There are five pages open on the Chrome tab of my phone at the moment. Three of these five have been quick searches to my nine-year-old’s sudden queries. “What is Blancmange?” she asked yesterday while reading her book, and then when she was eating a fruit which I thought was a pear-apple hybrid, “How do you cross-breed fruits?” Papple is the name of this particular hybrid, I found a few minutes later, while trying to simplify the science of cross-breeding. Blancmange is a dessert. Which made me think: Are children becoming smarter than what we were at their age? I certainly think so—and from what I usually hear from fellow millennial parents raising the Generation Alpha, so do others. Many of us are simply in awe of our children.
True, as parents, we are biased towards our children. We celebrate every milestone, every achievement. Be it of any generation, parents view their children’s potential as limitless. But I don’t remember asking my mother questions like, ‘“Can a boy and a boy like each other” at age seven, like my daughter asked me when she said she saw two male squirrels together, or why does Greenland have ice and why Iceland is green, when reading a chapter on latitude and longitude. My nine-year-old nephew similarly surprises his mother with his usage of new words and according to her, “a vocabulary that is definitely much richer” than hers was at the same age.
Much of it is because of the kind of exposure that children are getting today. “I mean, look at the TV shows the kids are watching these days,” commented Bengaluru-based Sudha Iyer whose daughter is five years old. “In one of my daughter’s favourite shows an episode was all about pandas. Their habitat, their food, where they are found—all in cartoon. It was interesting, even for an adult.” Children’s movies, she added, are also picking up themes of a wide variety—from the threat of plastic pollution to the wildlife of the Amazon, from challenging gender roles to bullying in school. I remember my daughter would love the animated TV show Dora the Explorer and thanks to the show, she had learnt the numbers 1-10 in Spanish at the same time as she was learning the English numerals.
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What surprised me however, was when, in between her homework—because all ‘important’ questions strike during this time—she asked me a question and then added, ‘Google it, Mumma’. This was about two years ago. The Alpha generation’s comfort and familiarity with the internet and gadgets definitely surpasses us which, according to development psychologist, Dr Aarti Bakshi, is what makes them “more aware”.
“I am not sure if I can say if children of today are smarter because smartness has a lot to do with critical thinking, but they are definitely more aware. Thanks to the technological support, they have the ability to seek information and get answers themselves,” Bakshi, who also writes books on SEL (social and emotional learning), told Lounge.
But it’s not just that. We, as parents, are also evolving. We are communicating more with our children than our parents probably did and are choosing to respond to their queries more factually. “For instance, when my son asked me what are clouds made of, I remember telling him that it is made of water droplets instead of saying something imaginary,” Tanvira, my sister-in-law, shared about her experience with her nine-year-old. “Our parents had limited sources of information—mostly books—and when we’d ask questions, they would take time to give us a specific answer, or forget about it. But today when a child asks something, we immediately look it up on the internet.” She added that “since we are becoming conscious as parents to explain things, their reasoning power is also increasing.”
This also explains why it is not enough to simply say ‘no’ to certain things to kids. For me it is a negotiation and I must support my verdict with logic. An article in Research World, a platform for the business community to understand the analytics sector, said that ‘millennial parents currently aged 27-40 years, are raising their Gen Alpha children with a distinctly different approach as compared to the Gen X predecessors’ which in turn has a significant impact for brands looking to be trusted by families and young people. There is a generational shift in parenting and children today hold significant sway in family decision-making.
“We have become more close-knit as nuclear families (and this means we are) more evolved in terms of spending time with each other; we are taking more vacations together, doing activities together,” says Dr. Bakshi. She adds that “we are treating our children as individuals.” Fathers in particular have become more involved in their children’s lives than theirs probably were.
‘Quality time’ has become a mantra. Avni Kulkarni who is a schoolteacher for grades 11 and 12 in a school in Bhuj, and a mother to two young boys, added that “the involvement of both parents in raising their child is increasing, which reflects in their self-esteem and confidence. I can actually ‘see’ this change with consecutive batches of students.”
Quite often, we are tempted to sweep an entire demographic in one colour. Children, teenagers of today are no exception. They are said to be more self-centred, with an “eroding sense of values”, as one schoolteacher pointed out. Even then, we see young people around the world at the helm of movements, standing up to those in power, talking about issues like climate change and women’s rights. They are also helping us, parents, re-learn some of our own lessons.
About a week back, a friend of mine was scrolling her phone in bed way past bedtime. Her eight-year-old son, who she had taught ‘when in doubt, never be afraid to question’, immediately questioned her. “I had made the rule: no gadgets in bed. And there I was, flouting it,” she recalls. “I could make up some excuse but as he waited for me to respond, I realised it was a teaching moment. So, I owned up to my mistake and said sorry,” she told me later.
I had a slightly different experience with re-learning. The other day, my daughter was aghast when I plucked off caterpillars from devouring the leaves of our lemon plant. “But if the caterpillars don’t eat, how will they make their cocoons and turn into butterflies, Mumma?” she said. “And didn’t you tell me that butterflies were important for the environment?”
It was a capsule-course on re-learning an important lesson—on kindness and co-existence. So, the lemon tree now stands, with plump caterpillars on its half-eaten leaves. On a positive note: a few butterflies have begun to emerge.
Azera Parveen Rahman is a writer currently based in Bhuj, Gujarat