Parenting in the Digital Age: Communication Is Key

By Tracey Dowdy

If you were to do a social experiment and gather a group of parents in a room, even if they share similar values or lifestyles, there’s a good chance you’ll find differences of opinion when it comes to the rules surrounding technology. That means even if you maintain a reasonable amount of control over your child’s media use at home, sooner or later your digital rules are going to collide with another parent’s.

This isn’t just a debate over the ratings of TV shows or video games. Smartphones have bypassed all that and put the Internet with all its temptations in a SpongeBob backpack.

A survey by Influence Central found the average age that a child gets his or her first cell phone is 10.3 years of age. In addition, the study found:

  • 64 percent of kids have access to the Internet via their own laptop or tablet, compared to just 42 percent in 2012.
  • While 85 percent accessed the Internet from a room shared with the family in 2012, that number dropped to 76 percent in 2017.
  • 24 percent of kids now have “private” access to the Internet from their bedrooms (compared to 15 percent in 2012).
  • 39 percent of kids got a social media account before they were 11½ years old.
  • 11 percent of kids got a social media account when they were younger than 10.

So what do you do when worlds collide?

The first thing you need to do is stop and take a beat. Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the same thing – they’re doing their best and making a lot of it up as they go along, just as you are. Technology is more accessible for our kids than it ever was for us and, as it’s constantly evolving, we’re all trying to keep up. Approaching without judgement means you’ll have a clearer perspective and be better equipped to answer questions and respond to difficult situations with reason and not emotion.

While you’re at it, take the time to have a conversation. Whether it’s with the parents of your child’s bestie or your child himself, it’s important to have an open-minded conversation where you can respectfully share your position. It’s not a debate, but an opportunity to see an issue from a different perspective. If you are talking to your child, they need to understand why your rules are in place even if they don’t agree with them. If it’s with another parent, understanding their perspective goes a long way toward building bridges and creating community. Who doesn’t want more people on their team, supporting their parenting?

Don’t feel like you have to compromise but be open to what others are doing. Perhaps they have older children and have already “been there, done that” and have insight into your current situation. Maybe their child has needs you aren’t aware of and that “extra time” your child says their friend “always gets” is used for assistive technology that facilitates learning. Plus, let’s be honest, some kids are simply more mature than others. While it’s wise to follow the age restrictions set by platforms like Snapchat or Instagram, some kids aren’t ready until they’re much older. Age limits are guidelines. You know your child better than anyone – including your child himself. You need to consider your child’s personality as well. Is he/she the kind to push boundaries or are they a rule-follower? As they demonstrate maturity and build trust, start adding privileges.

Finally, reach out to other parents you respect for support and guidance. Find a parent who is active on social media and knows about different platforms and privacy settings so you can feel more confident about what to allow. Chances are, they’ve got questions too. Build a community of support and mentor one another. You’ll have empowered and educated yourself and built a stronger parenting community for your child.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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