Technology surrounds us and now encompasses most aspects of our lives. The pace of change has been incredible. If you are reading this blog, you are doing something that only became mainstream within the last 10 years. The newness of iPods, tablets, laptops, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and everything in between can be quite exciting. However, it presents a particular challenge to families.
Every day, I meet with children and parents who are confronted by difficulties in managing the impact that technology has on our lives. As parents, we are faced with parenting in the context of things that, for the most part, did not exist when we were children. We therefore do not have experience to draw on when we parent our own children.
Not only has the rapidity of technology changes left parents afloat, it has also severed “safety nets” for children. Conversations that once took place on a house phone, that a parent could pick up and monitor, now occur without possible monitoring – and with pictures and video to boot. Teens make choices and act on them faster than their brains are programmed to do, making good decisions more elusive.
Admittedly, this is a very complex topic and far too involved to cover fully in this blog. However, I did want to take the opportunity to share two particular issues where parenting and technology intersect in the work I do with families: the first and most important concerns safety, and the second and most common involves sleep.
From the earliest moments of our children’s lives, we are confronted by challenges and choices to try to ensure our children’s well-being. Breast or bottle? Organic or conventional? Stay home, family, nanny or daycare? The list goes on endlessly. By the time children are old enough to use the computer, surf the web, have their own iPod or even just play with your smartphone, we have already made thousands of choices to try to protect them.
With this in mind, I encourage parents to look at electronic devices that can connect to the internet as a crack or a hole in the wall of that safety we have tried to build for our children. Cyberbullying, sexting, pornography and predators are not things that occur just in the media; they are common issues that involve our children in our communities. The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) has conducted surveys of children in the Commonwealth. Here are just a few of the eye-opening statistics that they have reported:
- 46% of students reported that they had bullied or cyberbullied someone during high school
- 36% of girls and 26% of boys reported having sent a nude picture
- Of these, 50% of the girls and 38% of the boys said they sent it because they were pressured, coerced, blackmailed, or threatened
- 40% of girls and 29% of boys said they delete texts off their cellphones before giving it to their parents to be “checked”
Faced with this information, parents will naturally ask, “What do I do about this?” My first response is to make sure that all internet access is done in a public place. This means computers are kept in the family area, and access to the internet, YouTube, videochat, etc. is turned off on your children’s personal devices. While this is not the whole answer, and the more complete answer is neither quick nor easy, a good starting point is to educate yourself about these issues. A few resources to help you:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics “SafetyNet” website features a Frontline episode about this issue and provides links to several information and education sites.
- In reviewing some of the sites, I found the NetSmartz Workshop developed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to be the most complete, accessible and covered a wide variety of issues.
Another interesting statistic presented by MARC is that “80% of girls and 71% of boys reported that they texted or surfed online late at night during high school, when their parents thought they were asleep.” The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that “lack of sleep can have a major impact on physical health, school performance, test scores and mood. Tired teens are more likely to be involved in automobile crashes as well.” Again, parents may ask, “What can I do?” I recommend to the families I work with that they have their children “park” their devices (anything on which you can play a game, watch video, access the internet, talk, text or chat) in their parents’ room overnight. I usually recommend starting when children are young and continuing until they can drive.
As parents, we are challenged to allow our children the freedom to experience and explore our complicated world while also doing so safely. I hope that this bit of information might be helpful to you in negotiating this complex area.