A changing world is daunting for parents
Becoming a parent means many things. One is accepting a certain anxiety into your life.
Fears for now. Fears for the future. Fears about another person’s life, events at a distance, experiences you won’t understand.
Last year, Parenting NI conducted their first ever Big Parenting Survey. Findings from that provided inspiration for this year’s second annual survey, published last week.
According to CEO Charlene Brooks: “We wanted to focus in on one of the major issues that came out of the responses to the 2018 survey. It is a problem that will be familiar to service providers and policy makers across all departments and organisations; the impact of technology on parents, children and families. Parents expressed a level of concern that must be met with action – and exposed a need that affected families from all backgrounds.
“Additionally, parents suggested that a year of political stagnation has done little to improve general levels of concern. Parents are still overwhelmingly more worried than hopeful, and have told us that they are desperate for action to improve their lives and the lives of their children.”
These concerns are borne out by the figures, based on responses from 1,358 parents across NI carried out in 2019:
- 69% of parents are more worried than hopeful about parenting in the future – a 3% increase compared with 2018
- 82% of survey participants say they feel parents don’t get enough support (no improvement from the previous year
- 77% of parents feel technology in general has a significant impact on the wellbeing of their children and 70% feel tech is hard for them to monitor
We’ll come back to this – tech, specifically – later in this article. For now, let’s look at something else Parenting NI asked parents about: their hope for the future.
Parenting NI gave respondents seven options to rank in terms of importance, thinking of their children’s futures. The results were:
- Be happy
- Be healthy
- Achieve a good education
- Get a fulfilling job
- Have a family
- Earn a good salary
- Go to university
Perhaps more interesting, however, were the open-ended answers parents were asked to provide. Parenting NI gave parents space to provide narrative responses and, per the report, “a number of topics came through as regular themes.”
A total of 354 parents opted – around a quarter of respondents – opted to give a an extra answer.
“The most common response was that parents broadly hoped their children would grow up to be good people, with around 14% of parents giving this answer. The exact language varied, but many parents stated that they hoped their children would be kind, caring and empathetic…
“Another common theme parents told us about was that they hoped their child maintained a positive attitude, or that they felt fulfilled. Approximately 11% of parents said this was a hope they had…
“Parents also said that they hoped that their children would not face discrimination, bigotry or a return to negative circumstances associated with the past…
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents were also very concerned about their child feeling safe. This took several forms. Many parents had a general hope that their child would be safe and would feel safe.”
Around 70% of respondents felt their hopes for their children are achievable in Northern Ireland.
A lot of parents want their children to treat people well, or be treated well or – more likely – both.
Hopes like that read like the mirror image to certain anxieties, particularly in relation to connectivity, the internet, and social media.
If you’re 35 years old you might have been a teenager before your family home got an internet connection. You’d have been around 20 when the social media boom began (and about 25 before became a cesspit of fake news and bullying). The first iPhone was released in 2007, when you were 22 or so.
You might also have a young child. Their childhood is going to be very different than yours.
Cathode-ray tube televisions with coat-hanger aerials and manual tuning, and which responded well to corporal punishment, will of course sound like stories from the stone age – but the major difference will be connectivity, the global village; and smartphones, and social media.
Parenting NI asked parents about four specific aspects of technology: social media, smartphones/tablets, video games/consoles, and the internet.
For each, they were asked if they felt they had a significant impact on their child’s wellbeing, if they were difficult to monitor, and if they felt they got enough support to deal with related issues.
Smartphones/tablets – 81% said these had a significant impact, 72% said they were difficult to monitor, yet only 24% agreed they get enough support.
Social media – 80%, 82% and 23%.
The internet – 76%, 75% and 24%.
Video games/consoles – 64%, 55% and 22%.
A majority of parents said the support they do receive to handle technology comes either from friends and family (40%) or schools/educational settings (24%). These two areas were also seen as the most suitable places to learn about tech (although 44% of respondents said schools were the best place while 20% said friends and family).
The statutory and third sectors have work to do if they want to be considered leaders in tech advice for parents, with only 18% and 13% of respondents respectively saying they were best placed to do this.
The general feeling, however, is clear – and something needs to be done, because technology is not going away. Its rise cannot be stopped. However, that is not necessarily reason to worry.
More advice and support for parents could go a long way to better preparing children for a connected world.
In a broader sense, with two eyes on the more pernicious aspects of tech in general – and social media in particular – we may not be able to stop the rise of technology but the public always has a say on shaping the parameters of its future. And a more knowledgeable public (including more knowledgeable parents) will take more informed positions.
According to CEO Charlene Brooks: “Rather than being downbeat or discouraged by the results of this survey, Parenting NI sees it as a call to action.
“Everyone with the power to help improve the lives of parents – educators, policy makers, businesses and political representatives to name a few – should carefully consider the findings and use them as a blueprint to make Northern Ireland a better place to be a parent.
“We at Parenting NI remain supremely confident that Northern Ireland can be the best place to raise a family, provided we get the policy right.”
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