Parenting in the Digital Age: Two Problems with Technology

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?

8 thoughts on “Parenting in the Digital Age: Two Problems with Technology”

  1. As a mom of 7, I ask this question daily!  Too much phone? Too much FB? Too little supervision? Do kids need privacy? It's a big messy thing, and as parents, it's up to us, to know our kids, and experiment to see what works. I, for one, do not check grades at the high school level, but I do for the elementary schools. I do monitor my 15 yr olds phone usage, but the 17 yr has a bit more leeway. Computer is in a central location and is password protected as well as filtered. I admit I am more watchful of my son on the computer and my daughters phones. No one has any 'i' anythings, and no personal technologies are in their rooms. I know I'm more strict than some in a few ways, but, in the end, I count on intuition a lot to help me parent.

  2. $228,000.

    For your child. If you stay involved, and resist other parents who fuss about not wanting violate their child's
    privacy or to be thought of by other parents as a helicopter parent.
    Would you do that for your child?

    Yes, your child is university material—if you're savvy enough to be reading blog comments, you and your child have what it takes. That $228,000 is what they call the Cost of Attendance in today's dollars for four years at a good-to-great private university at the current going rate (tuition, room, board, fees, two plane trips home a year, and some pocket cash).

    There's $228,000 waiting for your child from a good university. For the asking. All you have to do to get it is be involved in your child's education, learn about and understand the use and misuse of digital tech by kids and schools, guide your child to grow in their relationships and and be involved in healthy activities outside the classroom, educate yourself about the university process (middle school grades are the dry run, and freshman is high school is show time), and, again, occasionally resist other parents who fuss about not wanting violate their child's privacy or to be thought of by other parents as a helicopter parent. Would you do that work for your kid?

    It's an open secret that a private university is cheaper than going to a state school or to community college first. Your child doing well in school and in life is the key to admission. You are your child's best hope. Well off parents can pay professionals to make sure their kid is on this track, but you can do it for free. It was true when I went to university and it's true now, as my kids are going through the process.

    In addition, many good private universities now waive all payment contributions from families of any student admitted if the annual family income is below a certain amount, like $50,000, and set low payments for incomes up to ranges like $100,000 a year. Investigate.

    No, your child's school will not do this for you. They're spread too thin trying to help too many kids with
    uninvolved parents. The school may even occasionally get in
    your way.

    It doesn't mean having to be volunteering inside the classroom or being the coach or den leader for every kid activity. Your child can benefit from other involved adults too. But isn't that kind of money worth struggling with the issue of the child's privacy and risking being viewed by other parents as a helicopter parent? There's $228,000 and a well-launched child in it for you.

  3. There are both types of parents in the world, but at this point, I fear the uninterested parents far outweigh the helicopter parents.  

  4. I guess I would be one of those "helicopter" parents.  *Sigh*  
    I'm not involved in daily classroom goings on but I am on top of all things brought home.  Granted, my kid is only turning 6 this summer so I think my hovering and being in the know of EVERYTHING he is doing is appropriate.  However, I hate feeling like the mom who is always pulling her kid aside to "discuss" what behavior is acceptable and what is not when no one else seems to be doing that.  I'm like the killer of fun.  :(Mind you, I'll take that over having a hellion later.  Privacy is fine when doing solo activities… i.e reading, bathroom, etc.  Socializing, in any form, should not require a closed door.  Just my opinion.

  5. It strikes me that this is the same problem. Kids and parents are both trying to "solve" problems that they do not yet have the answers to with new technology as it becomes available.

    For kids, they are still learning how to interact with each other. The problem cases you cite are almost entirely down to interactions using tools that parents did not have when they were young. We can understand bullying on the playground — we've been there, as the bullied, the bully, or the witness — but cyber-bullying is new territory, and the parent does not know what to look for, or what can be done about it.

    For parents, they are learning how to deal with having kids, and this is where they use the technology. Just as the parent does not know how to deal with the intersection of technology and kids, the teacher — most of whom have been working since before we knew what a Tweet is — have not yet figured out the best way to deal with the technology and let parents lead the way.

    Social media – the type of technology in question here – does not have an intended application, which means that users need to find their own application. It should not surprise that kids use it to address the problems they face, and that parents have trouble following that. The parents already solved those same problems as kids, but without that technology.

    Ditto parents solving the problem of identifying how their kids are doing in school, confronted with teachers who have decades of pre-Twitter experience, who might not have figured out yet that lines have been re-drawn.

  6. Helicopter parenting is bad.  It breeds children who are incapable of making decisions.  My first brush with this was a college roommate who would call his mom every night.  Every decision he made had to be bounced off of his mom.  He would get into huge fights with his mom on the phone.  It was pathetic.  And that was over 20 years ago.

    I have heard about parents who go to summer job interviews with their kids.  Parents who call university professors to bitch about their kids' grades and homework.

    You can find these kids at every age though.  I see it all the time when I ask a 5 year old or a 10 year old a question, and the parent answers immediately.  Or, if the parent isn't listening or paying attention, the child, when asked a question, will turn and look at the parent rather than even trying to answer.  It never occurs to these over dominated kids that they have an opinion, or have any right to say anything without consulting Mommy or Daddy.

    Teach independence.  And if you are trying to justify acting like this, you are creating a zombie.

  7. Great post and thoughtful comments.  I'm a few days late to the conversation but this is a nerve for a lot of parents.  There is definitely a fine balance when raising children and the influence of technology – much of it depending on the age of said child.  Should toddlers and preschoolers need access to iPhone games or should they be focused on the great outdoors?  Are you giving your pre-teen enough space to explore the web without ignorning compromising discipline you've instilled in order to garner trust between the two of you before the teenage years set in and the battles get heavy?  I've seen up close the ramifications of what results when a parent takes it as far as doing their teenagers homework projects to be assured they get the A and can enter a top private university (they get through 2 years  of coursework in 4 years time and then are allowed to enter the family business, and we just don't "talk" about that degree that was never received). 

    I truly believe that the basis of how my parents raised me in the 70s and 80s gave me a fantastic foundation for launching from a small parochial environment into a huge public university.  And at that time, the technology available was DOS programmed.  I now co-manage our IT needs for a medium sized family owned company, all of it self taught.  I know that I want my children to be saavy tech-wise, but I also know that I want their foundation to be personal contact, not text.  Without those skills, they may have a great job someday, but no life.  And isn't it life that's what is truly worth living?

  8. As long as we keep asking, we're good. Means we're paying attention, that we care, that it matters to us. (Us being parents.) Kids absolutely want to know we are paying attention, even if they pretend they don't. That's everything.

    Great post!



Comments are closed.