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PR hacks email me a lot – I’m a journalist after all. Usually, they’re to inform me of an upcoming product release or kickstarter. But often they’re telling me about surveys.  One that dropped in my inbox recently was from British electronics retailer AO.com. Apparently, 85 per cent of British parents have at some point placated their infants with technology, rather than actually deal with them.

Shocking.

I’m generally a bit cynical when it comes to these surveys – especially when they drop in my email uninvited, and are backed by major retailers. Almost all of them are in some way questionable or flawed, or influenced by the interests of the company that funded it.

But this one… I don’t know… It felt believable.

Technology is an important part of our lives. For good or for bad, it’s fundamentally reshaped childhood. But it’s simultaneously reshaped what it means to be a parent. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Here’s why.

Technology Preserves The Blunder Years

I was a really awkward kid.

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When I was young, I was fanatical about Star Trek (TNG and DS9, obviously) and WCW wrestling. I didn’t have a games console, so I was largely out of the loop when it came to my peers – but I did have an impressively expansive library of books. Most were hand-me-downs from my much older brothers. While my friends were blasting zombies in Resident Evil and bludgeoning police officers in Grand Theft Auto, I was devouring GCSE science books and Fredrick Forsyth novels.

Couple that with an Anakin Skywalker haircut, and you’ve got a recipe for terminal uncoolness. But fortunately, I grew up in an era where Facebook was just a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, and the Internet was just a collection of static HTML pages, decorated liberally with blink and marquee tags.

I was lucky. Nobody was able to document and preserve my blunder years. There’s no footage of me reenacting Rick Flair’s wrestling bouts, or pretending I was captaining the Starship Enterprise.

Today’s kids aren’t as fortunate.

Now, everything is recorded, and often by the parents themselves. Every awkward moment. Every embarrassing fall. Every single preteen #EpicFail moment. It’s recorded, and uploaded, and shared. It’s tweeted about, and the Daily Mail will redigest it.

But the Internet doesn’t forget 5 People Who Became Memes, And How They Reacted 5 People Who Became Memes, And How They Reacted These five people are great case studies for what happens when you go from Average Joe to Internet Meme overnight. Read More . Just ask Gyhslain Raza. 13 years on from his viral blunder, and he’s still known as The Star Wars kid.

It might be cute right now, but do you really think the kid from Charlie Bit My Finger wants that video floating around when he hits 15, or 20, or even 30? Do you suppose the kid from David After Dentist wants to be known for looking stoned and asking “is this real life” when he’s in high school?

Do you want your child to be forever known for what they said when they were still developing?

Probably not.

Technology Is The Death Of Childhood Secrets

I had my first kiss when I was 15.

The girl was a year younger than me. She was my first girlfriend. I thought she was cute and she thought I was funny. I feigned an interest in manga purely to get her to like me, buying about £200 books in the process. Our relationship blossomed organically, as we started hanging out more and more often, and talking more and more. This was around 2005, so naturally the majority of our communication happened on MySpace.

It goes without saying that my parents had no idea. I was 15. You don’t talk to your parents at that age. Don’t be ridiculous.

It was an important time in my life, and it all happened organically and naturally, with no pressure. It just… happened.

parenting-teen

I think it was like that because it was a total secret, just for us to know. It was our moment, and ours alone, and we were empowered to share it with whoever we wanted. In many ways, I kinda feel lucky my parents didn’t know how to use the Internet properly at that age.

Teenagers should have secrets. Not big secrets. Little secrets. I think it’s good they have their own private lives, and are able to develop and learn on their own terms.

But technology has completely demolished that idea. Now more than ever, it’s easy to see what your child is doing, simply by cyberstalking their Facebook profiles or looking at their phone when it’s left unattended. Parenting in the age of social media has been turned on its head How Has Being a Parent Changed in the Social Media Age? How Has Being a Parent Changed in the Social Media Age? Being a parent is a lot different than it used to be with the rise of social media. Read More . Is that right? Is that healthy? Is it a good idea to spy on your child? Should Parents Spy On Their Kids? [MUO Debates] Should Parents Spy On Their Kids? [MUO Debates] Do you spy on your kids? If so, why? If not, why not? This is the question at hand today. These are the questions that we're going to explore in this debate. Read More Doesn’t that radically skew the balance of power in the parent-child relationship?

