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In my last blog post I speculated about how kids would be born and raised in the centuries to come. Will children still be conceived and gestated within human bodies or in test tubes and vats? If we manage to extend the lifespan of existing people indefinitely, will we even want to bring any new human beings into the world?

What about for the rest of this century? How will child care evolve?

Much has been made of the idea that future kids could have robot caregivers. Certainly a lot of wealthy and upper-middle-class urban kids have nannies now, but as I mentioned last time, I think climate change and the shrinking number of jobs for humans will reverse the social pressure to have kids, so much fewer people will try to raise children while struggling to stay employed. I also don’t expect sophisticated robots to ever become an affordable consumer item for most people (sorry Jetsons fans). A truly effective robot nanny/tutor/bodyguard would need to have artificial intelligence of a high level, maybe conscious, maybe not, but with growing concerns about artificial intelligences we may be reluctant to entrust our children to them. Instead, we’ll see more and more tech to help parents look after their own kids. A new app called ChatterBaby uses algorithms formulated from more than 2000 audio samples of babies crying, to not only help parents know when their baby is crying (important for deaf couples) but also the likeliest reason for the cries, based on their sound. Sensing and analysis technology like this might not free parents to leave their kids alone, but could loosen the tether a little bit, and with 1 in 4 US children and just over 1 in 5 Canadian kids being raised by single parents, every bit of assistance is welcome. As to that statistic, technology that connects people is already fostering a trend toward communal parenting: support networks drawn, not from blood relations as in the past, but people with common interests and values. A number of apps already assist with “co-parenting”. The term “single parenting” might soon become irrelevant, and the definition of “family” will be even broader than it is today.

Robot teachers? More likely, immersive virtual reality environments will be used to provide teaching scenarios, using very realistic situations for instruction rather than a classroom lesson/lecture-type method.

So will you ever be able to pry your kid away from their video screens and get them to apply themselves to their homework again? Well, with every form of information available electronically, the days of cramming facts into kids’ heads simply have to come to an end—there’s no point. What will remain important is teaching kids how to connect information, draw impressions, solve problems, and apply what they learn to life and work. That certainly doesn’t have to involve electronic screens or their equivalent. In fact, just as today’s young adults have been opting more and more to spend their discretionary money on experiences instead of things, I predict our educational systems will slowly work in that direction too. They’re just incredibly ponderous institutions to change.

What about parental monitoring of kids 24/7? Some already use apps that track their kids’ phones by GPS, others are scandalized by it. (For apps and devices now available, check out this article and this one.) Sorry, but such things are here to stay and will only get more intrusive. Whether or not the world really has become a more dangerous place for kids, that perception has become much too deeply ingrained into our collective psyche. It’s not going to go away. So as technology increasingly allows Mom and Dad to monitor their child’s location, activity, companions, and indeed every interaction, it will be used and will become virtually universal. Privacy for kids will cease to exist, yes, but then a huge percentage of the current adult population willingly gives up their privacy every day, thanks to social media, corporate reward programs, and numerous other temptations. So resistance (to ever-more invasive technology) is futile!

What kind of people will all of these changes produce? That I can’t predict. I don’t think it’s going far out on a limb to say that fewer children being born to those not fully committed to parenthood should result in fewer maladjusted adults. Revamped educational systems should produce more engaged learners who embrace the lifelong learning process that will be required of them. But as with any major shift in process and technology, there will be bumps along the road. So psychiatrists, social workers, and cops won’t find themselves out of work anytime soon.


I read this week about a website called modamily.com (as in modern family) that promotes what’s called “non-romantic co-parenting”. The idea is that the website will match you up with someone who has similar goals and principles regarding parenting so the two of you can co-parent a child without any romantic relationship whatsoever. All important details of the arrangement (including the method of conception) would be worked out ahead of time, of course. I guess it’s kind of like a divorce settlement without the animosity.

Our concept of the family has been changed by the high divorce rate, adoption, surrogate parenting, gay marriage and who knows what else? If people are willing to have non-romantic parenting arrangements, why stop at a couple? In this world of the internet, why not half-a-dozen or more parents from various parts of the globe united in raising one child? (Though imagine the grief of having six parents tell you to clean up your room!) Sooner or later someone will try this. Whether or not they should is another question.

SF writers have been trying to imagine future approaches to parenting for decades. Many stories and novels have offered parental arrangements that don’t include co-habiting with each other or the children. Brave New World and numerous others have featured laboratory fertilization and gestation, with the child-rearing handled by entities like daycare centers and sometimes even by robot caregivers. I noticed that the newest Superman movie Man Of Steel showed that type of system in use on Krypton. The question of parenting in space colonies or colony ships has always been an issue because children would be few, the group very close, and there may be compelling reasons for parenting duties to be shared among more than just the two genetic parents. There’s even some precedent for this in small tribal cultures where paternity can often be in doubt. What’s next? Once gestation is taken out of the womb, will it really matter who our “natural” parents are? Perhaps parents will be chosen by the state.

One of the great joys of parenting is watching that little being, from your own flesh and blood, grow and develop and achieve. It works the other way around, too, with children being proud of their parents, wanting to be like them. There’s no question that role-modeling is important to child development. Sons often want to grow up to be “just like Dad”. But say a child on a spaceship crew doesn’t know who his father is. I suspect he’ll choose the man who best represents the qualities he wants in a dad, and emulate him. What if all of the children chose the same guy (the manly and brave captain, no doubt)? Then, with both genetics and behavior, we’d be messing with the mostly random variety that evolution has directed up to this point.

In many cultures family is everything. We use phrases like “blood is thicker than water” to say that blood ties demand the ultimate loyalty. Evolution is behind this, too. But can bonds like that survive forms of family structure that have no basis in genetics or even living under the same roof? And won’t society suffer without them?

The old/new-again expression claims “it takes a village to raise a child”. In these days of the “global village”, it’s pretty hard to predict how all of this will turn out.