Childhood in the 21st Century

21st century childhood: a young girl typing on a laptop with a mobile phone beside her.

This post is part of our series on what makes a good childhood.

What are the key factors impacting on childhood today?

The pace of change in the 21st century has been rapid.

Despite children being raised in a time that is firmly focused on the needs and cares of children – with greater awareness and knowledge than ever before on the factors that impact childhood – evidence suggests that Australian children and young people growing up in the 21st century are not faring as well as they could be.

While this century is marked by growing economic prosperity in Australia, and other Western societies, research shows that social inequalities are on the rise, and the health and wellbeing of our children is either static or declining.

These increasingly complex health and social issues are having a profound impact on the wellbeing of children growing up in the 21st century.

Some of the key contributing factors researchers and social commentators have identified as impacting on child wellbeing today include:

  • Greater challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities
  • Weakening parental confidence around parenting
  • Increasing levels of child abuse and family violence
  • Dramatic increases in behaviour disorders, psychological problems and health diseases
  • Security and safety concerns having an impact on our children’s social interactions
  • Schooling accessibility becoming unequal
  • Marked alterations in the nature and amount of work and opportunities for the employment of young people
  • Pressures on affordable housing, particularly public housing
  • Insufficient resilience and coping strategies amongst children and young people
  • The impact of technology and the media.

A parent’s perspective

Research conducted with parents in Australia highlighted several key themes they felt were impacting on childhood in the 21st century:

  • Technology and social media: Many parents attribute the issues they face to be driven by children’s increased access to technology and their inability to adapt and keep up. This often factored as a great source of family conflict.
  • Over-parenting: Children today are assumed to be too sheltered and ‘over parented’. In contrast to the past, children have few responsibilities and very limited opportunities to learn life’s hard lessons. Increased pressure on parents through a wave of parenting resources and training can often be seen as a further burden to parents.
  • Increased work pressure: The pace of life is fast, and seems to be getting faster. A perceived lack of work/life balance is placing greater strains on parenting and family life.
  • Breakdown of community: Communities are assumed to be less safe and less ‘neighbourly’ than in the past, providing parents with less support.

The paradox is that whilst we appear to know more than ever before about what a child needs to achieve the best outcomes in life, 21st century parenting is for many, categorised by a feeling of having diminishing control over the lives of their children, and feeling overwhelmed by the growing complexities impacting on childhood and their ability to manage.

This can make the role of parenting in the 21st century a complex one.

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