Doesn’t that fundamentally undermine any lessons about trust and honesty?

Blurring The Lines Between Work And Parental Life

I’m currently reading “Postcapitalism : A Guide To Our Future” by Paul Mason – a celebrated British broadcaster, journalist, and economist.

It’s a fascinating hypothesis about what the future holds for us, and how technology has radically reshaped every facet of our lives, from work to leisure. One of the things Mason points out is how technology has made it harder to distinguish between leisure time and work time, and how this trend will continue and become an inexorable facet of our working culture.

I’m sorry, but that’s bloody awful.

It used to be that you’d leave work, and you’d go home, and never the two shall meet. But that’s simply not the case How To Find A Balance Between Work And Life How To Find A Balance Between Work And Life Life is all about finding a proper balance. You want to work hard so you can be successful, but what's the point of being successful if you don't take the time to enjoy your success? Read More any more. Now we have company Blackberries and laptops. Rather than leave our work at the office, it follows us home like a specter.

parenting-phones

How do you think this impacts parents’ relationships with children?

Kids are smarter than people make out. They’re perceptive, and observant. In many ways, they’re essentially adults, but with poorer impulse control and negligible life experience.

They can tell when they’re not the focus of someone’s attention, or when they’re not being fully listened to. It’s not a good feeling. Just ask them.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

Technology has radically reshaped what it means to be a parent. It raises big, bold questions on the nature of trust and relationships. It can be both a curse, and a blessing, simultaneously empowering us to strengthen our relationships with our children, but also undermining them.

How can the parent-child relationship survive in this brave new world?

Same as always. Think before you tweet. Think before you upload that awkward photo, or embarrassing video. Consider whether your son or daughter would want you creeping through their Facebook page. And, of course, never let technology be an impediment to your relationship?

Have you got any kids? Any thoughts on this piece? Think technology is a help or a hindrance as a parent? Let me know in the comments below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credits: using technologies via Shutterstock, Stressed businessman talking on many phones at once (Minerva Studio)Sad teenage girl sending message on mobile phone (Ajayptp)

  1. Dark
    September 14, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    I believe you are forgeting the fact that even in "our" day (or just about every generation since the dawn of man), just because there was less technology, it did not stop parents from neglecting their children. Just because things change does not mean that, as a parent, you cannot teach your children the benefits and dangers of technology - one can still reason with children (my parents always could do it). This is a matter that shows up in every generation's mind - remember our grandparents - they used the EXACT same lines - "Parenting was better in our day" or "Things were better then" -> things always change and that does not naturaly make them better or worse, it just make them different. As for the no more secrecy - "in my day" I had an old yahoo account for when speaking with my parent and another for my friends - my parents knew and they didn't try to spy on me (I haven't caught them, although I belive they might have "taken a look" ever so often :P ) - the problem isn't technology - it's parenting in general - if "you" are a bad parent than it doesn't matter what age it is -> "you'll" still be a bad parent. Wether or not "you" believe it, there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed in a parent-child relationship, children need their freedom and also "your" guidance (sometimes enforced if it needs be) - as a parent "you" should realise that. It's natural for good parent to worry about their children, but one cannot blame technology for "they're" lack of control when it comes to balancing out freedom and control - if "your" worrying causes "you" to try and control everything your child does or says - then nothing and no one is to blame but "yourself". As for the videos that "never leave" you should be able to make your child believe that it's not the end of the world, that it's ok and that in time it will be just part of what make him "him" (or her) - as a parent "you" should be able make sure your child doesn't draw the wrong conclusions from his actions - to him/her "you" are GOD - and you should realize that that is a RESPONSABILITY (also for yourself to be better), NOT A PRIVILEGE. For example: if my kid was the start wars fan and he was feeling down about the viral video - I'd probably just tell him not to worry, in time it will blow over, even if it doesn't - he made alot of good with that video - even if everyone laughed - it brigthened their day - for some of the people that watched it i might have been their happies moment in months - and that it's THE FASTEST WAY to see who your FRIENDS TRULY ARE... Just because something is different does not make it bad - good parents can just as easily teach their children ethics and morals with or without technology - they just need to think things through (it's their responsability to think further than their child)...

    Sorry for the long post, hope it helps :)
    Have a nice day :)

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