The Kids Are All Right: The Dangers of Digital Parenting

“Today’s … teenagers are the most sensitive, least violent, least bullying, least racist, least homophobic, most globally-minded, most compassionate, most environmentally-conscious, least dogmatic, and overall kindest group of young people … ever known.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

Young people these days are wiser than they are frequently given credit for. According to the age-old generational view, however, our young people are out of control and technology is largely to blame. The reality is that schools today deal with issues pertaining to social choices and interactions that can sometimes be misinterpreted as “technology problems”. The popular view — propagated by some scaremongering media sources — is that inappropriate technology use is rampant among today’s youth. The evidence, however, confirms a very different reality. According to Yalda Uhls:

“We may finally be at a tipping point, one we have seen with every introduction of new media. New data from respected social scientists around the world continues to demonstrate that children are adapting and sometimes thriving as they embrace 21st-century media; these small and incremental changes may be building to permanent change. Perhaps now the hysteria will finally come to an end.”

Parental fears, of course, are less about technology itself than its ability to connect their children to many of the social contexts they recall from their own youth. Unsure of the correct balance between their children’s digital autonomy and their own legacy fears, parents frequently equate their child’s online safety with the need for control. Rather than being confronted by a technology problem, we are, if we are honest, looking at a parenting problem.

In her book, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age, Uhls recounts how the difference between a media-rich home and a media-restricted one is not as significant as the actual relationship between parents and children. She cites a recent survey of parents whose approach to technology fell within three categories: (1) active supervision, including setting time limits and filtering; (2) active guidance, involving assistance, rather than restriction; and (3) a laissez faire approach in which parents did not interfere with their children’s digital lives. The survey focused on how these parental styles related to risky online behaviour and concluded that: “Counterintuitively, the children who engaged in the most risky online conduct were the ones whose parents used monitoring.”

While these results may be surprising to some, they do highlight a salient truth: this is a parenting challenge rather than a technology issue. This is not intended as a criticism of parents today. Each generation faces a similar challenge. The realities are not changing. Technology amplifies risky behaviour, it is not the cause of it. Helicopter parents are controlling their children’s lives, not connecting with them. The essence of the real problem is actually a relatively simple one. When we run workshop sessions for parents at our school about their “technology concerns” we usually find that we are not talking about technology at all. We name these sessions, “The Most Important Thing”, that thing being open lines of communication, trust, and personal connections between parents and their children. Where these things exist, the dangerous desire for control dissipates and the kids, more often than not, are all right.

Notes

Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Kids Are All Right.

Yalda T. Uhls, “Parents, Chill. Technology Isn’t Destroying Teens’ Brains.”UCLA Newsroom, December 2, 2015.

Yalda T. Uhls, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.

Image courtesy of: Ginette Methot at https://unsplash.com/collections/309962/analytics

Originally published at crowleym.com on September 18, 2016.