30 Things Parents Have to Worry About Now That They Didn’t 30 Years Ago
Yes, the internet solved a lot of problems. But it created countless more.
Is it more difficult to be a parent today than it was 30 years ago? Well, the majority of parents say yes, by an overwhelming 6-to-1 margin, according to recent surveys. Of course, raising a kid has never been an easy thing. But in the 21st century, it’s become almost unfathomably complicated.
Ironically, it’s often the very things designed to make the world safer and more accessible for kids that make it so terrifying for parents. Just consider the internet, which is both amazing (children are exposed to a virtual library of knowledge) and horrifying (they’re constantly one Google mishap away from permanent scarring). And that’s just the start. Here are 30 things that today’s parents worry about constantly that didn’t even exist 30 years ago.
Here’s how responsible parents kept their kids safe during car travel 30 years ago: They yelled into the backseat, “Put your seatbelt on!” And then hopefully the kids listened. But today, parents have to grapple with all sorts of questions about car safety. Should the booster seat be on the driver’s side or passenger side, or maybe in the middle? Have they mastered the complicated system of built-in straps and hooks, otherwise known as LATCH, required by law in most U.S. vehicles since 2002? It can be maddeningly confusing.
It used to be so simple. When kids had a question, you just told them, “I don’t know, go look it up at the library.” Because that’s where we got all of our information. But now, if they have questions, they have the internet at their fingertips. Every child is just one Google search away from accidentally stumbling on something that will destroy their innocence forever.
Growing up, we all knew the one kid in school with a nut allergy. He or she was unique. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, cases of peanut and tree nut allergies have tripled among U.S. children. It’s so bad that many schools these days are starting to institute “Nut Free” environments.
But wait, it gets better! An EpiPen—the one thing that can save a child’s life from anaphylaxis a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts—can cost upwards of $630 for a pack of two auto-injectors.
A predator back in the 20th century didn’t have so many advantages. For instance, they weren’t able to impersonate other kids quite so easily. But online, anyone can be anyone, and a child might not realize that they’ve been corresponding with a full-grown adult until it’s too late. You know the dangers are out there, but today’s parent feels helpful to protect their children from everywhere predators might be lurking.
Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, a kid might be exposed to horrifying images or words at any moment, at any time of day. Heaven forbid you don’t remember to make sure your TV is tuned to a kid-friendly channel before turning it off. The one time you forget and leave it on CNN, that’s when your kid comes crying into your bedroom, asking difficult questions about the world you’re in no way prepared to answer.
Public school funding
The American Federation of Teachers claims that, over the past decade, public schools in 25 states—from grades kindergarten through 12th—have been underfunded by as much as $19 billion dollars. Believe it or not, there was a time when you could send a kid to school without wondering, “I wonder if they’ll have books. Or desks.”
There was this thing once called Saturday morning, and that was the only time in the week where kids could watch cartoons. If you missed it, you missed it—and you wouldn’t see another Bugs Bunny or Super Friends cartoon until next week.
But these days? Kids have limitless options and are able to watch any show they could ever imagine at any point, day or night. A parent is now required to allocate screen time, determining exactly how many minutes and hours their children are staring at flashing images. How much is too much? That depends. Parents love arguing with each other about it, and beating themselves up for being too lenient with screen time.
It’s always been a pain trying to get kids to eat their vegetables. But the modern parent now has an extra dilemma. Are they feeding their kids the healthiest fruits and vegetables available? If it’s not organic, does that mean they’re denying their children the essential nutrients their young bodies need? Oh, and don’t forget that sometimes lettuce can be actual poison. That salad you’re feeding your kid is either not good enough—or the worst thing that will ever happen to them.
There are so many ways that YouTube can damage children, from the bombardment of commercials to the disturbing videos, crafted to look just similar enough to the harmless animated shows they watch on TV, that some experts warn are causing long-term psychological harm. Three decades years ago, the most scandalous thing a child could see is if their parents let them stay up late to watch Cheers.
In just 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. According to the CDC, one in every five kids is technically obese. “Children are now taking the same type of medications as their parents to manage blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol,” a spokesperson for the American Heart Association said in an interview. So in addition to making sure kids brush their teeth and get dressed every morning, parents also have to pester them to take their blood pressure meds. Fun times!
