AHRI chairman Peter Wilson AM FCPHR says HR needs to think about the newest generation of parents in the workforce and those who will be employed in 20 years time.
Nostalgia can be empowering. Particularly when it feels better than the present and stands out in our minds as a golden compass for improving the future. But in areas where matters haven’t actually changed that much over the years, nostalgia can be illusory.
Childhood experiences for baby boomers and Gen Xers had many common elements, notwithstanding the rise of TV. But the situation has since changed dramatically. Our profession needs to be aware of what the newest workers are experiencing as parents, and also the attitudes of those likely to enter the workforce in half a generation’s time.
A new approach to parenting
From 20-50 years ago, child’s play occurred mainly outdoors, in free flow with siblings and peers. Now, a child in a modern western economy spends the majority of time inside, primarily with an adult. Kids today are supervised to undertake more structured activities. They expect and receive more support and encouragement. Education, health and mortality statistics for children have all improved dramatically. Parents in many countries arrange extra tutorials, music and language lessons, multi-experiential opportunities, and innovative forms of mental and physical gymnastics for their children – all in the hope of securing them a more valuable and gainful life in the future.
As for future opportunities for today’s children, the evidence raises some alarm bells. Eighty per cent of children live in urban and increasingly crowded and expensive environments. Kicking a footy, bowling a wrong’un or shooting a goal are experiences fast disappearing from the backyard. Resource and access inequalities mean that rich kids tend to do better and have more options overall to respond to, which is serving to entrench future social divides.
Family sizes are dropping markedly as parents better understand the business case against having more than one or two children. Mothers return to work within a year, and not five years as they used to. Rigorous grandparenting schedules are common for retired baby boomers, who find they are being organised as primary part-time carers for 2-4 working days a week.
The impact of technology
Governments are responding to these economic trends with more childcare, early education and kindergarten places.
While smart devices have facilitated an acceleration of these trends, pediatricians at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne advise parents that they can inhibit a child’s lingual capacities and growth if used extensively before the age of three. When such devices are removed and children are made to explore more usual forms of discourse, it can cause acute disorientation. If you’ve ever been in a restaurant when a parent has tried to take a tablet away from their child, you’ll probably be aware of the scale of a dummy spit that can result.
On the other hand, children today are not at risk of boredom. Rather, management of stimulation is the dominant challenge.
RCH doctors also recommend that you don’t give children smart devices until after they reach secondary education, and preferably when it is overseen by the relevant school for educational purposes. If parents don’t feel they can resist their children’s demands, the right to a personal smart mobile device should carry with it the condition that the parent monitor both the quantity and quality of usage, with transparent rules applying to both.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 90 per cent of 15-year-olds have a smartphone, and spend 2-3 hours a day on it. Eighty-four per cent of this cohort say they find social networks useful, and 50 per cent feel unsettled if they can’t get online. However, being connected all hours of the day or night can be very harmful to sleep patterns and mental health. Such extensive digital access also opens up risks of cyber bullying and online grooming. It’s better for children to access online experiences with their parents present, so what they’re seeing can be immediately contextualised.
Child-rearing impacts parents when they are at work. Forewarned is forearmed. Good luck to all of us – parents, grandparents and co-workers alike.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 edition of HRM magazine.