It has been a while since I searched online for parenting advice. When I did so this week out of curiosity whilst planning this blog around the theme of National Parenting Week, I remembered why it’s been such a long time. Like so many parts of the internet, there’s a mixture of the helpful and unhelpful. I found a plethora of articles, links, Q&A topics and guides. The screen I’m looking at proposes the following: four Cs, five Cs, three Fs, seven Bs, six dimensions, four pillars, fifty ways to be a good parent… and that’s just some of the first page of results. The weight of expectation and (sometimes conflicting) advice could be overwhelming, without filtering and feeling empowered to decide for oneself.
The games console
We recently had one of life’s mild dilemmas courtesy of our youngest, when he announced that he wanted to sell some of his early childhood toys (no longer in use). Having done so, he then announced that he wanted to use the proceeds to buy a games console. The moment we had parentally been putting off for at least two more years had arrived and in a very different way than we’d expected. The stock answers to “can I have a games console for Birthday/Christmas?” were no longer viable. It boiled down to “Will you let me make a decision about how I spend my money?”
We would probably and without a second thought have trotted down to the nearest bookshop with said proceeds of sale… but there seems to be a good degree of pressure (real or perceived) for parents to avoid anything that involves a screen, so it prompted some discussion. Incidentally, I can’t help but feel hypocritical trying to impose a screen time limit given that I spend upwards of 8 hours a day using one. Children are perceptive: they pick up on this sort of thing, and tend not to accept “ah, but that’s different because it’s work” as an unchallengeable answer.
The pressure to ‘get it right’
The pressure on parents to ‘get it right’ seems to have become a white noise of external criticism in the background. I’ve currently got one website in front of me telling me to “ditch the digital” and another telling me to encourage children to make choices for themselves. The authors probably didn’t intend these points to be lined up in conflict with each other.
I believe that if we were given the decision to make again now, we’d be much quicker to log on to that well-known auction site and start placing bids. The plumber-based game that arrived with the device has helped in ways that have absolutely surprised me. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in resilience and ability to cope with not winning, and a tenacity to keep trying different approaches to solve a problem until something works. We’ve not had the arguments about screen time that we feared, because we’ve taken opportunities to discuss the early signs that mean it’s time to have a break and do something else before coming back to the game… and we’ve encouraged decision making about how the daily screen time ration will be prioritised. Buying that device and game has actually helped to build some really helpful life skills.
On the other hand, our eldest is utterly non-plussed by the whole thing, and continues to spend several hours a week reading e-books and writing her own book… on a screen. They are both happy with their choices, and proud of their achievements: perhaps that’s the most important thing?
No single ‘right’ answer to any problem
I sometimes think we can fall into the same trap as organisations, thinking that there’s a single ‘right’ answer to any given problem. A good example of this is when we’re developing Theories of Change. There’s a risk that this becomes quite process-focused to get to a ‘simple’ answer.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen a much stronger focus on the importance of understanding the stories of people and communities who have experienced changes that have been brought about.
I’m often struck by the ‘surprising’ (perhaps unintended) consequences of activities, or seemingly small actions that have real significance when their knock-on effects are understood. Things like allowing people who use a service to choose the décor of their own room can be a real step towards building self-worth and confidence that can be the foundations of other change we’re trying to achieve. Taking time to look for difference and to come up with the right, individualised, answer for each activity and organisation is important, as is taking time to explore the surprises and unexpected outcomes.
Challenging received wisdom
As a parent, there are many things that I’d instinctively pick as activities to get to an outcome of building resilience. Honestly, playing games on a computer would not have been on my list several months ago. Perhaps it should have been?
Whether as an organisation or parent, what surprising outcomes have you seen recently?
What’s challenged your ‘received wisdom’?
How are you changing your activity/delivery plans to embed lessons learned from measuring outcomes?