Grandparents and the Generativity Revolution

As an involved grandparent blessed with good health,  I’m frequently asked to provide childcare.  Beside the fact that I love being with my grandchildren, this allows me to see the daily lives of young families up close.  And what I observe gives me cause for concern.  Children seem to have far more on their plates today than they did a generation ago.  They bring home much more homework and projects.  There are music lessons, competitive sports, dance classes, scouting, church activities.  All good.  Just not all the time.  When they are home, children need to ‘chill’ with video or computer games, or to watch TV.   Clearly, so much time spent interacting with electronic devices means less time for human relationships.  And they are deteriorating.  What you notice in many children in a ‘good’ neighborhood, e.g. the increase of verbal bullying and physical aggression, is a microcosm of what is happening in society.

Of course, children are just mimicking the ‘wired’ adults in their own family.  Mom and Dad are ultra-busy, too, heads constantly bent to the screens of iPhones or Blackberries for work updates or their own extracurricular activities.  I know from my own experience that checking email constantly is an easy habit to get into and hard to break.  In a world of 24/7 communication, we might miss something!  My question is: what could be more important than what and who is right here, under their noses.

I’ve been wondering lately whether we grandparents are not enabling this kind of packed, too-many-balls-in-the-air lifestyle by being so available.   I’m not suggesting we cut back on helping our children and theirs, but perhaps we might insert a quid pro quo into the deal.  Let’s not be afraid of ‘interfering’ and express our values.  When we are the available grownup in the home, let’s take opportunity to teach our young how to not only play well with others, but how to really see them, respect them, and communicate well with them.   We can draw children into old-fashioned games like battleships or checkers or Scrabble; we can teach skills like cooking and baking; we can encourage the making of art or get them outdoors for a hike or sport.  We teach, and by our students we may be taught.

We grandparents who are engaged with our young can and must raise the bar on respectful relationships and civility in our society.  And that, like so many things, begins in the home.  So if you are providing childcare, show respect, but speak your truth.  Take part in what New York Times columnist, David Brooks calls a “generativity revolution.”  If we don’t, who will?

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