It’s Tough Being a Parent in the 21st Century

Is it a fantasy of the silver-haired stage of life to recall a simpler time when everything just seemed less frantic and pressured? Was there ever a golden age when bringing up children was a seamless, stress-free task, devoid of conflict? Am I the only one who feels that parenting these days is as challenging as it has ever been? Never one to be backward in coming forward, I will presume to offer some thoughts on the whole business of parenting, based on the assumption that having raised three children in our own family and having acted ‘in loco parentis’(not to be translated as my grandson did, as “you have to be crazy to be a parent”!) for thousands more, that I may have learned something.

Today’s parent faces a bewildering barrage of speculative advice and a mine of misinformation; enough to scare you and enough to mislead you into not being scared. Add into that mixture a multi-media society where the onslaught is relentless and the control minimized and you have the recipe for some sleepless nights, accompanied by endless soul-searching. At the risk of stretching a simile too much perhaps, we modern parents can often feel like the coffee in the French press where the plunger, that is the guilt of expectation and the fear of failure, is inexorably pressing down on us, squeezing us for all that we can offer. If we can’t necessarily find help, where then can we look for hope?

Unlike some of my generation, I believe passionately in the ability of our young people to create a better and more wholesome world than the one that they have inherited. They have so many instincts and inclinations for good and they are, in general, fuelled by a desire to make a difference. All of that is a cause for hope, but the secret is, and always has been, to work out how to bring out the best in them and create the conditions in which they will thrive.

Some of parents’ traditional allies in reinforcing the values and virtues that will make children into good human beings are no longer either available or popular, with the trimming of schools’ wider responsibilities and the relative demise of institutions like the church. Sadly, for many families, that void can mean fewer alternative voices in young people’s lives, less pressure on the youngsters to form and articulate their views and philosophies, but a greater pressure on their parents’ voices to carry the load. Therein lies the potential problem. If familiarity can indeed breed contempt then that contempt can manifest itself in resistance to parental advice or in the time-honoured taking of contrary stances, underlying both of which is  that burning desire for independence, the fire that burns in most teenagers.

As parents across the world struggle with how to foster independence without becoming irrelevant or even irresponsible, that’s where great boarding schools can come in. Offering a wide array of opportunities to nurture talents and growth, all within an envelope that could be termed ‘structured independence’, the modern boarding school is there to supplement the efforts of parents. Such a school can justifiably contribute to the three main fundamentals of good parenting, namely, ensuring connection, encouraging communication and developing confidence. These three crucial elements are worthy of an article of their own and they remain at the very heart of navigating successfully through the often- choppy waters of adolescence. We must always be wary of dispensing criticism as it can swiftly become the rule rather than the exception and it can be emotionally corrosive. In the same vein, we should expect the odd mistake or poor decision, that’s where the real education can often lie. Above all, we should seek to forgive wherever we can, as, for the most part, the advice I received years ago from a student holds true –“there are very few ‘bad kids’ , just a lot of ‘good kids’ sometimes making bad decisions!”

Somehow, there are snippets of Rudyard Kipling rolling around in my head just now, so, with apologies to him for the modifications, I will go to his famous poem, ‘If ‘, for my final, tongue-in-cheek advice to parents in the 21st century :” If you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs…… if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of…. forgiveness… if you can watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools…….if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters the same, then, my friend, you can proudly call yourself a modern parent!”

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