Opportunities rise out of technology’s presence in our daily lives. A working mum can miss her son’s first steps, but she can watch the other hundred cute things he does through Skype or FaceTime. Children can research the day’s assignment as soon as they get on the school bus through a browser or an app version of their favourite encyclopaedia.
Sustaining a conversation with the whole family is made possible through messaging tools like Messenger and WhatsApp (both Facebook-owned). A study in 2013 found that 7 in 10 parents were using social tools for household communication. Let us not also forget that teenagers are not the only ones using social media but parents, too.
The internet and mobile devices have permeated the little moments that used to take place just at home. Today we have digital savvy kids — Generation Z, the successor of the much-maligned Millennials — and digital parents at the same time. The latter are touted as digital immigrants in that they had to learn a few technical skills in order to keep up.
Some do keep up primarily because of their jobs. When the adults are using mobile devices to fulfill professional responsibilities remotely, they are allowing tech to be a part of their domicile. The optimists believe that children are sensible, so with proper guidance, they can learn how to navigate the digital realm without causing or inviting trouble to themselves. More so, parents can set up controls to prevent their kids from misbehaving. These include rules like no tablets in bed, gaming (unlimited) on Friday nights only, or screen time is limited to the weekend.
On the flip side, there are groups such as the Family Online Safety Institute that are evaluating the effects of a tighter rein on teens’ tech use. How far should the adults interfere or bypass the autonomy that the young people are enjoying through social media and tools? Various reports point to mums and dads ‘spying on their kids’ via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. That is they become friends or followers of their children to check out what’s going on in their lives. Others, however, admit to owning accounts on sites like Pinterest to better understand their adolescents. Some also engage their network and rely on the support of fellow parents online.
Still, from another end of the spectrum, research revealed that children are wary of their parents’ device use. The Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference recently polled 2,000 11- to 18-year-olds. According to their results as published by BBC, 82% of the pupils felt mealtimes should be device-free. More than a third, or 36%, had asked their parents to put down their phones. Further, 22% said the use of devices prevented their family from enjoying each other’s company. On the parents’ side, only 10% believed their kids were concerned about their mobile use. However, 43% felt they were spending too much time online.
Aside from the effects on parent-kids or sibling-to-sibling or even parent-parent relationships, other serious issues may arise with the prevalence of mobile at home. Safety is a primary concern. There are just differing notions when it comes to dealing with the dangers of the internet. Some use tough love. Nobody wants to be labeled a helicopter parent, but they believe imposing strict ground rules is a must. Others allow for greater independence. They let their children experience trial-and-error, which is how the latter learn to determine risks worth taking.
The second point regarding personal autonomy sounds great but also vague. For instance, a nine-year-old is allowed to download gaming apps and make in-app purchases billed to dad’s credit card. What if she buys all those extra coins, upgrades, and whatnot? (This happens in real life.) Will that teach her anything unless, of course, dad reprimands her?
In an ideal situation, parents can monitor their kids’ device use and also limit theirs. In reality, it is harder to draw the line especially when everyone at home is wired to pick up their device at any time. It would be best for the adults to define and model the family’s ideal tech lifestyle. Even if the kids know all things digital by default, the parents are responsible for mentoring them regarding their mobile use, safety, and privacy.
And yes, no phones at the dinner table, please.
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