This Ain’t Your Mama’s Childhood

Are your kids stressed out? Could it be that you’re contributing, despite your best intentions? If you answered yes to either question, read on.

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Adeola Babatunde and his mother decided he should cut out some activities because having too many commitments was raising his stress and hurting his performance in school. He continues to play the guitar, take karate and enjoy video games.    Adeola enjoys a game of Monopoly with his mother, Katie West.  Photograph by Tom NutterMeet Adeola Babatunde.

He’s a good student in the demanding International Baccalaureate program at Mount Pleasant High School. He runs cross country and track, studies karate and takes guitar lessons. He likes YouTube, his PlayStation and his iPod. He lives with his mother in Claymont, but spends several days a week at his dad’s, depending on his dad’s work schedule.

In other words, he’s a typical 15-year-old.

And if his teen years remind you of yours in some ways, there are some major differences.

From generation to generation, politics, economics, science, technology and other factors change what kids do, when they do it and how. Since our day, the Internet and other media have transformed the way children learn, play, communicate and experience relationships. Life moves faster. And the number of nuclear families has decreased as other family types have emerged.

Toss in increased pressure to succeed in a more complex world and a parent’s best intention to give their kids every opportunity, you get kids who are often over-scheduled and stressed out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to impart values, communicate and be together that can help any kid stay focused and happy.

Katie West, 52, is Adeola’s Mom. When she was a child, her mother stayed home with the three youngsters while their father worked. Katie was allowed to watch the family’s black-and-white television one hour a week. “I played outside for hours,” she says, “and my parents didn’t know where I was.” At 16 she went to New York City to study dance for the summer. She regularly rode the subway alone. “I was pretty independent.”

That was a different time. Today Katie works, like most parents, so when Adeola was younger, she put him in aftercare until she finished her day. He is as likely to play with electronics as he is outdoors, if not more so. And his safety is a concern for Katie in a way that is different from her parents concern for hers. “If Adeola went to the city and rode the subway by himself now, I’d be anxious about it,” she says. “I insist that he has his cell phone with him, and I need to be able to reach him. If he doesn’t answer when I call him, I get worried.”

So what has changed between the time of Katie’s youth and now?

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