Digital devices create conflicting feelings in many parents. On the one hand, we’re kind of used to the fact that they play a big role in our lives and an even bigger one in our kids’ lives. We like the opportunities they provide for our kids and understand that a certain amount of tech savvy can potentially take them a long way in today’s world. On the other hand, we might feel guilty about using devices as child minders and worry that our kids are missing out on real life opportunities in favour of digital ones. We may even feel that digital devices steal our time with our kids and drive a wedge into parent-child relationships. But can technology help us to actually be better parents?
Technology gives parents new opportunities
Those who argue that screen time scaremongering has been overdone often focus on the positive influence and opportunities available via the use of modern technology. Given the central role smart devices now play in our children’s lives, perhaps it’s time even the more sceptical among us started utilising that potential of technology to strengthen our connection with them. This 2015 study showed that digital technologies can inspire and encourage parents to look for the new points of contact, be more actively involved in the life of their kids and be better parents.
So, here are a few ideas on how we can use digital technologies to develop stronger connections with our kids and improve as parents:
Connection. We’ve know for some time that the younger generation prefers to text than to talk. Of course we can encourage live conversation too, but if we want to really connect with them, maybe we should try doing it their way… I’m not just talking about sms use here; try out WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat, whatever system your kids are on. Not only can this help you to connect with them, it will also give you much clearer insight into the ways such apps can potentially be used.
Encouragement and support. Public acknowledgement on social media is a bit of a tricky minefield. We’ve noted before that collecting likes is both addictive and ultimately leads people down a largely negative emotional path, despite the fact that many spend time on social networks “to feel better”. That said, if you deem your teens to have a reasonably healthy attitude towards social media, occasional public encouragement and recognition will no doubt go down well, even if they do cringe a bit at first 😉
Monitoring and protection. Given the amount of time your kids spend online, you might want to brush up on technical ways to keep them safe and provide boundaries for them there. As with any other potentially dangerous area of life, it’s appropriate to provide certain limits and rules which are removed as they grow in maturity. Parental control software like Kidslox can provide some protection on mobile devices. It’s also worth going through privacy settings of various apps and services used by your kids. For young kids, you might want to vet the content they consume by checking out reviews first (e.g. on Common Sense Media).
Digital lifestyle tools. From having a shared online calendar to using a pocket money management app, there are all sorts of tools available to help parents accompany their kids on their initial experiences of the connected world. By being involved in this process rather than a remote, regulating voice, we’re more likely to get included as they start making their own, independent steps further down the line.
Guidance. Even if they’re more technically savvy than we are, our kids still need our guidance, both in non-tech areas of their lives and to understand what appropriate technology use and content engagement look like. Discuss their technology use with them. Discuss their school day with them. Discuss just about everything with them! Conversation and example are how you’re going to impart your values to your kids. Use video call software like Skype to include grandparents or other remote family members and friends in your kids’ lives more often.
Don’t forget about them! Keeping up with our kids’ timetables can be exhausting. It’s easy to forget something or have something slide. There are all sorts of reminder apps and personal organiser solutions out there. Use one to stay ahead of the game.
Can technology help us as parents? Be bold
Finally, don’t be afraid to be a parent in the digital age. For those of us less technically inclined it might take us out of our comfort zones to engage with technology in this way. New opportunities and new challenges may confuse us. But we never win if we don’t try. And the battle for our kids’ hearts is easily worth the small discomfort of experimenting with new parenting approaches.