Parenting and Privacy

Despite free market economies, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression, one of the most curious elements that differentiates the United States from other Western nations is our obsession with privacy. Maybe it is all of the freedoms that we have that drive people to covet their privacy. One of the most interesting elements of our society that technology is facilitating to change is how younger generations view privacy.

Digital natives eschew privacy concerns in ways that Apprehensive Technophiles can not fathom. Why would a teenager or pre-teen want to post personal stories on the web for all to see? Why would a teen or pre-teen also have conversations with others in a forum that is easily seen and criticized by his or her peers? There are many questions surrounding what teenagers and even pre-teens today present as public information in contrast to what was considered public information by their parents…

This issue of privacy is something that parents have had to struggle with for millenia. When a child is young privacy is not an issue, at least not with a parent intruding on a child. As far as a child intruding on his or her parents, I’ve often dreamed of the day that I could retire to the restroom without the door opening behind me with a child asking some obscure question that could have easily waited two minutes.

Far more intriguing in the history of privacy is where we lie today vis-a-vis where we were as a society as early as 150 years ago. In the book Boone, Robert Morgan summarizes wonderfully how privacy was a much different animal, particularly when entire families, and families with many children – as many as seven to twelve children – would live in a single room, 18 x 25 foot home. It doesn’t take too much adult imagination to realize that at an early age children, and eventually grown children learned to not pay attention to, or draw attention to whatever would be going on within that single room. After all, any sense of modesty did not prevent parents from creating these very large families.

While in our immediate histories 200 years in unfathomable, in the grand scheme of human evolution it’s a pittance. So let’s think about this, with how we see privacy today, and how we fear how children are turning more and more towards broadcasting to the world everything about their lives. Maybe this is not such a new thing. Maybe children are returning to something that’s a bit more hard-wired in us that not.

Maybe our post-Dr. Spock-influenced methods of child rearing have done our children a disservice, creating environments where society frowns upon tough parenting, frowns on saying “no” too firmly, and wants to make everything soft and easy for kids. There is a time for cuddling, and nurturing children softly, and warmly, but at what point does that transition into helping your child build the skillset for dealing with a world that, frankly, can be painfully cruel? First grade? Third grade? Middle school?

These are the sticky questions, the thresholds of which vary from family to family, and I’m sure there is a certain norm to the view of these thresholds. The norms shift with time, but have the current norms shifted so far that parents are involved too closely for too long? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

One thing about American society is that is that we have a great tendency to search for the single issue that has caused something to happen. For example, many blame the shifting norms of privacy in digital natives on technology. The flaw with this societal impulse is that it takes us – the parents – out of the equation. It allows us to seek the little blue pill to solve it all, or the large corporate entity, or governmental agency against which we can rail.

But we as parents need to return to something that has existed with our species for millenia: the role of the strong parent. We have the strength, power, and ability to influence our children greatly for many, many years. The job of parent is not always fun and games, and many times children really don’t like the choices we make for them, but worrying about how our children like our decisions is the least of our issues. With all of the problems in today’s world – from economic catastrophe to technological dangers – our children need more guidance today than ever, and the only people responsible for that guidance are the parents of this children.

RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and lulu.com.

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