It’s nearly impossible to compare the parental responsibilities before and after the onset of the digital age.
Parents today encounter one challenge after another, and each family member lives a slightly different connected life. Deciding on devices and time to spend on them is only one parenting issue. Other issues include the monitoring of child’s privacy, the access to so much uncensored information, the ease of making mistakes, and parental worries about what happens with devices when a child visits another household with different connected-world rules. And then there’s the big problem for adults — how they model (or don’t model) appropriate use for younger family members.
Many parents approach digital family life with focus and ongoing attention. That’s why Jane Brody’s two New York Times articles, Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll and How to Cut a Child’s Screen Time made me a bit nervous, Brody aptly describes screen addiction, a situation that is not uncommon, and she points out that parents, too, need to learn how to disconnect and pay more attention to their children. Brody offers several top-notch resources for parents and quotes Catherine Steiner-Adair, whose excellent book, The Big Disconnect, is an eye-opening presentation about the family and especially real-life parental problems in the connected world.
My concern, however, is that we need to be careful not to indict all parents of 21st Century digital kids. While Steiner-Adair’s book is a wake-up call for educators and parents, not frightening all adults about screen time, especially if they work hard to create digital wellness and set limits for their kids. Via the digital parenting grapevine I am hearing that Brody’s articles frightened many parents who did not need to be scared. After 40 years of teaching, I’ve learned that it’s not useful to dramatically worry parents any more than it’s helpful to scare the kids. (With kids I know that it never works.)
A terrific book that describes potential digital parenting issues — may be the book for people who are working hard to craft a sensible digital family life — is The Distraction Addiction by Alex SooJung-Kim Pang. With it’s tag-lines, “Connection is inevitable. Distraction is a choice.” the book offers, with a bit of Zen included, concrete advice and some thoughtful hand-holding for the parents of digital kids. It positively attends to the problem of too much connection and distraction. The chapter “Eight Steps to Contemplative Computing” is my favorite.
Yes, we need to watch for the children and the adults who can’t stop connecting, and we need to share Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book with those people. But with many other parents, we need to take note of the ways in which they are trying to guide their children and help them develop even better digital parenting skills. We need to frame the connection/distraction problem in ways that help parents do an even better job of guiding their kids.