"Mom, leave it, you don’t know how to operate!” This sentence is heard in many houses, especially, where teenage kids are present. Parenting is a big responsibility, not easy and the digital era is making it more complex. Sometimes parents feel the challenge and pressure of ensuring civil brought up of their young birds in the present digital era. The growing presence of technology in children’s lives is a double-edged sword. While technologies are neutral, how they are applied and the way children are exposed to them can be either positive or negative.
Worldwide lockdowns during COVID-19 established a twilight zone for children to use different gadgets as they had to study and entertain themselves through these tools. There are pros and cons of the effects of technology usage by children on their development, social interactions, and prospects for the future.No doubt their technological skills improved but it created a distance with their immediate family. Technological innovations speed up their journey because of online study programs and jobs. A study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics found that 66.3 per cent of the children and adolescents surveyed used their smartphone for more than four hours a day during the pandemic, compared with 16.3 per cent who did so before the pandemic. All the “rules” about children’s access to computers and the internet were rewritten by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technology started its journey in the child’s world in the mid to late 20th century through the first home video games and remote-controlled toys. The gradual technological evolution shifted gears in the mid-1990s, and an immense change occurred in technology from entertainment to education due to the arrival of the Worldwide Web. Some early internet-connected toys and educational devices were criticized for violating children’s privacy. But their easy use, lower cost and parent-free nature made it a successful innovation. Since then, technology has evolved and advanced at a breakneck pace and has completely changed the world that we live and socialize in.
This demands that like all else parenting styles and strategies need overhaul as well, since we cannot cut technology out of our own and our children’s lives as it has pervaded every aspect of our day to lives from socializing, entertainment, leisure to earning livelihoods and managing our finances. Building children’s confidence and resilience is key for parents to get the best of a sometimes-overwhelming but incredible and useful digital world.
There are three distinct categories of parenting styles with respect to the ingress of digitalization in our children’s lives: Limiting, Enabling, and Mentoring.
Digital Parents-1: Limiters
Limiters focus on strictly limiting device and technology interactions because they worry that screens will shorten their children’s attention spans, stunt social development and cause physical, mental and psychological issues. Limiters are most likely to be parents of children around the preschool age. This parenting style is not realistic because undeniably technology is a part of a child’s future.
Digital Parents-2: Enablers
Enablers allow their children to use devices freely. Everyone probably has their own screen at home. Kids are free to set their own rules around screen time. This approach is common among parents of teenagers, where parents think time spent online is beneficial to their child’s growth and learning experiences. But taking a ‘hands-off’ approach with technology prevents kids and teens from learning the etiquettes, rules and boundaries around device use early on. While recognizing what a huge part the digital world will play in their kids’ lives, enablers often times leave it up to their children to explore technology without guiding them through it.
Digital Parents-3: Mentors
Digital mentors have an understanding that children’s technology habits need to be balanced and guided. Mentors know that devices are here to stay and shunning their use will do them no good. Most parents of elementary school aged children adopt a mentor approach. This approach allows children the freedom to explore and learn online, and develop digital skills with parents spending time with them online as well. It makes the children digitally responsible with a balanced digital appetite.
There are pros and cons to each style. Parents’ approach to managing technology in the home directly influences their child’s behavior in the online world. Technology contributes from both directions in the growth and development of children. Technology contributes towards increased knowledge and understanding of young minds, and enhances the learning opportunities by eliminating geographical constraints. Due to better communication channels young minds learn communication skills, greater creativity and self-expression while having an increased exposure to different cultures.
However, there are various risk factors of technology as well. If parents let their children choose what they will spend their time on without any control, the kids may develop bad social skills, which can cause difficulty in having healthy relationships. It has negative repercussion for health and overall ability to focus. It can contribute to obesity, sleep problems, depression and other mental health issues. A University of Michigan study found that Facebook use led to a decrease in happiness and overall life satisfaction, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, poor sitting posture, learning barriers, decreased communication and intimacy, cyberbullying, loss of privacy, etc. This can lead to more children being socially awkward, withdrawn, shy, or intimidated by social situations.
Before adopting any parenting style, parents should not only consider their children’s individual personalities but also seek to understand the impact of technology on children and how to acclimatize themselves and their children in the digital world. Researchers have suggested that one approach to understanding the complexity of technology’s impact on children is the domestication theory. The four phases of the domestication process render the tools non-threatening and also make them useful, important, and meaningful: Appropriation is the reason for acquiring the digital tool. Objectification of the digital tool instills a personal meaning for the tool in the child using it. Incorporation describes how the digital tool becomes a part of the child’s life. It also explains appropriate and inappropriate uses of the tool. Conversion occurs when the digital tool has redefined the child’s worldview and relations with others. Once you understand this you can strategize on how to accilimatize childern to digital world.
Technology is very important in our lives but there are other elements of raising responsible children, including engaging kids in creative and outdoor activities. Even in this world of bits and bytes, we as parents have to teach our kids that we are humans first. We should spend some family time, where we are fully present with each other and enjoy distraction-free family moments. HH
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