Raising kids is, by any standard of measurement, a huge pain in the ass. You spend the early months preventing the gurgling suicide machine’s untimely demise, and then buckle the f*ck up. Next comes toilet training, then faking your home address to send them to a decent school, forcing them to join activities that might earn them a college scholarship (lol), mocking their teen angst, and finally, kicking them out of the house to go to college only to have them return once they’ve procured their Bachelor's degree in Art History (focus on 16th Century Mannerism).
And while those challenges have been applicable to just about any child for the last several decades, every generation of parenting brings its own particular set of horrors. For example, a hundred years ago the likelihood of a child dying from smallpox — or polio, or fighting Germans — was not insignificant. Health-wise, it’s never been a better time to have a baby, so am I really arguing that the challenges of raising a child today rival those of the era of 20 percent child mortality? Of course I am.
For you see, modern parents are blazing new trails is the terrifying realm of technology. The number of devices, toys, and appliances requiring at least a baseline level of tech savvy has never been higher, and they're growing by the day. Your parents' parents may have had to make a weeks' worth of meals out of potatoes, but they never had to endure the privations of a Christmas Eve 1.5 volt battery run.
Where older homes had a variety of virulent pathogens, your modern domicile can have any combination of electronic devices, including Windows and Mac laptops, smartphones, tablets, smart speakers (Amazon Echo or Google Home), and so on. Many houses also have “smart” appliances (TVs being the most popular), in-vehicle “infotainment” systems like SYNC or Entune, video game systems, wearable tech, or interactive sex dolls (insert virulent pathogen joke here).
And while even in recent decades you had parents dealing with owners’ manuals for new devices, simple machines like DVD players offered a pretty simple interface; you plugged the component or A/V cables into your TV (fast forward a few years for Blu-ray and HDMI), changed to the correct input, and off you went. Now, more likely than not, your TV — or your refrigerator or car — has its own Wi-Fi connection and any peripheral has the potential to hook up to the dreaded internet, AKA the 21st century equivalent of the Black Death.
That brings with it a whole other level of complexity. It’s not enough to be capable of being conversant in various computer operating systems, or Android and iOS, and knowing basic troubleshooting; just as they defended their homesteads from marauders in olden times, parents now are also de facto IT security for their households.
Prank videos: worse than creeping Bolshevism? Some say "yes."
Have you enabled parental controls on your kids’ tablets or phones, if they have them? Have you locked down their tablet/phone cameras? How about restricting social media? Or disabling purchases? Do you personally check out every app they want to download, or every video they want to watch? Or did you throw in the towel and let them fire up the YouTube app after the 15th time they came to you to approve another unboxing clip?
How about your TV? You did know any “adult” pay-per-view options will show up in searches, right (they’re usually the first results listed)? Or that certain older smart TVs have no way of restricting the embedded apps? What a fun surprise to see your "Steamy Romantic Movies" Netflix category pop up alongside Phineas & Ferb and Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas. The latter best watched with your interactive sex doll (after the kids are asleep, of course).
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It quickly becomes overwhelming, and you may find yourself envying your own parents, who — to hear everyone my age tell it — let us wander the wasteland for weeks at a time with our trusty dogs and tend bar at weekly "key parties." Which actually sounds pretty awesome, or like I'm conflating two very different '70s movies.
This is probably where a person could introduce a wiseass comment about “helicopter parenting” and where I subsequently invite them to shove it. That expression describes smothering a child – not literally! — with excessively protective actions to the point where they have problems achieving the level of independence required (for the time being) to function as an adult member of society. I’m talking about not having to take out a second mortgage to cover in-game Minecraft purchases. Get some perspective.
Unfortunately, the opposite approach doesn’t work either. Certainly, screen time should be limited (and probably not allowed at all to children toddler-age or younger), but keeping them out of your childrens’ hands entirely isn’t necessarily recommended either. Or maybe you don’t remember the weirdo kids in school who weren’t allowed to watch TV (we called them "honor students"). Heroic paragons of parental virtue aside, do you want your offspring to be unconversant in topics such as pranking and challenges?
Fine, but don't come crawling to me when they're turned down for that lucrative slime scholarship.