Another related example of rapid and discontinuous change is the reversal of the child and parent roles within the family. Taking on the responsibilities of adulthood has been deferred for longer and longer over recent generations. In part, this is due to a steady continuous growth of print as the dominant means of communication: the learning of adult, professional skills through complex abstract information takes longer than ever before. In part, it is also due to a steady and continuous growth of affluence, which has made possible the deferral of employment until these skills are mastered. However, this has reached something of a tipping-point, into, on the one hand, a fear on the part of biological adults to take on adult responsibilities, and, on the other hand, a digital culture where children are more competent than their parents.
The result is that children now have unprecedented freedom, and unprecedented absence of boundaries. And at the same time that they are being given unprecedented responsibility for their own actions, children are being asked to take on unprecedented responsibility for the actions of their parents – and, for an increasing number of children, to act as carers for their parents.
Again, this is rapid and discontinuous change. And again, it is impacting areas of socioeconomic deprivation as much as areas of socioeconomic affluence. Indeed, in areas where adults have been shut-out of the extended, abstract educational system, and therefore from much employment, children are more likely to spend more time in unsupervised, unstructured freedom, and more likely to be called upon to take on the role of carer.
A recent poll suggests that almost 70% of the population believe that teenagers have too much freedom. The polled sample includes a proportional percentage of teenagers, and parents of teenagers. And this, then, is the issue: that people locate the problem ‘out there’ beyond their ability to influence change, to do anything about it other than resign themselves to accepting the world as it is. In the face of rapid and discontinuous change, people feel helpless, because they are not equipped to navigate through this new world.
There will, however, always be a few who have reached such a kairos that they cannot simply carry on as before. As with the two fathers at the end of my previous post, one man’s kairos – an event that interrupts time - is another man’s mere chronos – an event in ordinary time, of no more significance than the thousands of other events of our daily lives. Some hear the call to repent and believe; the ears of many have been made deaf. We need to learn to spot the few, in the crowd; and, while doing what we can for the crowd, focus our time on equipping the few.