Parenting In the Digital Age

A colleague recently told me of his 4 year old son’s near scathing experience with YouTube. He and many other parents I know worry about how their children use the Internet and what outside influences they might be exposed to. And while the Internet is perhaps the most dominant demonstration of technology, it is not even the entire technological picture. I saw a post on Facebook the other day about a 9 month old baby who was so glued to cartoons that his dad was wondering if he understood a thing being said. Add texting and video games, and parental despair spirals into hair-raising proportions.

The good old days!

Gone are the days of outdoor games like Alikoto, Pilolo, Police and thief, Kpitinge, Pimpinaa, Antoakyire etc. When our imaginations were so rife we invented our own worlds!  Collecting toffee wrappers to be used as currency and cooking from tins.

The culture now

Today’s children and parents are different. The technological force on the 21st century family is fracturing its very foundation, and causing a breakdown of core values that long ago were the structure that held families together. Sometimes the pressure on families is unbearable as they have to juggle school, work, home, and community lives.  Parents now rely heavily on communication, information, and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more efficient. Technology enables parenting on autopilot and now serves as a baby-sitter for our kids.

Four critical factors necessary to achieve healthy child development are movement, touch, human connection, and exposure to nature. Most children now rely heavily on technology for the majority of their play.  Such children tend to be limited in terms of challenges to their creativity and imaginations.  Over exposure to technology also limits the tasking of their bodies to achieve sensory and motor development. Scientist are pointing accusing fingers at these inactive bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation as the causes in delays in attaining child developmental milestones, with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young are entering school struggling with self regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for teachers in the classroom.

 

The great new day!

Technology, when properly harnessed however, can bring families closer together. The Internet has created a nearly unlimited access to knowledge for our children that help them learn and grow like never before.  Kids who are visual learners can watch a video presentation as research for a school project, while teens can stay connected to their relatives across the globe through video chat platforms. Modern parents can look for ways that technology meets the developmental needs of their children, suggests PBS Parents. Teens, for example, are working to carve out an identity for themselves, and parents may decide to allow room for safe and creative self-expression through certain online channels.

 HELPFUL PARENTING STRATEGIES

Jim Taylor, PhD, author of “Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-Fueled World,” published in 2012, encourages parents to assess both the frequency and content of technology exposure. Taylor also challenges parents to gauge the limitations and guidelines they set on technology usage while looking for ways to balance that exposure with other beneficial life experiences and influences. Time spent immersed in technology should not outweigh time spent pursuing physical activities, family togetherness and social activities with peers. Many families choose to craft a media policy that clearly outlines acceptable uses of technology and the consequences of any violations.

Parenting expert Vicki Shotbolt, founder of The Parent Zone, gives the following tips for successful online parenting.

  1. How can parents support their children to use social networks safely and responsibly?

“Managing friendships and dealing with relationships can be tricky no matter how old you are. Social networks can make it so much more complicated.

There are some basic rules you should discuss with your children such as:

  • treating people online in the same way as you would face-to-face
  • remembering that privacy controls are there for a reason
  • talk about what they should share, and what they might want to keep private
  • show how things like privacy tools can help.

Don’t assume they know more than you – children don’t always know how to use blocking and reporting tools. So it’s your job to find out what the tools are on the services your children use.”

  1. How should parents change their digital parenting as their child gets older?

“Responding to your child’s changing needs can be the toughest part of parenting. Finding that your teenage son or daughter would rather not talk to you about things can be hurtful. Letting them take their first independent steps – like trips to the shops – can feel terrifying.

“What’s important is to remember that good parenting is about unconditional support and love. You don’t have to know everything they’re doing to still be the major influence in their life.

“Children need to develop their independence, take risks and find their own ways to cope with things. There comes a point when it isn’t possible to keep track of what your child does online. You’ll be relying on things you taught them early on, and doing everything you can to make sure they know you’re there if they need you.”

 

  1. What advice would you give parents whose child got their first tablet or Smartphone?

“Your child’s first tablet or Smartphone gives you a great opportunity. You can sit together and decide which controls you’re going to set up. You can make sure you feel confident that they’re ready to explore the online world on a very personal device.

“Talk to them about which apps they can download, how you’re going to manage costs and what they should do if they see something that upsets them.”

“Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to just hand it over in the box. Get involved in the setup because once it’s done the opportunities gone.”

 

ADULTS ARE ALSO ABUSING TECHNOLOGY!

When you check in on Facebook during a conversation, it often means checking out of whatever interaction you might have with the person sitting right across the table. According to research published by clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle in her 2012 book “Alone Together”, “parents were just as guilty — if not more so — than kids and teens of failing to unplug and connect in meaningful, face-to-face ways”.

STRIKING THE BALANCE

“Turkle advises creating “sacred spaces” in daily life where parents and children give one another their full, undivided attention. She points to the dinner table and the car as two possible spaces where technology should be deliberately left aside and attention refocused. Modeling the responsible use of technology is a powerful way parents teach their children to establish healthy relationships with tech tools”.

 

Wrapping up

Brandie Johnson, put a post on Facebook on 2nd November, 2015. It has since garnered 80,963 shares! It was an experiment she conducted with her twin boys. The following are the contents:

Today I did an experiment, I watched my boys play. As I sat quietly in the corner of the room I tallied how many times they looked at me for various reasons: to see if I saw their cool tricks, to seek approval or disapproval for what they were doing, and to watch my reactions. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was on some sort of technology what message would I have been sending? 28 times my angels would have wondered if the World Wide Web was more important than them. 28 times my boys would have not received the attention most adults are searching for. 28 times my loves would have questioned if they were alone emotionally. 28 times my kids would have been reassured that who you are online is what really matters. In a world where we are accepted as who people perceive us to be and not who we really are, in a world where validation comes from how many followers or likes we have, in a world where quality time with loved ones is being replaced by isolation and text messages from the other room, I beg you to be different. Please put down your technology and spend some time with your family & loved ones. The next generation of children is counting on us to teach them how to be adults, don’t be too busy on social media, you never know who is watching and what message you are sending”.

It is our duty as parents to safeguard our families, harness the benefits of technology and strike the delicate balance for the growth of our families. Kindly share your comments and experiences on www.exactmedia.wordpress.com. Thank you and have a fruitful week!

Check Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk on “Connected, but alone”

Sources: http://www.nspcc.org.uk

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