Hyper-connectivity has changed parenting for millennials in some very challenging ways.
Parennials. The term is popping up all over the place right now in magazines and marketing jargon. It’s a cross between the words “parents” and “millenials,” and refers to the hyper-connected generation born in the 1980s and 1990s who are now discovering the joy of being parents. Weaned on all-connectedness and fed by GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple), they have a completely different approach to parenting than previous generations.
The term “parennials” first appeared in November 2017 in a New York Times article titled “App Time for Nap Time: The Parennials are here,” which describes the new habits of young parents. Mothers’ advice and grandma’s remedies are a thing of the past; apps and chat rooms are much faster, more efficient and more comprehensive.
Rebecca Parlakian, director of the Zero to Three program—an organization that has been studying new parents for more than 40 years—was quoted in the NYT article saying: “Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbor, the new nanny.”
Sounds exaggerated? Not really.
The new grandmother
While for centuries, mothers were the first to lovingly pass on to their daughters the secret of preparing a bottle or essential tips for changing a diaper, this is no longer the case. Young first-time mothers need only a few taps on their smartphone screen to view a tutorial or inquire about the latest WHO recommendations. They only trust the authorities they find on the internet or on social networks. Fast, free, and effective! New parents have unlimited access to information that even the greatest expert can’t compete with.
On the flip side, parennials have to deal with a flow of information—often anxiety-inducing, sometimes false—that ends up increasing their already historically high stress rate. And that’s without counting the comparisons they can’t help but make via apps like Wonder Weeks, which alerts you when when your child is expected to cross a significant cognitive threshold. Their reference point in child raising is no longer their mother or grandmother, but Google and its ilk.
The new neighbor
In the past, new mothers shared their maternal or parenting questions and concerns with their friends, their neighbors, or their peers. Now, there’s no need for them to pick up their phone or chat on the sidewalk, exposed to the elements; the internet is full of groups and forums where they can pour out all their personal problems. And if you’re really looking for a little humanity, there are efficient tools — apps like WeMoms geolocate moms in the neighborhood likely to match your profile.
While we shouldn’t underestimate the practical side of this new kind of communication, we should also pay attention to the friendships that are woven through this type of conversation. It’s undoubtedly a shame not to take advantage of a breastfeeding question or a dilemma about a diaper brand to cultivate friendships, which are strengthened by these highly metaphysical questions. Google is obviously the new friend of many parennials, but we must be careful that it doesn’t not become the only friend.
The new nanny
Long past is the time when it took a dozen phone calls to friends of friends (a week in advance) to find a baby sitter. A single message posted on a dedicated app on the same day, and voilà, all you have to do now is choose what looks like the “best” from among several profiles. Parennials are all about efficiency and perfection. So when they read on the resume of a potential babysitter that the candidate has a certificate in early childhood care and is the eldest of 10 brothers and sisters, they feel reassured.
Beyond the efficiency and speed sought through hyper-connectedness, there is a certain ideal of perfection that underlies this new way of being a parent. We want the best advice, the best information, the best babysitter … With its clever, undisputed and unquestionable algorithms, the internet is an indispensable reference point for child rearing. Through this marvelous tool, parennials aim for perfect parenting, and consequently the perfect child. The only thing left for the older generation is the chance to warn them that IRL (In Real Life), the perfect child, just like the perfect parent, doesn’t exist.