Parenting in the Digital Age: Two Problems with Technology

05/31/2011 By Shawn Burns

We’ve been hearing, and worrying, for years about the irresponsible and scary ways kids and teens use digital technology. They send inappropriate, and permanently scarring, texts and Facebook updates. They engage in cyber-bullying. They record video of themselves beating the hell out of each other and then upload it boastfully to video-sharing sites. They have been over-sharing personal information. They are over-consuming digital media, resulting in obesity and behaviourial problems and plummeting grades. Often these problems are blamed on parents not paying enough attention to what their kids are doing with digital technology. Parents just don’t understand, aren’t savvy enough, or are too distracted themselves. Parents aren’t exerting enough control over what their kids do with technology.

But parents can easily become too involved in their kids’ lives, or so many parents and experts are saying in response to a new wave of digital monitoring of student performance, and social media engagement between parents and teachers. CNN asks “Do schools share too much with parents?“. Some parents love being able to see every assignment their child is supposed to complete, what grades are being posted for every element of coursework, and what teachers are willing to share about classroom activities, using Twitter or Facebook. Parents can be involved in the classroom in a way they never have before. What’s more, they don’t have to ask their kids “So, how was school today?” They already know. This, says some experts, increases the anxiety and overall dread kids feel about their oppressive school experience: they have no control. They cannot spin the message. They know they will catch hell for a grade as soon as they get home. Parents have too much control, are hovering too much.

The premise of the second problem interacts strangely with the premise of the first problem. Are parents too controlling, or not controlling enough? Are they savvy about technology or not? Are they controlling about some thing (grades), but neglectful about other things (kids using iPhones)? Are they not actually too controlling at all even about school? Are they not actually neglectful about the way their kids use technology?

Each relationship is different, of course. But just as each air molecule has a different relationship with its neighbours, that doesn’t mean we can’t tell which way the wind is blowing. What does your weather-vane say about this?