“We refuse to turn off our computers, turn off our phone, log off Facebook, and just sit in silence, because in those moments we might actually have to face up to who we really are.” —Jefferson Bethke
Recently, Allison Slater Tate wrote an important article in the Washington Post: Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything.
Allison articulates and draws attention to a unique struggle facing our generation of parents. Namely, how to raise children in an age of technology.
She sums up our current challenge like this:
My generation, it seems, had the last of the truly low-tech childhoods, and now we are among the first of the truly high-tech parents…
When it comes to parenting, I find this middle place extremely uncomfortable, because I know what childhood and adolescence were like before the Internet, but all my parenting models came from that era…
Technology wins the prize for being the trickiest parenting challenge I have faced.
Parents today know the decisions we make for our kids concerning technology are important—but entirely without context. (tweet that)
Our conversations on the sidelines at soccer games about these issues are never based on proven experience (When I was a kid, my mom used to…). Instead, it is based on guesswork and the little wisdom we have gained (Well, this is what we have decided to do. What about you guys?).
Allison summarizes it well, “ What we are doing is unprecedented—no study yet knows exactly what this iChildhood will look like when our children are full grown people.”
There are no proven answers to the questions we are asking. That’s what makes this so difficult. Well, that, and the fact that even the questions are changing at an alarming rate.
But a conversation about technology addiction is one we should be having. Not because we will all choose to parent the same, but because there is wisdom in numbers. And the more intentionality we apply to our parenting the better.
I would like to start. My children are 12 and 8.
Here are 9 important strategies we have sought to implement raising children in an age of technology:
1. Technology is not discouraged in our home. Technology, it appears, is going to be around for quite awhile. Our kids will need the skills in the future—they already do in the present. Parenting is not about shielding our children from the tools of the world, but equipping them to use those tools properly. We should be active and intentional in teaching them how to use technology effectively and to its fullest potential. In practical terms, this means both of my children received iPods on their 7th birthday. And they will receive phones on their 13th.
2. Moderation is encouraged and modeled. While we know very little about the future of technology and how it might look, we do have ample study on the effects of screen time on kids: Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. Most recently, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends television and other entertainment media should be avoided entirely for infants and children under age 2. For older kids, “To help them make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet for both duration and content.” We have adopted a similar philosophy to the one mentioned by Allison, “We make the children sit in public places when they are on devices or laptops, we look over shoulders, we check text message histories and set parental controls. We worry about their cyber footprints.”
3. Age restrictions on technology are an appropriate guideline. The minimum age for Facebook / Instagram is 13 years old. We are not allowing our kids to have accounts on those networks (or others) before the minimum age limit is reached. While some kids under the age of 13 may be mature enough to use the networks wisely, there is a bigger issue at play—honesty. When we allow our children to misrepresent their age/identity solely for the purpose of gaining access, we set a dangerous precedent.
4. Technology is changing the way we relate to one another, but face-to-face conversation is still important in the present (and will likely be important in the future). Technology is permanently changing the way we communicate—whether it is for the better or not remains to be seen. Older generations will argue technology is destroying conversation, younger generations will argue technology is enhancing it. Only time will tell. But either way, our children will forever live in a world where their immediate elders (parents) respect and expect verbal conversation. Future generations may value it less. But in the meantime, for our children to be successful in communicating with older generations, they must be able to communicate both online and in-person. We should create safe opportunities where they can learn.
5. Technology increases opportunity for distraction. From leaving present conversations, procrastinating important work, or losing the ability to self-reflect, technology represents an ever-present temptation to leave difficult places. Those who will succeed in the future will be the ones who learn to overcome this temptation.
6. Technology can be used for consumption or creation. Choose creation whenever possible. This is, perhaps, one of the most important distinctions concerning technology that we can teach our children. We can play video games… or we can create them. We can browse Facebook… or we can create places and communities that serve a purpose. There is a place in our world for technological consumption—but as an approach to life, creation trumps consumption every day. Help your children know the difference.
7. Your self-worth can not be calculated by likes and shares and retweets. The praise of others is a fickle thing upon which to measure our worth. It is a foolish, ever-changing target. It often negatively impacts the decisions we make and the life we choose to live, but it never fully satisfies our hearts or our souls. It is important for our kids to understand their self-worth must be found elsewhere. And it is equally important for us as adults to learn the same.
8. You can’t believe everything you see on the Internet. The Internet could use more fact checkers—though I am not overly concerned about this. My elementary-aged kids already debate whether Wikipedia is a reliable source for school projects. Far more damaging, in my opinion, are the profiles we create representing ourselves online. We post our most glorious moments online, but hide the most painful. We build a facade of happiness, success, and an image of having it all together. But inside, we are as lost and broken as the next person. Our online selves need more authenticity. And our children need to know the danger of comparing themselves to the rose-colored profiles created on social media.
9. Technology serves a purpose. It should solve problems. Purchasing technology purely for the sake of owning technology is a fool’s gold—and has run countless others into great debt. When it comes to buying (or using) technology, I want my children to be routinely asking the question, “What problem does it solve?” Because technology should make our lives easier and more efficient. And if a new technology is not solving an existing problem, it is only adding to them.
Parenting requires a healthy balance of humility and fierce resolve.
Are there any important strategies you have implemented with your kids that you think are important to add?