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Challenges of parenting in the era of the millennials

Mar 11. 2017
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By Patrisius Istiarto Djiwandono
The Jakarta Post

Their Critical attitude should be seen as an opportunity for introspective thinking

As our civilisation advances, the task of parenting has also been getting more complicated, demanding not only an affirmative stance but also sometimes introspective thoughts, which in some cases call for a change of attitude and outlook on the part of the parents themselves.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the proper way of growing up were more or less clear. Parents at that time taught their children to study hard at schools so they could become “doctors, engineers, or pilots”; the only three professions that seemed to define the best jobs in the eyes of society. Study hours were set on weekdays, with a certain day reserved for religious activities that children must attend.

Most of the time, especially during the early years of the children, parents mostly issued a set of verbal instructions that contained the word “don’t”: “don’t play in the wet”,; “don’t sleep too late”; “don’t watch TV”; “don’t play with that stuff”, and many other prohibitions. Children usually heeded these instructions obediently with very little questioning.

But then the generation of the 1990s and beyond came along and since then what was once a relatively settled and clear set of rules has never been the same again. The children born between the year 1990 and 2003, known as millennials, seem to have a distinct set of traits embedded in their DNA. One of these is their close affinity with the digital world. They seem to have this fascinating ability to navigate through vast cyberspace on their gadgets that far outperforms their parents. Along with this, they have also developed a more independent and critical attitude toward rules and views upheld by earlier generations.

“Jo, why don’t you stand up and make the tea yourself rather than have the servant make it for you?” I asked my 14-year-old son one morning. “Besides, it’s a much healthier thing to do than just sitting for hours in front of your laptop.”

“Why should I?” he answered. “You also order the servant to make you a cup of coffee whenever you want it, right?”

“Yes, but I am the father in this house. I pay our servant to do that for me.”

“Then why do you pay her to do that for you if in fact you can do it yourself and, as you said, it is healthier for you?”

“That’s different. I pay for the servant to do things…”

“Oh, okay. That means when I have enough money from my allowance to pay the servant, I can tell her or him to do things for me just as you do now, right?”

Faced with this kind of critical stance and argumentative attitude, parents from the earlier era would have probably said, “Never talk back to your parents! Don’t argue. We know what’s best for you!” This would usually suffice to stop any protest from the children. But in today’s era where critical thinking is encouraged and even taught at some educational levels, that kind of parenting behaviour may seem at odds with the current inclination of education.

In retrospect, some of the millennials’ critical attitude should actually be taken as opportunities for the older generation to engage in introspective thinking. Have they done themselves what they always tell their children to do? Have they avoided things that they want their children to avoid? How can parents prohibit their sons or daughters from smoking if they themselves smoke? How can they tell their children to put down their gadgets when the parents themselves check theirs every five minutes and shut out the surrounding human beings?

Today’s parents will have to wrestle with the issue of many alternative professions other than doctors, engineers, or pilots. The proliferation of online games at first glance merely creates generations who spend most of their time sitting in front of the laptops to engage in exciting games. What conventional parents usually do is scold their children and limit their access to the Internet. In contrast, smarter parents will see this as a chance to broaden the youngsters’ perspectives about possible careers in an era where virtual reality permeates every aspect of life.

“Don’t only play the games,” I said one day to my youngest son. “Learn how to create one. Study computer programming. There are vast opportunities in the future for those with programming skills.”

Smart parents should arm themselves with updated knowledge about what kinds of job are available out there, most of which were never thought to exist back in their own youth. Big data analysts, statisticians, web developers, actuaries, and biomedical engineers are among those considered to be the most prospective jobs in the 21st century.

Another issue that has sparked endless, almost futile, debate among teachers and today’s millennials 

concerns dress code. Some formal educational institutions insist on banning long hair, piercings, dyed hair and tight dress in the school vicinity. This is a rule to which 

millennials react strongly, arguing that performance does not correlate with appearance. Worse, that 

educators themselves can hardly bring a uniform opinion about the policy and find it hard to counter 

the millennials’ arguments.

Having said that, I still believe some values stand the test of time and will always remain invaluable for all generations that aspire to enjoy a better world. Hard work, patience, perseverance and 

connection with others are those that have brought glory and success to great people from the era of 

pre-independence to today’s time when Elon Musk and other geniuses define what it takes to be successful and influential. 

When it comes to parenting, I spend some time with my teenage children to instil the noble values of hard work, appreciating failures and learning from them, connecting with others interpersonally rather than digitally, finding their passion and acknowledging their weaknesses, and believing in the wise saying that “there is time for everything”.

“PewDiePie was banned from Youtube for his Nazi-supporting shows,” I told my son, an ardent fan of PewDiePie, one morning.

“You should listen to his full explanation about what really happened. The media took only some parts from his shows and turned them into weapons to accuse him of anti-Semitism,” he replied.

“Really? How do you know?”

“From reading the news on the net.”

Millennials have virtual reality deep in their consciousness: Two intertwined forces that define the modern world. What is left for parents is a tactful attitude, broadened perspectives and flexibility to be open-minded to come to terms with this budding generation and to guide them to reap their success 

and joy.

Patrisius Istiarto Djiwandono is a lecturer of English Language Education at Ma Chung University in Malang, East Java, Indonesia. 

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