What makes a good parent? People have grappled with this question for generations because good parents make a good family, and good families make good societies. As the world changes and evolves constantly, the ways that parents parent their children have evolved in tandem. But is it harder to be a parent today than in the past? Some might argue that with the increase in parenting education self-help resources on the Internet for new parents, parenting is easier today. Financial assistance from the government is also readily available for parents and their families who need it. Yet in spite of this, parents today continue to lament that it is more difficult today than in the past with some chalking it up to longer working hours and others blaming the omnipresent mass media. I would agree that on balance, good parenting in my society, Singapore, is more challenging today than ever before.
Some argue that parents today have it easier than when their parents were raising them because of the various government policies in place currently to help couples on their journey to parenthood. Having all kinds of bonuses and grants reduces the financial burden on new parents which can allow them to focus on parenting without worrying too much about finances. Some of these schemes include the Baby Bonus Scheme with a cash gift of up to S$2,000, as well as the Child Development Account, which is a special savings account for children with added benefits of up to S$18,000 to be spent on approved uses. These financial assistance schemes from the government certainly do help defray the cost of raising a child, at least in the first few years of his or her life. The benefits have been revised over the years to provide more financial help to parents and we could expect more of such revisions. Certainly, such social welfare benefits were not available to parents less than two decades ago. Half a century ago, parents from the working class, especially those who were not as highly educated, had to work multiple odd jobs just to get by and raise their children, and financial help from the then newly set-up government were far and few in between. In this way, parenting today, at least providing for children in terms of their physical needs, may be easier than before.
Moreover, it can be argued that with the Internet in today’s world, information and resources are much more readily available for parents to guide them in various aspects of parenting. At the core, providing for children’s physical needs is the most basic job of a parent. What then sets good parents apart? The Internet believes it has the answers, with a plethora of articles, blogs and forums to help nervous parents at every stage in parenting, to be the good parents all parents strive to be. Sites like ‘Serious about Preschool’ for parents of preschool-age children and ‘KiasuParents’ for parents of school-going children aged up to 18 years old—the Internet has it all. These resources include professional insights from industry experts on enrichment classes for toddlers to ‘How to be your teen’s best friend’. There are also forums for fellow parents to exchange tips and tricks and forge a sense of community. At just a click of mouse, parents will be thoroughly educated on how to be the best parent for their child. This is a stark contrast to the past where such resources were scarce and hard to find. Now, with the rise of the Internet age, these pillars of support are more easily accessible to parents of the modern world. As such, given the abundance of parenting resources, it can be claimed that it is less challenging to be a good parent today than in the past.
Yet despite all these improvements, parents still lament that it is harder today than ever before. And they have reason to believe so. As the Singaporean economy develops, the lines between work and private life have blurred and parents have less time to spend with their children, which is especially important in a child’s formative years. A 2015 global statistics found that Singaporeans work an average of 45.6 hours a week, which is the second highest in the developed world. This, while not startling, is concerning for parents who have to struggle with long hours at work and raising children. As National University Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser pointed out, working long hours and being mentally occupied with work lead to less quality time with family members, especially those who need attention the most. Even when parents are physically present, they may still mentally be at work. This effect can be attributed to the rise of mobile devices, making work more portable than ever. Dr Walter Theseira from Singapore University of Social Sciences also notes that employees are expected to reply work emails and read work documents on mobile phones even after work hours. This further skews the work-life balance, allowing work to pervade into our private lives, making it harder to parent children. Clearly, juggling work and raising children at the same time is a feat in itself, making good parenting harder in the modern world.
Another reason that parenting may be harder today than ever is the existence of the omnipresent mass media which directly promotes ideas that parents may not approve of. As discussed in the previous paragraph, due to parents being mentally absent, parents usually toss some form of a mobile device, usually a mobile phone or tablet to young children to pacify them. In an instant, children’s wails and cries are silenced by the brightly coloured screens that captivate their attention. While parents might love this quick fix solution, it could prove to have long-lasting repercussions unbeknownst to them. When parents set children’s entertainment like ‘Finger Family Song’ or ‘Surprise Egg’ reveals to play on YouTube, they usually do not realise the autoplay function on the platform which allows related videos to stream continuously. The creators of these videos have realised this function though and some of them have exploited this function by algorithmically creating mashups of familiar cartoon characters in violent situations. James Bridle, an artist and writer dealing primarily with technology, knowledge and the end of the future, examined this issue in his TED Talk entitled ‘The nightmare of childrens’ YouTube’. He notes that these videos “exploit and terrify young minds”. In our world today, where parents toss their children down the spiral of mutated, terrifying cartoons, it is hard to argue that parents today are good parents at all. For older kids, themes of sex, violence and substance abuse are promoted repetitively in the mass media as risk-free, harmless and even cool. These ideas typically do not align with what most parents would advocate in their families, yet children are constantly exposed to such material, perhaps due to parents’ negligence in monitoring what their children watch. Evidently, good parenting today is more difficult due to the dangers that threaten children’s safety lurking everywhere online.
Despite all that have been discussed, the most crucial question has yet to be addressed: What is good parenting? As times change, expectations of parents have evolved in tandem. Parents in the past could get away with a laidback child-rearing approach in line with the slower pace of living of the time, yet that same parenting style applied today would never fly. Parents today are expected to be more involved in their children’s lives, especially in their academics. This rings true for many young Singaporean children who have had to grow up under ‘tiger mums’ and ‘helicopter parents’. Parents today take on multiple hats for their children, including chauffeuring their children from enrichment class after enrichment class and being a personal tutor who monitors children do homework. It is clear that the very definition of a good parent has radically changed. While it is easy to pin the blame on overly competitive parents for piling enrichment classes, assessment books and stress on their young children, we must first examine the situation from the parents’ perspectives. Parents face more stress than ever to birth valedictorians, scholars or just successful (by society’s definition) children. This can be attributed to the abundance of parenting resources, discussed earlier, that tell parents they have to do this or do that or else they are not providing the very best for their children and that they are “bad parents”. This causes parents to act in adverse ways, transferring the pressure on them to be “good parents” unto their children to be “successful”. Therefore, with the bar to be a “good parent” set so ridiculously high, who can safely claim to be a “good parent”?
To conclude, good parenting is hard to define but the standard to be considered a good parent has undoubtedly been raised over the past few decades. Parents now also have to wrestle with the mass media that threatens to corrupt their children’s minds, while juggling longer work hours at the same time. It certainly is a feat to raise children today but other parties like the government and the Internet have offered some consolation in the arduous road of parenthood. The Internet’s ready abundance of parenting resources and forums would definitely prove useful to parents at every stage, while the government’s liberal financial help to defray the cost of raising children certainly help alleviate the factor of cost, associated with raising children here in the most expensive city in the world. Despite these, it must be admitted that good parenting in Singapore is indeed more challenging today than ever before.