What did kids do after school 30 years ago? Most parents had no clue. Maybe they hung out with their friends, maybe they had extra curricular activities, it was anybody’s guess. But today, parents are expected to curate every moment of their child’s life. If they’re not in school, they should be in art classes or music lessons or what have you. It’s exhausting, and can leave parents with a knot in their stomach, worrying if they’re just not doing enough.
Recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states, and medical marijuana is legal in 33. “But wait,” you say, “they can’t buy marijuana in those states without being over 21. And for medical marijuana, they’ll need a note from their doctor.” You also have to be 21 to purchase booze or cigarettes, and that’s never stopped underage kids from getting it anyway. So that’s just one more substance a parent in 2019 has to worry about.
Too many photos
Ask any parents to see a photo of their kid, and they’ll scroll through hundreds if not thousands of photos on their phone. Everyone knows it’s not a good idea (how many experiences have been missed due to an insistence on snapping photos?), but being your child’s personal paparazzi might be more damaging than you realize. Some research has suggested that it can even alter memories, causing a “photo-taking-impairment effect” that can cause lasting feelings of disconnect. Scary!
It’s a rite of passage for parents of elementary school-age kids, to comb through their children’s hair, looking for those pesky parasites. It’s annoying but eminently treatable. Or, at least it was until recently. Now, there are genetically mutated head lice that have become resistant to traditional treatments. According to one 2016 study, these so-called “super lice” have been found in 48 U.S. states.
Everything is password-protected these days, including things you do and don’t want your kids to have access to. Is the password on your iPad, where you store a bunch of kid friendly games for long road trips, too similar to the password for your Netflix or Amazon Prime account? What passwords do you want them to know, and what passwords are meant to keep them out? We’re long past the innocent days of just making sure your child has a spare key when they get home from school.
Baby monitor hackers
Baby monitors should have been one of those technological advancements that made parenting easier. And while they certainly do offer convenience—you can now check on your baby sleeping upstairs without leaving your couch—it’s also created a new way for parents to be paranoid. These WiFi-enabled monitors are vulnerable to hackers. One couple last year reported that their monitor was hacked and they heard a stranger’s voice threatening to kidnap their baby and using inappropriate language.
From the Pacific Northwest to New York, measles is officially back! The CDC reported that there have been 79 cases of measles reported so far in 2019, and it’s only February. But wait, you’re likely wondering, haven’t we had a measles vaccine since at least the early ’70s? Why yes, as a matter of fact, we have. Parents 30 years ago didn’t think twice about getting their kids vaccinated.
Airport security lines
Traveling with kids has always been a hassle, but it’s become almost unbearably annoying in recent years. There are strollers that need to be perfectly folded and electronics that need to be taken out and put in their own bin and arguments to be had with TSA agents about exactly how many juice boxes and snacks you’re allowed to keep. Airport security lines are hellacious for everybody, but nobody fears it more than a parent trying to get their child through without a meltdown.
Access to lascivious content
A 2015 report found that 10 percent of 12- and 13-year-olds were worried that they might be addicted to pornography. Three decades ago, most kids that age were lucky even to find an old discarded Playboy in the woods. Pornography has never been more accessible, and kids can find it almost anywhere. Finding this stuff in your 9-year-old’s browser history isn’t just common, it’s fodder for op-ed articles.
Back in the 1920s, cribs were called “baby cages” and Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly made one for her child entirely out of chicken wire. But cribs have gotten more complicated in recent years. Are the wooden slats far enough apart that your baby might get his or her neck stuck in it and suffocate? Then maybe you need some baby bumpers, which prevent them from getting wedged or even falling out of the crib.
What’s more, in study after study, baby bumpers have been proven to cause more deaths than they prevent. And yet, bumpers are still sold in baby stores across the country and touted as life-saving! So, do you buy them? Not buy them? Who knows!
How many kids wore helmets while riding their bikes when you were younger? Probably zero. But today, not only are helmets essential, they’re also really complicated. Will you opt for a mold or hardshell helmet? Is it designated for both bike and scooter use? Have you picked the right size, with proper ventilation, and a visor to protect them from the sun, with a non-pinch magnetic buckle?
