thoughts on posting photos of her son: “I used to post a lot of photos of him and then I started thinking a lot about how I was leaving a digital footprint for him online without his consent. So after that I started posting a lot less… I want him to have the opportunity to develop his identity online when he’s ready.”