The Virtual Village

~ By Dr. Vinita Bhargava, Professor, University of Delhi


I have been curious about the flourishing of on online parenting platforms and was excited when a student of mine decided to take it up as her Masters research topic. The key objective was to look at why more and more parents are taking to understanding parenthood through this medium rather than the traditional wisdom handed down by their parents. What seems to be my hunch and to some extent supported by her work is that with so much mobility and distance young parents do find themselves quite alone in the task of parenting. I did find this in my own journey as an adoptive parent but that was a good 33 years ago when very few families came out in the open about adoption. I believed this would be true in case of other alternate forms of parenting but not so. Niche issues in parenting such as sleep challenges, feeding challenges, activities of different age groups and discipline issues have their own special platforms. Most parents also believe that their own parents are a bit out dated in their vision of what parenthood is about in this brave new world of technology, may be true. Several friends of mine who went to foreign lands to help their offspring’s deliver their babies learnt soon enough to stay off giving unsolicited wisdom and instead helped in other household chores. The belief in online wisdom for the young today was much like how we believed utterly in the print medium, “It is a fact- because I read it in black and white”.

Two challenges are emerging; one, that many such platforms are becoming great commercial spaces where ambiguity in parental wisdom gets blurred by other vested interests. Several years ago when I had done some research in the Maldives on best practices in parenting that were promoted by an international NGO we found similar results. Most parents could not differentiate between the messages that were meant to be “educational” and those that were advertisements by the baby food industry or others on television.

The second more serious one rests on the belief by many child development experts that, “It takes a village” to bring up a child. But can this village be in the virtual space? Friends, family and good neighbours who gave not only advice but support in the child caring process became the go-to persons when the child became a rebellious teenager. Parents take on a secondary role as a child moves to adulthood but in this journey, mentorship is a key thing. A loving aunt, a doting grand-mom, an indulgent grand dad, an older cousin, hold this position for the child in traversing the journey of growing up. While it is possible for a bewildered young parent to find kindred souls in the virtual world who can help and support through a rough patch, the enveloping presence of an actual, physical 'village' can never truly, be replaced.

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