Among the many things which the internet has ruined (read: pretty much everything) you can probably add parenting to the list. It’s not as if raising decent children and balancing discipline and education with a certain measure of freedom and fun was ever easy, but the age of cell phones, laptops, tablets and the unfettered flow of every bit of data in the universe has compounded the issue by several orders of magnitude. How does even the most web savvy parent monitor everything going in and out of their children’s earbuds and screens without completely shutting them down and turning them into digital social pariahs?
As if that’s not enough to worry about, parents now have a whole new community waiting to judge them should they ever slip up in their duties and that jury is pretty much the size of the planet. Darlena Cunha published an excellent essay at Time Magazine this week on the subject which is particularly worth your time to read if you have kids or are considering having them at some point in the future. In it she describes the rapid and frequently unrealistic judgement which awaits parents for transgressions which would previously have elicited little more than a sympathetic sigh.
With every move documented in real-time on social media, parents have lost control of the very personal narrative of their real lives. What has for years been a cute story at my family barbecue about the time my mom lost me as a toddler at Disney World would today be a hotly contested debate amid strangers online. These strangers feel they not only have the right to comment and judge all involved, but also to take action, in the form of harassment, badgering, petitions or even phone calls to authorities. There is no such thing as an honest mistake for parents anymore.
Perfect parenting has never existed; but before the wilds of social media, we didn’t hear about the traumatic accidents and close calls as much. We weren’t asked to weigh in and participate in discussions where children had been hurt, lost or stolen. Now we are. And our advice is too often heavy-handed, full of judgment and impossible to follow.
Cunha covers quite a few examples, but focuses in particular on two stories which our readers are likely familiar with. One is the mother whose son fell into the enclosure of Harambe the gorilla. The other is the nearly tragic tale of the Japanese family who put their child out of the car briefly to teach him a lesson about throwing rocks at other vehicles and wound up losing him in the forest for a week.
I’ve written here before about the Harambe incident, and while the zoo definitely needed to beef up their enclosure system, I defy any parent of kids over the age of five out there to claim that they’ve never lost sight of their child for ten seconds a single time in their lives. That’s about all it took that day… ten seconds. And the only reason that the internet isn’t collectively calling for your head on a platter is that you got lucky and your kid didn’t wind up in a tragic situation. Of course some of us grew up in a different era. I used to roam miles from home across the countryside on my own before I was even ten years old. Today my mom would have probably been driven out of town at the front of a pitchfork, yet I somehow turned out okay.
So maybe some of these kids are simply too wild and need a bit more discipline, right? Nope. If you wind up spanking your kids to drive an important lesson home (the way my mom handled it with a large wooden spoon) then the internet is ready to swoop down on you for that too. You’ll be branded a child abuser in no time and calls will be coming in to child protective services. Honestly, it’s amazing that any of you have kids left at home at all these days.
Obviously there are limits, and when real abuse and neglect is observed then the public has every right to be outraged and demand action to protect the children. If you’re leaving your kid in your truck outside the strip club while you get lap dances for three hours then you probably need a visit from the cops. If you’ve convinced a doctor to inject chemicals and hormones into your completely healthy “transgender child” to prevent the onset of puberty, I hope at least one of you (preferably the doctor) gets dragged in front of a judge. And if you’re spending your nights hooking to get enough money for drugs and your kids are home alone with no food in the fridge then you really shouldn’t be in the parenting business. But for most of you out there, I suspect that you love your kids, you do the best that can be managed and you just occasionally mess up with a momentary loss of concentration.
Don’t try telling that to the internet after your unintended video goes viral without your consent, though. It will be too late by then.