Reward, Educate, Occupy: Using Technology as Parenting Tool

The world of parenting has changed.  In 1980, parents had home phones without answering machines, televisions without remote controls, cars without screens, and maybe if they had older children they owned an Atari video game console. Today, toddlers tell parents to “Google it” when they can’t answer one of their million “why” questions, there are 24-hour cable channels created just for infants and toddlers, video game systems that read your body movements, and people carry mini-computers (smartphones) in their pockets that allow them to call friends, email co-workers, search the Internet, and download age-appropriate games for their child to play on the go.

The technological boom has impacted us all, but how has it influenced parents?  This was the main question behind the nationally representative survey of more than 2,300 parents of children under age 8. In a report titled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology, which was released on June 4, we examined the details and intricacies of parenting young children in an age in which technology and media are increasingly mobile, accessible, and constantly available.

This survey recognized that children spend substantial amounts of time with media including television, computers, and mobile devices and rather than focusing solely on child screen time, this survey sought to understand the role of the parents in creating the home media environment in which children are being raised today.

Three main findings from this study:

Yes, the world that parents parent in is different from the one in which they grew up, but the boom in mobile technology has truly become an additional tool in their parenting repertoire not their catchall solution. This generation of parents grew up with TVs, video game consoles, and some computers. They rely on the Internet, email, and mobile technology to do their work and communicate with others and they themselves are media users.  Thus, their use likely sets the stage for their children’s home media environment.

Parents are different today and with each changing generation, parents have to adapt and adjust to mesh their parenting behaviors and styles with the current environment their children are growing up in. This survey begins to scratch the surface at understanding the ways in which parents parent their young children in a world that is surrounded by digital technology.

Alexis R. Lauricella, Ph. D. one of the co-authors of this study, is a Research Associate at the Center on Media and Human Development Northwestern University.  Her research focuses on children’s learning from media and parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward and use of media with young children. Dr. Lauricella is also the founder of PlayLearnParent, a website that translates child-development research for parents. This post originally appeared on Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

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