The changing role of parenting today’s child

Parents have to go the extra mile to be there for kids in the Internet era

In Summary

• Parents have to go the extra mile to be there for kids in the Internet era

Leadership teacher Anthony Mwangi
Leadership teacher Anthony Mwangi

I recently had a telephone conversation with an elderly uncle, and he casually asked me if I knew the names assigned to the age-sets in my traditional community.

I told him I did not pay too much attention to my traditional culture, adding that in today’s world, we simply looked up everything on ‘Google’. Sure enough, I searched for information about the age-sets, and there it was.

Culture has changed a lot in the last few decades, and so has the role of parenting. As parents, we need to evolve and strive to meet the child's needs according to the cultural standards, which change from generation to generation.

In the past, children were raised by a ‘responsible community’ that provided all the emotional and social support needed. Today, children have a huge online community from where they receive all manner of information, some of which is toxic to their psycho-social development. The need to support and promote a child's spiritual, physical, emotional, mental and social development has gained more prominence.

The role the ‘responsible community’ previously took in raising the child now mainly rests with schools and parents. They have to shoulder the huge responsibility of ensuring the child grows into an all-rounded adult in the midst of a global community that may not have the best interests of the child at heart.

A few decades back, parents were the dominant source of the instructional content that children absorbed. Today, anyone with access to an Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet or computer can potentially send instructional content to your child.

The people with the kind of conduct and character that our parents warned us against can now interact with our children without even having to leave the house. Surely, the need for parents to be actively involved in a child’s digital world cannot be overemphasised.

Promoting and supporting the requisite spiritual, cognitive, emotional and social development of the child requires a huge effort on the part of the parent. Establishing and cultivating a bond with the child and nurturing it through regular intentional hangouts and open conversations is critical to their cognitive and social development.

In Kenya, the importance of cognitive development has been embedded in Section 53 of the Constitution, which gives every child a right to free basic education. A parent is obligated to facilitate their child’s education, either by taking him or her to school, or by showing evidence that the child is being home-schooled.

This role of parents has been pushed a little further in the recent years by requiring them to become more involved in their children’s education. It is not enough to take a child to school; a parent is also expected to assist him or her with homework, discuss their progress with the teacher and be present during academic clinics to encourage the child. All this is backed by research that shows that this support helps the child perform better in academics and in other areas of life.

It is also important that parents provide an environment that allows for a child’s social development. Children learn about their society and the proper ways to act within it. They learn to be kind, to share, to be helpful, be compassionate and to have relationships.

Facilitating the child’s interaction with other children helps to develop social-emotional skills, such as problem-solving, self-regulation, impulse control and empathy. This also improves academics, reduces negative social behaviours like bullying, and creates positive social behaviour. Allowing a child to be constantly preoccupied with video games and other distractions impedes their psychosocial development and may over time lead to a formal psychological disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Parents and teachers play the biggest role in social-emotional development because they offer the most reliable relationships for the child. Parents who are home-schooling have to be very deliberate to ensure the children have an opportunity to interact with other children. Consistent experiences with family members, children and adults help to learn about relationships and explore emotions in predictable interactions.

These positive social and emotional interactions are important as they influence a child’s self-confidence, the ability to develop meaningful and lasting friendships and a sense of importance and value to those around him or her.

Though the present-day parents are busy, they must make time for quality interactions with their growing kids. Children love to show off their new achievements and skills, and parents should support and encourage them. The presence and involvement of the parents has been proven to be the most valuable factor in developing an all-rounded child.

Anthony Mwangi is a leadership teacher at Crawford International School

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