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January 2012

The 'i-child' in Europe?

by Susannah Kennedy


Where we raise our children is a bit like where we end up tending a garden. The seeds are there, and if you watch over them and feed them and care for them properly they will grow. But, in addition, you have to interact with your particular local environment. If you happen to live in a desert climate, you have to do a lot of watering. If you live in a cold climate, you have to

cover the baby plants at night. If you live on sandy soil, you have to add compost. If there are a lot of snails, you have to come up with a counterplan. When I watched this video produced by Common Sense Media, I was struck by how the broadcasting environment in which we raise our children has changed in just the lifetime of our oldest son - who hasn't even turned 18 yet! And how that change has made the job of parenting even more complex. at least for those in Information Society countries.

Growing up in Germany in the 1990s, there was very little television. There were two commercial channels - RTL and SAT1 - in addition to 3 state-run channels. Everyone we knew had those 'rabbit ears' on their television for terrestrial reception. Cable was just beginning to be available, as was satellite. But no one we knew valued television enough to pay for such packages. Almost without exception, the German children we knew did not watch television. It was not expected. Children were at home, at playgrounds or at friends' houses. Once a day they maybe watched the 5-minute Sandmännchen or once a week der Sendung mit der Maus. Now, in 2011, although German children are not quite as mightily-connected as the Americans shown in the video, ipads and ipods and X-Boxes and Wiis are making the birthday-wishlists here, too. Satellite and cable are taken for granted and are in almost every house. And parents today have a whole brand-new arena of potential conflicts and rules to learn about and govern.

So, for us, raising our first child was relatively free of those playground and school conversations about "whether" and "how much" media to allow. There was enough to think about anyway. We had a head start. Because our oldest was not the kind of child who was magnetically drawn to screens in the first place, we had another little bonus.  He started watching soccer/football games with his father and friends occasionally when he was about four. And as it turned out, he not only insisted on playing soccer himself, he began to dream and breathe soccer in a way we would never have foreseen and so, for our oldest, gradually, sports became the negotiating tool of choice: as his friends started collecting Pokemon cards and watching more movies, we began to say 'ok' to the weekend sports round-up or occasional league games on television.  

The big change came around the time his brother was kindergarten age, when DVDs became available with their multilingual capacity. That matched with my feeling at the time that my children were becoming so very German and I missed certain naive, optimistic 'life-is-fun' parts of my culture. And suddenly, there they were: the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, the Cosby Show, later Home Improvement (the first few seasons) and even later the Prince of BelAir. Suddenly we had the Wizard of Oz, Jungle Book, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This all complimented the growing German inundation since 2000 of more television and radically more computers. In the constant interaction with mainstream culture that occurs with older children, and our youngest son was a child who loved screens, I felt we had something fun I could offer him to counterbalance what he was not allowed.  And, I actually discovered watching such shows in English familiarized our children with cultural icons and slang that has added to their understanding of what it means to be American. As the Common Sense Media video also says, media can be a great thing, if used wisely.

I would guess Europeans in general are too wary of American politics to completely duplicate the 'i-child' culture shown in the video, but the market is huge and growing constantly. Our 13-year-old is now pressuring us to let him get a Facebook account, and already is used to watching sports on the weekends with his brother and age-12+ movies. Since their younger sister grew up knowing we were strict about age appropriateness in movies, she respects the "no, you cannot watch the Prince of BelAir yet' rule. Her Waldorf school classmates' families still manage to keep media far away from playdates. But our local neighbors' children often have computers in their rooms and Wiis. There is rarely a neighborhood sleep-over nowadays without a movie, which inevitably causes some emotional reaction in our daughter who is not yet immune to the dramatic music and sinister scenes of many modern Disney films. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.





January 2012

Listening in on the tone of mothering


by Susannah Kennedy


Last week was my first 2012 hair appointment. I go to a tiny place. It has wooden floors, a big window overlooking the German street, and a set of drums that sure looks pretty and is rumored to actually be played by the owner. Hair appointments are something I started treating myself to when I was working as a reporter in my 20s. I'm quite particular about the places I choose. These are valued moments of being pampered, and I don't have many moments of vanity these days.

So, I was sitting there enjoying my magazine ("The New Yorker") and not chatting to my hairdresser - we don't have much to share anyway. Half-way through, however, the other hairdresser blew in with flowing scarf and jaunty bag, shortly thereafter his customer. They had a great need to talk. They had just both had babies. So there I was, chained to my chair by wet hair and scissors, forced to listen to their stories -- wondering whether to contribute something myself but feeling like an intruder. After all, I was a stranger and at least 20 years older.

I tried to ignore them, but they were speaking freely and loudly and I felt myself getting increasingly agitated. There is a certain tone of voice used by young German urbanites who think they are cool. They know everything and have an opinion on everything. There is no room for mystery or for questions. Life as they describe it is clear, unhampered, and well-organized.


to be continued…




more Motherlands blogs


Thoughts on a university education (December 2011)

A 13-year-old starts down a rebellious path (November 2011)

Bilingualism in today's world (October 2011)

Reflections on the changing meaning of home (August 2011)



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