Back In my day
Adults have always struggled to interpret the heartbeat of the generation they bring up, but this has become harder with the fluctuating rhythms of social media
There are few experiences like the joy of watching your child grow up. To hold a child so close, watch their first steps and help them build up words while catching a glimpse of your spouse or a relative in a cheeky grin or a look of surprise, is a gift of inexpressible happiness. However, there is only so much influence we can have over a child. It is not just the uniqueness of the personality which emerges, there is also the specificity of the culture they inhabit which today is changing rapidly and at times disconcertingly.
The digital revolution has altered the landscape of childhood irrevocably. All adults have straddled the culture they were raised in and the culture which is emerging today. This affords them a balanced perspective. At the risk of eye-rolling nostalgia, they remember what it was like only to communicate with someone either by face, on the phone or by handwritten letter; they remember a time when there were only three TV channels; they recall the exhilarating novelty of the green glow Amstrad computers; and they recollect an era when the word celebrity was used sparingly, if at all. These are only a handful of ways our culture is evolving, which is but the beginning of the social revolution.
To assimilate this world in ways that will cause children to flourish and in turn enable them to be a blessing to others, children need the wisdom of those who have seen this culture develop. Adults often express surprise at the credulousness of children and young people without remembering they didn’t know a time before Facebook and its culture where everyone knows what everyone else is doing and the number of people you can call a friend is numerically counted. To help a child navigate this world with an assured sense of their place in it and the love which God has for them asks adults to remember their children have only known the world they have been born into.
We should be confident in sharing the values we hold dear, yet our generation more than any other has reason to be reluctant to. On one hand there is a crisis in authority, where people are unsure of the limits of their powers. This is compounded by the complexity of the world that children and young people live in. Adults have always struggled to understand the heartbeat of the generation they bring up, but this has become harder with the transient and fluctuating rhythms of social media. On the other hand, today’s younger generation is probably the first in history to have a firmer grasp of their environment than adults do. If you doubt this, think of the age of the person you are likely to go to, to get help sorting out a piece of technology. Yet we should not confuse technical competence with moral literacy. It is a tempting myth to assume that because a young person knows how to navigate the vertiginous cliffs of digital media that they have an equally assured grip on how these new media shape, and sometimes distort human relationships. There is a mounting body of evidence to show a division between expertise and wisdom in this terrain. Adults do not inevitably possess more understanding than young people, but their prior experience of a different kind of world holds invaluable knowledge which might be humbly offered as a thread joining the past with the present.
We have many values to pass on and especially so as Christians.
If these challenges ask much of every parent, it is reassuring to know that we do not and should not bring up our children alone. There is an African saying that it takes a village to raise a child and there is ancient wisdom in this; by the same token it takes a church to raise a Christian. We are temporary stewards of eternal truths which have the capacity to fill every culture in history with the understanding it needs to love its creator more than its artefacts.
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