Recently while sitting on the deck, eyes closed for a moment having finished reading the World section of the weekend paper, my mind turned to musing about how different the world is from the one in which I started writing this parenting column 20 years ago.
The new century was only a month or so away with lots of promise for world peace and co-operation now that the Cold War had been well and truly buried.
Our biggest concern was a technological one. Would our computerised systems handle the date change to a new century? Or would society be plunged into a chaos?
Well, we survived without a hitch. How clever we were.
But, boy, that all pales into insignificance alongside the potential chaos from the digital technology issues that have arisen since. Issues of fiction being shown as fact, individuals being subjected to personalised manipulation on a mass scale, vicious social media attacks from the outraged and democracy being undermined by bursts of tweets.
The leaders of the world’s pre-eminent democracies have joined authoritarian regimes in using digital deceit to manipulate people’s thinking in a manner in which George Orwell’s protagonists would have been proud. Even our own Leader of the Opposition has had an arranged meeting with the head of China’s powerful secret police.
While cellphones allow us to keep better track of where our children might be, these instruments also allow them access to places we might not want them to go and, perversely, where in fact we may not realise they are going.
What “truths” are they being fed as they engage with others through the constantly changing social media and online games platforms and the like?
How do we protect them from cyber-bullying but allow them to become skilled with the digital tools they’ll need for their education and work over the next two decades?
Indeed, can we even begin to guess what their world will look like in 10, 20 years?
Climate change? Well, global warming was there, somewhere in the background at the turn of the century. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was still six years away.
Suddenly, it’s no longer in the background.
When I opened my eyes, I could see climate change right then, above, in the smoke haze passing over.
Technology has made life busier and more pressured, the opposite of what was supposed to happen.
We probably speak to others face to face less, perhaps even including our own family, as we mumble a response while not looking up from our phone or tablet.
But our children still need from us the same unconditional love, time and protection that they’ve always needed.
It’s just that the contexts are rapidly changing and not always for the better. And it means that parents today, undoubtedly, will have to run faster than parents had to 20 years ago in order to keep up.