There it is again, that feeling you can’t quite name. Your child’s attentions are deftly split between multiple screens - the latest Pixar blockbuster cued up on the TV, Angry Birds flashing across a tablet - and you find yourself caught in a curious emotional no-man’s-land between pride and guilt. On one hand it’s great to see the ease with which your kid navigates the complex trappings of modern technology, but is there such a thing as being too plugged in? And if there is, how do we handle it?
We’ve teamed up with Comcast to pose these questions to key figures at the intersection of parenting and technology. Their illuminating responses, which have been lightly edited for clarity and length, can help us to understand how parents, kids, and the devices we’ve all come to lean on should move forward together.
Q. Is technology helping to strengthen bonds between parents and children, or is it a source of disconnection?
“Parent-child interactions are definitely changing, and not in a good, healthy way” – Dr. Victor Strasburger, Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus, University of New Mexico School of Medicine
I'm just beginning work on a new book, entitled The Death of Childhood, so that should tell you something. I think the bonds between parents and children are rapidly dissolving - or at least, are severely threatened - by the ubiquitous presence of the media. This is not to say that there aren't some extraordinary media out there for kids. But parent-child interactions are definitely changing, and not in a good, healthy way.
“It’s simply a medium” – Nanea Hoffman, Founder of Sweatpants & Coffee
As a parent living in Silicon Valley and raising two very tech-savvy children, I would say that technology is neither a source of connection or disconnection. It's simply a medium. If I'm buried in my phone or laptop and I'm too busy to look up and engage when my kid wants to tell me about her day, it would be easy to blame the devices, but as far as I know, they don't operate through mind control.
“The question is, how is [technology] used and how often is it used?” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
I think technology is definitely strengthening bonds between parents and children - it’s another medium through which children can communicate. The question is, how is it used and how often is it used? I think it’s great when a parent goes on a business trip and is able to Skype – these devices are amazing. On the other hand, I think that when communication gets reduced to text abbreviations, to transactional, minimal conversations, that’s not always a good thing.
Q. What’s the number one problem parents face in the digital age, and what’s the best strategy to manage that concern?
“We need to move forward to where adults are teaching kids to smartly use [technology]” – Dr. Jordan Shapiro, author of FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss
When we talk about tech, we’re really talking about it like a tool. We need to think about it in that way. To me, that’s the biggest problem parents face. They’re very confused and thinking about how to do this, and we need to move forward to where adults are teaching kids to smartly use it. Technology isn’t disconnecting anything, people are disconnecting from each other, so we have to teach people how to be empathetic.
There’s so much evidence that joint media engagement can happen. It’s not just about telling your kids to go play outside… I wish parents were outside with kids using geocaching apps. There are opportunities [to use tech] to learn.
“Parents need to understand the impact of neglecting kids” - Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth About What Technology Is Doing to Our Children
Parents need to understand the impact of neglecting kids. I don’t want to get into shame and blame. Every parent in their heart of hearts adores their kids, but these devices are addictive and provide an easy escape.
My parting suggestion to parents is to put down the tech and pick up your child. Manage balance between healthy activities and tech by scheduling “No Tech Times” such as eating dinner together every night, play board games one night a week, plan an outing half day on the weekend… all without tech!
“Both parent and child are struggling with how distracted the other is” – Steiner-Adair
I think parents are frustrated by their inability to get their children to engage with them in conversation without their kids being distracted and texting in the middle of it, and that’s a frustration that children report every bit as much as parents do, in my experience as a researcher. Both parent and child are struggling with how distracted the other is with their devices.
I’m a big fan of having screen-free zones at home – the dining room, kitchen being one. As soon as one person reaches for the phone it has a contagious effect. I think families have to work very hard to protect uninterrupted playtime together.
“We have to parent our children's digital selves just as we do their physical selves” - Hoffman
We have to parent our children's digital selves just as we do their physical selves. The best strategy? Constant, persistent, relentless communication - online and off. Monitor accounts. Know their friends and their interests. Talk often about safety and about possible dangers. Don't assume they get it. My goal is to be the loving, annoying parent about whom they roll their eyes, because that, I can live with.
Responsible screen use is essential in today's hyper-connected world. That's why Comcast created the Kids Zone feature on X1. It’s designed with both kids and parents in mind, offering a safe and secure experience for kids to independently explore their favorite content and discover new programming. For more info, click here.