Do changes to the modern world mean changes to the way we parent? There is no doubt parenting has always been the most challenging of all our endeavours and will more than likely continue along that path. Have recent changes in technology however, and in particular the development of the internet and the world of social networking, made these endeavours easier or harder to parent?
As I watch my ‘not yet 2 year old’ effortlessly flick through the screens of the ipad to find his favourite Thomas the Tank app, I am left swallowing the pangs of guilt as I heave myself away from my iphone to read a story with him. In the background the television is blaring out a report of a young girl being assaulted by another young teenage girl after repeatedly being bullied via Facebook.
The technology our children and ourselves are becoming immersed in is not a passing fad. The platforms may change and it will continue to develop, but the essential workings of the internet and social networking are here to stay.
There is no denying the rise in technology has left us with the problems of cyberbullying, stalking, sexting, harassment, embarrassment, computer game addictions, online privacy issues, large phone and gadget bills, not to mention a plethora of inappropriate web material made easily and readily available to the suspecting and unsuspecting eyes of our youth. Homework tasks are superseded by social networking distractions. Children are becoming more and more inactive as they spend more time staring at screens and less time running around outside, and little imaginations are waning as they no longer have to think up games to beat the boredom.
But is it all bad news?
Certainly the use of mobile phones has made keeping track of our kids much easier. We can with greater ease wave them goodbye knowing that contact can easily be made should plans change, the train get cancelled or the taxi not turn up. I remember the night I sent my parents to ‘parent hell’ as I rang them at midnight to tell them I had called a taxi home from a party, proceeded to walk the kilometre or so to the end of the driveway only to wait over 2 hours for a taxi, too afraid to walk back to the house for fear of missing my ride (yes there would have been other options such as sending a couple of people back to make some calls…but hey the teenage brain doesn’t work that way, and surely mum and dad would have just gone back to sleep)! Anyway, the point is, a mobile phone would have saved my parents that night from hell and me the ensuing less than warm reception that greeted my return.
Depending on how ‘friendly’ you are with your kids, social networking sites have also given parents far greater insight into where their kids are going, what they are talking about and to whom they are talking.
Many kids of divorced or separated parents are also enjoying the advantages of keeping in touch via text or Facebook and see this as a comforting way to ease the separation. Skype and the like have also made it easier for those separated by long distance to keep in touch and feel connected.
There are also many advantages to education as the internet brings a whole wealth of information to otherwise isolated students. My own son is far more inclined to type a story on the computer than he is to hand write one (anything is better than nothing) and being visually impaired, the availability of ‘talking books’ has enabled him to engage with books in a way he otherwise wouldn’t.
So certainly there are dangers bought on by the advancements in technology, but there are also some great positives for parents as we all continue to inhabit the digital age.
Now just as a side note, the mother of the bullying teen blamed the ‘Facebook culture’ for her daughters behaviour. I would be strongly questioning the culture of this girls home life that allows her to think it acceptable to hang out at a train station in wait for a younger girl she hardly knows to viciously attack and kick and punch despite repeated cries from the victim. We need to be careful not to put all the blame on the technology itself. It is not technology that creates a culture that leads to behaviour that is abhorrent to the rest of society. If we stick to a few old fashioned principles of respecting others, respecting ourselves and provide boundaries and rules for our children to adhere to from an early age, then they are far more likely to carry these practises over to the cyber world. Certainly there are changes that need to be made to our parenting and different issues we need to address as a result of these changes. We need to monitor what our children are doing, we need to educate ourselves about the online world, we need to encourage good manners and respect online, enforce time limits and we need to encourage other pursuits away form the screens. But still these only need to be adapted from the basic and essential parenting principles that have been in place for decades.
The things in life that bring us joy are also often the things that become dangerous when spoilt by over indulgence or misuse. There is so much to be gained from the online world and the developments in technology, but it is a world that needs to be respected. We need to educate to prevent misuse and monitor to prevent overindulgence, and ultimately have faith that the messages we give to our children in terms of their everyday interactions within society are transferred to the online world, entrusting them with the skills and support to make the best possible choices.
Do you think parenting is harder or easier with the challenges of technological development? What are your experiences both positive and negative when it comes to parenting and technology?