Parenting Challenges In The 21st Century

Is raising children difficult in modern times? Do you think parents of previous generations had it easier? How do you help your child stay connected to your family?

By Saakshi Kapoor Kumar  • 13 min read

Parenting Challenges In The 21st Century
“Dad, can I please have a phone as my birthday present this year?” 

13-year-old Dhruv asks.

“I think it’s too early. Let’s talk about this next year!” 

Replies his father, while working from home on his laptop.

“You have been saying the same thing for the past two years! All my friends have a phone. I want one too!”
“Too much screen time isn’t good for you. We have talked about this.”
“But you and mom are always working on your laptops. Even Kavya is using the computer all the time for her online coding classes. And she’s only 6! But I can’t have a phone! This is NOT FAIR!”

Dhruv storms out of the room, and slams the door of his room to vent his frustration. And Dhruv’s father wonders what he could have done differently.

Parenting has always been a demanding job, a job that no one ever trains you for. You may find solace in the fact that even though the previous generations didn’t face the challenges that we do, parenting wasn’t smooth sailing for them either. That said, every parent will admit that the challenges are all worth it in the end! So what are the unique challenges of being a parent in the 21st century? And how has parenting changed over the years?

1. Changing landscape of family

They say it takes a village to raise a child—child-rearing has never been the sole responsibility of the parents. Our ancestors always believed in collective parenting, as Yuval Noah Harari says in his book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”. Family structure has evolved over the years, with families becoming smaller.

Some years ago, family meant the grandparents, mother, father and children living under the same roof. Gradually, the nuclear family, consisting of parents and their children, became the norm in many countries. Although the joint family system continues to exist in India, many children, especially in urban areas, are growing up in nuclear family units. This means the typical household is no longer a joint family with a large support system. In fact, the community at large has become less involved in helping parents raise their children. Moreover, today, we have different types of families—it’s not uncommon for a child to be raised in single-mother, single-father or same-sex parent households.

The world at large is also grappling with changing gender roles. Traditional gender norms are being broken, as fathers are becoming more involved in parenting and mothers are working harder, managing both office and home. With so many changes happening, how can parents and children thrive?

Solution: Remind yourselves that you are PARTNERS, not just parents

Both mother and father have to work harmoniously to raise their children. The first step is to identify the parenting philosophies that you and your spouse believe in. These principles could be related to co-sleeping, breastfeeding, discipline or even schooling. Discuss these parenting strategies and create rules together so that both parents are on the same page. When you disagree on certain issues, talk it out and find a solution based on your shared values and beliefs. In short, each parent may walk differently, what’s important is to walk in the same direction.

Also, although your extended family may not be staying with you under the same roof, don’t hesitate to seek help from family members when required. Also, reach out to other parents or friends or online parenting communities.

2. Busy lives put families under pressure

The cost of modernization is a packed daily routine. Most parents go through their days with minimal time for relaxation, leisure or even sleep. Not just that, mothers and fathers are juggling jobs, household chores and, of course, parenting. There are added social pressures, such as get-togethers, parties, birthdays that must not be missed and caring for aging parents. Just a generation ago, spending time together doing “nothing” was considered normal and healthy, but today, it’s considered highly unproductive. Every member of the family is expected to utilize their time well, engaged in some activity or the other!

In addition, children are being raised with an urgency to accomplish goals and not waste time. Expecting children to excel in everything—from academics to sports and hobbies—can be traumatizing for them. School, homework, extracurricular activities and screens may overstimulate your children, leaving them physically and emotionally exhausted. Under so much pressure to perform from a young age, it’s not surprising that some children think, “I am not good enough”.

Amidst such pressures, it’s natural for parents and children alike to feel overwhelmed and overburdened. And this takes a toll on family bonding. So, what’s to be done?

Solution: Acceptance is the key

Shefali Tsabary in her book, “The Conscious Parent”, writes that you will only accept your child to the degree you accept yourself. While this may seem like a simple thing to do, the fact is most of us are not practicing self-acceptance and self-love. In a world of constant comparisons and peer pressure, it’s important to accept ourselves, and teach our children to accept themselves. The key to raising free thinkers and happy children is acceptance.

As a start, parents can begin reminding themselves, “I accept I am a human being before I am a parent”. When there’s a culture of acceptance in the family, regardless of the pressures from outside, the core of your and your child’s being remains secure and unaffected.

3. Parenting in the digital era

Technology, which has invaded every nook and corner of our life, is one of the biggest challenges that modern parents have to face. Parents are working from home, children are exposed to screens because of online classes—and everyone’s checking Facebook and Instagram a zillion times a day!

While the initial aim of technology was to bring people closer to each other, emotional connections are becoming few and far between. Face-to-face communication between parents and children has reduced significantly because they’re constantly connected to the virtual world of internet. It’s not unusual to see family members spend their time on phones or laptops for hours without talking to each other. Parents are also encouraging their children to become technologically adept. Automation of lives, however, has not led to automation of emotions. Which means that even though the world around is changing, our emotional needs, especially a child’s emotional needs, remain inherently the same. Human touch, hugs, eye contact and affection can never be replaced.

