Kids & Tech: Parenting in the Digital Age

Kids & Tech it’s all screens, keys and device-driven “entertainment”

If you were born before 1982, chances are you remember growing up playing Monopoly on weekends, ball games in the garden after school with a neighbour and riding your bike whenever you could. If you were born before 1982 – and are now a parent, chances are your children will remember growing up in a digital age only.

Modern kids have never known a time when they couldn’t connect to the entire world via the Internet. In fact, they probably spend more time online than anyone else—certainly more than their parents. Kids between the ages of 6 and 23 fall into a generation now being labeled “Post-Millennial” or iGen. iGen is a recent label given to those born between 1995 and 2012. It is 74 million Americans, or 24% of the population, and it is the most diverse generation in global history. It is also the most digitally connected and smartphone-addicted generation. iGen’ers were born after the Internet was commercialised in 1995. They have no pre-Internet memories. Each entered (or will enter) adolescence in the age of the smartphone.

How do we as a pre-Internet generation of parents shepherd Kids & Tech?

Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, has written the most systematic study about iGen. She ran the datasets, conducted the interviews, and has now voiced her concerns — first published in a feature article for the Atlantic, under the bombshell title “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”. The article was an excerpt from the book that soon followed, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

According to the study, iGen’ers are spending less time working jobs, volunteering, engaged in student activities, and doing homework. The result: they’re spending massive amounts of time at home and online. They’re virtually never offline — driven to their devices by social promise, by friendships, and by relationships. But by far, the most concerning takeaway from Twenge’s research, and confirmed by others, is the spike in teen depression and suicide. Between 2012 and 2015 — in just three years — depression among boys rose 21%, and depression among girls rose 50%. These upticks are reflected in the massive rise of cyber-bullying and sadly the suicide rate.

Being Present When it comes to parenting our children, there is no substitute for, well, being a good parent. Too often we as parents leave too much to schools and others, and fail to be the examples our kids want and need us to be, and to establish the boundaries on a solid foundation at home. This is where and how we can shape and positively affect our children’s lives, especially their digital lives. Here are some examples of how to be a better parent in today’s digital age…

Strengthen the connection… Many children turn to their devices because it’s the only game in town. While it’s true that our 15-year-old may roll her eyes at us if we suggest a game of Monopoly, I can’t count the number of times that kids have privately confessed that their parents are always busy. Youngsters who feel liked and enjoyed on a regular basis by parents who seek their company (not to remind them about homework but simply to hang out) are far more willing to unplug. Whether you concoct a new dessert together or challenge your son to a Connect Four championship, make time for real-world activities with your kids and they’ll be more willing to cooperate when it’s time to unplug.

Talk — and listen… Some kids complain of intolerable boredom when we suggest they turn off their tech. Others are afraid of what might be said behind their back on social media if they go offline. Encourage your kids to share their objections when you suggest that they engage with the 3D world, and then listen, without scolding, shaming, or giving unwanted advice.

Don’t be afraid to upset… Parents should be less fearful of their children. Yes, your kids may throw a fit if you tell them that six hours of non-stop video gaming is not an option, but children are comforted by parents who are willing to hold a line. Make peace with the likelihood that your children will sometimes be unhappy with your decisions. It’s okay if they think you’re the meanest dad who ever lived. Be kind and acknowledge their frustration, but don’t be afraid to set limits. In a recent speech to the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) in the UK, Cultural Secretary, Matt Hancock said, “Setting boundaries on the use of new technology is important just in the same way as we set boundaries for children in every sense. The technology may be new but the principles have not changed. Unlimited and unsupervised access to smartphones can be a portal to some very serious risks.” He also highlighted growing concerns around the impact on children’s mental health. This backs up every parent’s instinct; that children must be protected.

Be the Example… It’s all well and good to suggest that our kids go and play outside. But how easy is it for you to resist the urge to check in one last time at work, or take a quick look at what your pals are up to on Facebook? If you spend hours every night in front of your screen, or interrupt conversations with your kids when you get a text message, your kids aren’t going to take you very seriously when you extol the virtues of the digital world. Take a walk, pick up a book, or plunk yourself down in front of the piano. When your kids see you having the kind of fun that doesn’t require a plug or a battery, they’ll be more inclined to follow suit.

Monitoring Your Kids & Tech… With the ever-increasing number of devices that kids use to connect, you simply can’t supervise every moment they’re online on your own. That’s where parental control services can help. This software gives you the ability to block unwanted web content, limit screen time, restrict the use of risky applications, and more. Basically, these services are a way to help keep your kids safer on their computers and mobile devices.

That said, parental control software is no substitute for good communication. If you don’t want your kids to visit unsafe, unsavoury, or inappropriate sites, talk to them about your concerns. We recommend that you also take the time to convince your older kids that you’ll respect their privacy while still monitoring their online actions, a promise you should strive to uphold. We prefer software that embraces this kind of collaborative approach, rather than apps that covertly spy on kids. If your kids see you as big brother, it’s a safe bet that they’ll find ways to outsmart you and evade even the most sophisticated systems. As tech addiction increasingly becomes a problem, it’s important to instil the value of good device habits on to your children as well.

There is a number of parental control software out there, from Apple’s iOS 12 parental control tools to the industry leading Qustodio, which can assist with everything from blocking apps entirely to setting time usage limits. When you get beyond the basics, parental control systems start to diverge, with standout features to track your child’s YouTube viewing history, check your child’s location, or even remotely lock down a device to force them to divert their attention. You’ll also find advanced versions of standard features. Qustodio has 29 filter categories and will block access to any website that falls under the classifications you select. These categories include topics like pornography, gambling, violence, drugs, alcohol and religion. You can choose whether to block a category or alert you to activity.

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