Texting and driving
Eleven teenagers die every day from texting and driving, according to the most recent statistics. In fact, teens are four times more likely than adults to get into a serious or fatal accident while texting and driving.
But that doesn’t mean they’re the only offenders. When your infant or kid is in the back seat and you’re behind the wheel, are you ever tempted to text and drive? 69 percent of adult drivers between 18 and 64 admit they’ve done it. And every time you so much as glance down at your phone, you’re putting your life and your child’s life at risk.
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen
A responsible parent 30 years ago made sure to slather their kids with SPF 4 lotion before a trip to the beach. But today, we know that’s far from enough. Just one sunburn during childhood can double their risk of developing melanoma later in life. So parents agonize over whether to use stick, sprays or lotions, and whether an SPF of 30 is enough or if they should go all the way up to 50.
Also, sunscreen nowadays is meant for any time a kid is in the sun, regardless of whether they’re near a beach or pool. If you’ve forgotten to cover them before they leave the house—and no parent has a perfect sunscreen record—be prepared for the onslaught of guilt that you’ve just doomed your offspring to a future of skin cancer.
Supervision (or lack thereof)
Thirty years, it was not uncommon for parents to say things like, “Just stay in the car while I run into the store for a minute,” or, “Go walk the dog.” Now, both of those things can get you arrested. Last summer, the police were called on suburban mother when she let her 8-year-old daughter take the family dog for a walk. And it’s illegal to leave your child in the car for even five minutes in many states.
Whether it’s SnapChat, Instagram, or Facebook, today’s kids have an endless array of ways to feel insecure and bullied without even leaving their homes. Don’t think your kids are using social media? Think again. A Common Sense Media census report found that about half of U.S. kids are using social media by age 12, and 56 percent of children have their own social media account, including 23 percent of tweens (kids between the ages of 8 and 12). It used to be that kids only had a limited window during the day to feel exposed, misunderstood, and horrible about themselves. Now, thanks to the Internet, they can feel those difficult emotions 24 hours a day!
Movies with an R (or harder) rating were once only available at the theater or a local Blockbuster, and a kid couldn’t see them without being exceptionally clever or devious. But today, with so many streaming platforms available to an average kid, seeing an R-rated movie is far from a challenge to the average adolescent. Why even bother with a rating system when any kid who wants to see Basic Instinct or Get Out has already watched it on their (or even your) phone?
It’s every parent’s nightmare. Even if the odds are against it ever happening at your child’s school, the statistics are enough to keep any parent up at night. A report from the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that more people have been killed in school shootings over the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century.
How much does the world need to know about your child? Apparently everything, judging from the avalanche of photos and updates parents share about their kids online. In everything from blogs to Facebook, parents love to treat their children like mini-celebrities, documenting every move they make and then putting it on the Internet for the world to see. If you’re like most parents, you’ve had moments of doubt and anxiety, wondering if you’re leaving a digital footprint that will haunt your kids for the rest of their lives.
Too much toothpaste
Uh, toothpaste is bad for kids now? Apparently so. Or rather, too much toothpaste, which, according to a 2019 CDC study, can increase a child’s chances of developing fluorosis, a fancy name for discoloration of the teeth, later in life.
So what’s “too much” toothpaste? Anything more than a smear. Can you imagine a parent 30 years ago saying, “Wait, before you brush your teeth, let me see how much toothpaste you’re using. Is it more than a smear but less than a full load? Okay, let’s measure it just to be sure.”
Elf on a Shelf
We’re sorry, was one mythical being who spied on children over the holidays not enough? It’s like somebody took the concept of Santa and said, “Why don’t we spread this out over the entire month? And Santa is a tiny doll that has to be moved around the house, in increasingly creative poses, every day until Christmas?”
Thirty years ago, all a parents had to do was remember to eat the cookies and milk their kids left out for St. Nick. But now, we’re responsible for the never ending journey of a freaking elf who is always staring, unblinking, reminding us, “If you forget to move me tonight, you will single-handedly destroy your child’s belief in Christmas.” And if you need a reminder on how pure a kid’s belief in the big guy in red can be, read The Most Hilarious Letters to Santa of All Time.
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