In an age of prevalent technology and growing connectivity demands, modern parenting involves navigating digital consumption and nurturing parent-child connections within the realm of the online world. For Generation X or Millennial parents, navigating parenthood in this digital landscape can occasionally feel like maneuvering through a maze. The concerns are aplenty and real — What is my child watching online? What is so fascinating about their digital world? How do I balance their digital consumption with their well-being? These are questions that many parents grapple with daily, including our featured parents for this article, Joyner* and Stella*, who have been specially invited to share their personal experiences into the challenges and joys of parenting in the digital era. Despite the whirlwind of challenges, they have acknowledged precious moments of learning, realisation, and adaptation to bridge the generational gap in understanding digital parenting.
Digital Devices – Too Much?
Have you ever asked your child how long they could go without their digital devices? Stella and Joyner shared that their children would most likely recoil at the thought of being cut off from their online world, even just for a moment. While our older generation may scoff at the atrocity of the young succumbing to digital desires, we have to admit that the digital world provides a larger window into a myriad of opportunities that offers users the chance to engage in self-discovery, maximise social relationships, and explore the world, all from the comfort of one’s own home. It is hardly any wonder that disconnecting can be so difficult, especially for these digital natives.
Growing up in the Online Era
The convenience that digital devices such as the iPad offer is undeniable: they present an accessible platform to a variety of educational tools to supplement learning, and are a simple fix to keeping children occupied — especially for families in which both parents are working. However, there are downsides – not the kind that Sci-Fi movies predict about digital devices destroying humanity, but much more implicit ramifications that may amplify if we simply turn a blind eye. A common concern is the impairment of cognitive development due to excessive screen time. Moreover, as Joyner and Stella echoed, excessive screen time evokes additional worries of potential addiction and lowered self-esteem. They also expressed unease about the impact of excessive screen time on family dynamics and the children’s social skills.
Stella highlighted how excessive screen time might impede face-to-face interactions, noting instances where kids are engrossed in their phones during dinner. It’s a scene that often leaves us yearning to connect with them in their digital space.
With all this, finding a balance between online and offline presence becomes critical. As parents, how can we help our children achieve this equilibrium and ensure a healthy relationship with technology?
“Building a healthy tech-life balance starts with us as parents. I believe in setting clear boundaries and leading by example. By instilling a no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule and engaging in regular activities that promote face-to-face interaction, we’re cultivating a balanced approach to online and offline worlds for our children’s holistic growth.” – Joyner
Fear not parents, as this endeavour is not as impossible as it seems. As we keep in mind the goal of fostering a healthy relationship between our children and technology, we can nurture awareness and establish appropriate boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries can look like:
Engaging in joint activities that don’t involve screens (e.g. outdoor adventures, board games)
Encouraging conversations during family meals
Introducing technology-free zones or times in the household, such as during bedtime or at the dinner table, helping to establish healthy habits.
Being positive role models by managing our own screen time and having tech-free moments
These strategies can greatly influence our children’s behaviour and attitude towards technology. Rather than forcefully removing their access to technology, it’s far more beneficial to guide them in appreciating the benefits of technology while being mindful of its limitations.
Bridging the Generational Gap
Navigating the online era can pose a significant challenge for parents as we encounter unfamiliar communication norms and rapid technological advancements that often seem alien or complex. Adapting to these changes isn’t always straightforward, and this struggle can widen the generational gap between us and our children, amplifying the existing disconnect.
We may often find it difficult to relate to our children, especially when their own values and priorities have shifted away from ours. This is even more so with the rapidly changing contours of the digital realm; it can often be difficult to keep up with ever-shifting trend cycles and the fluctuating popularity of new fads.
Joyner wisely shared his observations about bridging the generational gap created by the digital world. Their advice? Both parents and children need to engage actively. While parents try to understand the online world, children should also be open to teaching and guiding their parents.
“I think we as parents will need to make the effort to show that we are interested to learn about the culture of the new generation, and that the younger generation has to be willing to share with us and teach us patiently.” – Stella
Each successive generation brings new contributions to our social fabric, but also new challenges; a generational gap between parents and children is inevitable. However, the disconnect between parent and child is not predestined — the degree of this gap largely hinges on the efforts made by both parents and children to bridge it. By stepping into our children’s digital world every now and then, can build and create beautiful experiences of shared joy and who knows, you may find yourself learning something new and useful too.
“There was once when I sat down with my daughter to explore Instagram, and how to publish a post. It was a fun experience and I was open to asking for help. I think that experience reaffirmed her also, because after the session I praised her for her clear instructions and thanked her for teaching me.” – Stella
Certainly, as parents, it is our duty to safeguard our children, encompassing the standard tasks of educating them about the potential risks of exclusively immersing themselves in the digital world. Following Joyner’s advice, regularly monitoring our children’s digital activities and engaging in discussions about the pros and cons of social media are beneficial in maintaining a well-rounded approach to digital parenting.
“Being proactive as a parent is very important. Especially when it comes down to the topic of the digital world and children’s use of it in the years to come, all the more it is necessary for us parents to take an active step in teaching our children about the advantages and risks of using digital devices, and also technology in general.” – Joyner
Instead of perceiving the online space as a potential barrier between us and our children, let’s explore its advantages as a tool to enhance our connection with them. Staying informed about their preferences, engaging in discussions about social phenomena prevalent in their social media feeds – these actions open up a magical avenue that, when utilized thoughtfully, can bring us closer to our children.
Parents of the Future
Joyner highlighted the importance of integrating digital devices into his parenting strategy, not to replace physical interaction but to complement and support it. He recognised the significance of hands-on parenting while acknowledging the benefits of educational apps like Lingokids for his child’s development. Through various online platforms showcasing how other parents engage with their children, we realise that we aren’t alone in navigating the complexities of parenting. Instead of seeing the accessibility of social media as a pithole for comparing ourselves to other parents, Stella highlighted the importance of being aware of the struggles, challenges and victories that other parents face as well.
In her words, “Parenting is a journey after all, it is not a competition.” While she acknowledges the risks of comparing herself to other parents, she identifies it as a way for her to learn how to do more for her child. “Every parent has their own struggles, and what others post online may not show everything in their parenting”, she says.
Thus, taking active steps towards better connecting with our children has become a main priority for many parents. It is important for our children to also feel like connecting with us too. As the saying goes, it takes two hands to clap. Which is why parents often value the limited time they have with children to engage in open discussions, such as during meal times as a family.
In this ever-evolving digital era, the challenge lies in balancing technology and traditional parenting values. It’s not about vilifying devices, but rather understanding their impact and ensuring that they supplement rather than substitute real-life experiences. As much as these devices have the potential to harm, they also offer plentiful opportunities for connection; we can determine how to integrate technology into our lives in a way that suits our own needs and values. There’s a learning curve for both parents and children, but the key is to embrace it together.