Parenting in the Digital Age

As parents, we all want what is best for our children. Kids are growing up in a digital age that is much different than the one we grew up in. Many parents are coming to grips with how they approach digital technology usage in their home. There are many approaches and every family and situation is unique. Parents have to decide what approach works best for them. There is no “one size fits all” method.

Technology brings many benefits to our lives.

One of the biggest benefits of technology is that it enables us to communicate very easily. Parents can keep in contact with their children via texts, phone or video calls. Many children regularly communicate using Skype with family members far away for free. Gone are the days of short, expensive, long distance calls to relatives. These same children are capturing photos and videos and sharing them with friends and family.

Technology has allowed us to have a window into the classroom that we have never had before. Teachers and students share photos, videos, work samples, voice recordings and many other things easily using technology. Big events like performances are often recorded or even live streamed so people who can’t be at the event won’t miss it.

Technology helps us with our efficiency and organization.
Not so long ago, trying to find someone else’s location could be a very frustrating experience. Now when we are taking our children to something like a birthday party, we use the maps function on our phone to help us locate the address, and even get us there by guiding us every step of the way.

Shared calendars and to-do lists on our devices help to keep our schedules and lives organized. I know I feel less stressed about forgetting something when I have it written down on my phone. And if you haven’t used the voice to text feature on your device recently, you should really try it out. I love it and I am excited about how it can help students in the classroom.

A little while ago, I found one of my favourite books online that is out of print and no longer in bookstores and had it delivered to my door. I didn’t have to travel all that way to the little bookshop in Michigan – how is that for efficiency?

Technology provides entertainment.
Let’s face it, we all use technology as a form of entertainment and that is a good thing. It might be your child building worlds in Minecraft or you playing a game of Scrabble. Never has it been so easy to rent a movie with the touch of a button or download an app that reinforces a concept a student has learned in an entertaining way.

Technology helps us learn.
When you want to find out about something, what is the first thing you and your family does? You Google it. It has become such an ingrained part of our lives that it is easy to take for granted. It wasn’t that long ago where knowledge was stored in books and we had to use the card catalogue in the library as a starting point for our search. Memorizing information isn’t the skill we value anymore; we value the ability to find and use information. And where do many teenagers look to find out about how to do something? YouTube has become the go to place to learn about something new.

But we aren’t going to pretend that with all these benefits, there aren’t any drawbacks to the technology. Parents have concerns about technology and their children. Screentime, inappropriate online content, digital distractions and cyber bullying are some of the issues that we sometimes hear when parents share their concerns.

Parents sometimes tell us that their children know more about the technology than they do and this worries them. Of course, this is not a new concern for parents. Every generation has a new technology that pushes against the previous generation. In 1815, educators had to fight to allow students to use paper and pencil instead of a slate. In 1941 at a principal’s conference, there was resistance to students using the fountain pen because they would lose the ability to sharpen a pencil. There will always be new technology and, as parents, we can’t put our head in the sand and make excuses that we don’t know how it works.

The most important thing that you can do is be involved in your child’s digital life.
Talk to them about what they are doing on the computer. Sit with them when they play that new game. Play it with them. Have conversations with your child about technology issues and concerns.

It is vital that you keep the lines of communication open.
We need to foster an environment in our homes where, if our children have a concern, they come and talk to us about it. Mistakes will be made. That is life. But we want kids to come to us so we can support them in learning from their mistakes.

One way to keep the lines of communication open is to regularly have conversations about technology related topics or situations with your family. Perhaps it could be a regular dinner time or family time conversation?

The topics for conversation can come from anyone in the family. Or you could choose a topic from some conversation starters we have prepared here.

You may also want to think about what style of parenting you may want to use when it comes to technology in your household. Here are three possible approaches.

1. Control Oriented Approaches – You as parents decide what happens.
You set the boundaries, rules and consequences. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have conversations with your child about issues. It just means that the child doesn’t participate in the decision making process.

2. Conversational Approaches- Parents and children work together to decide what happens. Any boundaries, rules and consequences are discussed and set by both parents and children. You need to come to a consensus with your family about how to approach and respond to situations.

3. Disposition-Based Approaches – Children make the decisions with the coaching support of parents. 
In this approach, students are encouraged to make their own choices. Again, this doesn’t mean that parents are not involved. Parents have conversations with their children about any issues and ask questions to provoke thinking and growth.

No matter which strategy you choose, here are some good question prompts when discussing an issue:
“Why do you want to do this?”
“What are your options?”
“What are the consequences of your actions?”
“How will your decision affect others?”
“Is this decision in your best interests in the long run?”

In each of the strategies above, the lines of communication are open between parents and children. The difference is who is the decision maker in the process – parents, parents and children, or children.

A fantastic resource for parents is Common Sense Media.  It is regularly updated and includes many helpful articles, videos and other resources

Below are some resources we have collated around some of the more common concerns for parents, with links to articles which provide different perspectives. There are also links grouped by parenting style, so you can find articles relevant to your parenting approach.

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