Kiara, a 4-year old, was having sleep terrors, almost every night. Her parents were worried. No matter how much they tried to console her, she would cry uncontrollably. Finally, her parents sought professional help and found out that a popular age-appropriate cartoon show she had been watching was actually filled with storylines not suited to a 4-year-old. Kiara’s parents stopped her from watching TV, and she wasn’t allowed any screen time at all. The little girl didn’t understand why this happened. She begged her parents to let her watch TV and use screens, but her parents remained firm. Soon, the night terrors stopped.

Do you think Kiara’s parents’ approach was correct? Would you have done it differently? Truth is, there are no rights or wrongs. After all, each of us has different ideas about raising our children. And you can’t adopt a simple all-or-nothing approach. While setting screen-time limits is ideal, it’s difficult to ascertain what the limits are. So, how do you stop worrying and decide what amount of screen time will work for your child?

Solution: Set rules for your child and for yourself too!

To make life easier, set limits for your children, but make sure you follow them too. If children are not allowed to watch TV during mealtimes, then neither are you! When the family works as a team and rules apply to everyone, the child feels heard and acknowledged. Moreover, he feels himself to be an integral part of the family. Not just that, for parents, a digital detox from time to time can help when they’re overwhelmed by technology. You’ll no longer be stressed, and your health will improve!

Remember, no matter how old or smart your child is, it’s best to monitor your child’s social media and internet use, and ensure that he’s exposed to age-appropriate content.

4. My parenting is better than yours

Every day, we’re swamped by information overload—online articles, emails, tweets, posts, videos and whatnot. No wonder today’s parents are more informed, more educated and, well, more competitive as well. A familiar refrain is that every parent must conform to a particular parenting style and somehow, try to outdo each other. Backed by internet research, every parent is convinced that their parenting style is the best. That makes us think whether the goal behind adopting a parenting style is to raise the child in the best manner or to be the “best parent”?

There’s no single definition of a “good parent”, just as there’s no perfect way of raising your child. But nowadays, society expects parents to:

  • not only attend to a child’s needs, but also anticipate them
  • raise well-rounded children who must be good at everything
  • provide children with not only the basic necessities, but also the best lifestyle (e.g., holidays) and a variety of extracurricular activities
  • excel in their own career, and spend quality time with children
  • create an ambience of peace and harmony at home
  • nurture children with utmost attention and care

A few generations ago, parents only had to take care of their child’s basic survival needs (e.g., food and clothing) and that would be enough to make them “good parents”. But the scenario is so much different today! So how do you become a good parent?

Solution: Trust your instincts

Possibly, the biggest mistake parents make is to allow societal expectations to overrule their inner parenting voice when it comes to bringing up children. At the beginning of one’s parenting journey, one may feel confused. However, as the bond between you and your child becomes stronger, you will realize that you know your child the best.

As Dr Vincent Molony, a child psychiatrist and father of four in Dublin, who has been running parenting courses for years, said in an interview with The Irish Times (Jan 2004),

“I have discovered that parents’ natural instinct is very often right, even if the experts have said that they are fussing too much. If a parent is worried about something, I find it is important to take them seriously—reassure them or find out if something really is wrong—because the worry itself will interfere with the natural and normal parenting process.”

Seeking professional help is a wonderful idea, but nobody knows your child better than you. There are so many opinions and beliefs with regard to parenting that a parent today can get confused while choosing the “best” for their child. But the good news is that “best” does not have a clear definition! What may work for your friend’s family may not work for your family. What is important is to weigh the pros and cons, take decisions as a family, and take responsibility for your decisions. After all, we all fail. It’s human to fail, forgive yourself and learn from that failure. In parenting, as in life, some of the most valuable lessons can be learned from failure.

We may feel overwhelmed at some stage of our parenting journey, but the fact remains that parenting is as rewarding as ever. The saving grace is that while many things have changed, some things remain inherently the same. As a parent, it’s important that you focus on loving your child unconditionally and building a strong bond with your child. And as long as you have created a loving, safe, secure and accepting environment for your child, you’ll do just fine.

In a nutshell

  • Pick your battles wisely and remember, you don’t have control over everything as a parent.
  • Your child is your world, but is also a living, thriving individual with a unique personality. Accept yourself and your children as they are, and stop comparing your child with others.
  • Technology has both positive and negative consequences. Therefore, it’s important to remind your children and yourself that balance is the key. Saying “Screens are bad” isn’t good enough; you need to have regular conversations about device usage with your child.
  • Connect with other parents in the community, ask for help and accept their support, and help them out as well. Our parenting forums are actively helping parents address their parenting concerns. Gain perspective, but go with your instinct.

What you can do right away

  • Participate in ParentCircle’s #GadgetFreeHour initiative.
  • Ask your child five things she would like to do with you, and attempt to do these in the coming few days.
  • Play a simple game of “My challenges”, where each family member sits down to talk about their personal challenges. This will help all the members appreciate each other’s problems and support each other.

Also read:

How parenting has evolved over the years

Parenting, it is all about unconditional love

About the author:

Written by Saakshi Kapoor Kumar on 13th November’20

Kumar holds a Masters degree in Psychology from Ambedkar University, Delhi and is working as a Senior Associate-Special Projects (Content Solutions Zone) at ParentCircle.

About the expert:

Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 13th November’20

Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).

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