Parenting in the Technological Era
In the 21st century – The Information Age – technology is advancing at a faster pace than it ever has in the history of human civilization. For most of our time on earth, great leaps in technology were separated by enormous spans of years that most of us learned in school as The Ages of Humanity. Our progression from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the Iron Age took tens of thousands of years. But recent history has been quite different. In little more than one hundred years, the human race has gone from horseback and sailboats to steam engines, railroads, airplanes and automobiles.
We’ve even left our home on earth and sent people to the Moon and rovers to Mars. And just this year we landed a spacecraft on a comet hurtling through space. Here in the U.S., in 50 short years we’ve gone from a country where television was a novelty to a country where televisions are everywhere. They’re in grocery store checkout lines, gas stations, and on subway platforms. In only 20 years we’ve gone from a society where computers were a relatively big deal to a society where carrying a pocket-sized computer is considered normal. These rapid advances in technology affect our lives on so many levels that it’s hard to find an area modern technology does not touch. For those of us with children, there’s one aspect of life technology has reached that we need to take a moment to consider: parenting.
Parents and Kids: Computers, Televisions and Smartphones
Technology suffuses our kids’ lives. Most school classrooms have computer terminals where kids can do research, play educational games or get help with their essential ABCs. Also, many classrooms have whiteboards upon which a computer desktop display can be projected for the entire class. Teenagers text one another regularly, and most middle school and high school students submit homework and projects online. Technology is likewise intertwined in the lives of most families. Kids watch cartoons. Parents surf the Internet on tablets, laptops and computers. And almost everyone uses a cellphone or smartphone. To put it all in a nutshell, modern technology influences the way we:
- Spend Free Time
So what does all this have to do with parenting?
In a word, everything.
Just Google It
Up until very recently, parents had a more direct hand in the way their kids learned, communicated, and spent their free time than they do now. In terms of learning, kids used to go to their parents for everything. They asked parents for anything from help with homework to random questions about life and the world around them. Now, it’s tempting for them to simply “google” something. And it’s also tempting for parents to do the same thing. In terms of communication, this means not only things like talking on the phone and texting, but also more essential communication around rules, discipline and family expectations.
In the past, parents got creative. Now, it’s tempting to use the computer, phone, or television as both a positive and negative consequence. Taking away technology is a common negative consequence, while allowing extra tech time is a common positive reward. In terms of free time, kids and adults spend a great deal of time using technology separately. They also spend a great deal of time using technology as a family unit. From movies to computer games and everything in between, many families often spend more time around a computer screen than they do around a dinner table. And they spend more time watching movies than doing recreational activities outdoors.
A Mindful Approach to Technology
The goal of this article is not to bemoan the evils of modern technology. Rather, it’s to urge parents to ask themselves if and how technology has made its way into their parenting practices. Technology is wonderful, and sometimes everyone needs a little break from life: kids can benefit from watching cartoons and parents can benefit from a little “me” time while kids watch those cartoons.
There’s no doubt that a game of Wii can be a great family bonding experience. However, just as everyone needs a little life-break from time to time, families who unconsciously become reliant on technology also need a break from that technology from time to time. Parents can remind themselves that the payoff of unplugging for even a little while is huge.
The experts confirm that children of all ages respond positively to three things. The undivided attention and adoration of an adult who loves them, clear and open communication about rules, expectations and consequences, and time outdoors getting exercise. It’s important to note that the most effective way to accomplish the first two of these three things does not involve technology at all: they’re best done person-to-person and face-to-face. Finally, the third thing on the list—spending time outdoors getting exercise—is by definition technology-free. While it’s important to recognize that our modern gadgets are helpful, fun and practical, it’s just as important to look up from the screen, keyboard or TV, make a connection with someone you love and bring things back to basics: simple, honest connections between human beings.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.