Parenting is a balancing act. We don't want our children to think of us as tyrants, nor do we want to be so permissive that we allow them to get into trouble, like Regina George's mom on Mean Girls.
Image via MTV
And there's no balancing act more difficult and nuanced than knowing how to handle our children's use of technology. As a mother of two teenagers, I deal with this struggle constantly.
On one hand, movies like Cyberbully make me want to never let my kids touch a computer, and ceremoniously burn their smartphones.
On the other hand, who am I to tell them how to use the internet? After all, they grew up with it -- I didn't. In fact, sometimes they impress me so much with their tech savvy that I feel like they should be putting parental controls on me . . .
I'm not the only parent who's faced this dilemma. Technology writer and speaker (and mother of two) Alexandra Samuel has faced the same battle with her kids.
Samuel noticed that her friends and peers seemed to have very different attitudes about their kids' use of technology. Some were very restrictive, and others were very lenient -- but all of them were confident that their way was the best.
So, determined to find out which way was truly the best, Samuel conducted a survey of over 10,000 parents about their kids' technology use. She'll be giving a talk about her results during her presentation at INBOUND, hosted in Boston from November 8 - 11 by HubSpot, but here's the gist of what she found.
When it comes to monitoring and patrolling their kids' use of computers and smartphones, there are three main types of parents:
1. Enablers: These parents take a laissez-faire attitude towards their children's use of technology. They take their cues from how they see other families use technology, and don't intervene much in what their kids do online.
2. Limiters: In contrast to enablers, limiters try to minimize their kids' use of technology. Worrying about the impact of technology on their children's brains and social development, they try to minimize or even eliminate their use of phones and computers.
3. Mentors: A happy medium between enablers and limiters, mentors set limits on their children's use of technology, but with the goal of guiding, rather than minimizing. These parents try to work together with their children to help them become effective users of technology.
So: which is the best? "There are a range of indicators -- which kids get into more trouble, which kids end up being more compulsive in their use of technology -- which suggest that the mentorship approach seems to work best," Samuel reports.
She also notes that the mentorship approach is the most stable: whereas enablers tend to be parents of teenagers, and limiters tend to be parents of younger children, mentors maintain their role as providers of guidance throughout the entire trajectory of their children's growth.
Ultimately, according to Samuel, mentoring our children's use of technology is helpful in multiple ways. Not only can we help them build hard, technical skills -- children of mentors are more likely to have a blog and know how to code -- but we can also help them with "soft skills," such as understanding what it means to be respectful online. (After all, nobody wants to raise a cyberbully!)
And in the end, there's a natural alignment between what's good for our kids and what's good for the internet. The more we can encourage parents and schools to guide kids to a healthy, empowered relationship with technology, the more we can make the internet a better place -- for all of its users.