Parenting Experts: Hi-Tech Parenting in a Texting World

Texting has become a favored form of communication amongst teens.
Texting has become a favored form of communication amongst teens.

The wrapping paper that was ripped apart in the holiday mayhem has been cleaned up, and the presents have finally been put away as we begin a New Year. Okay, parents: How many of you succumbed to buying your kids the much admired, much dreamed of, much whined for piece of hi-tech gadgetry?

So much has changed in a very short time with regard to personal use of technology. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a surge of technology in the form of texting, MP3s, iPods, broadband Internet…ultra connectivity…anyplace, anywhere.

Some of its effects have been positive. For one, we can connect with family members instantly when necessary.

However, connectivity has also paradoxically resulted in isolation for many young people. Governors and celebrities routinely give commencement speeches to high school graduates who sit texting throughout their graduation exercises, leading one to ask, Did they even experience it?

Studies in Europe indicate that young people who grow up living their lives through technology are experiencing difficulty in forming real relationships with real people as adults.

Yet, technology is here to stay.

So, how do we parent in a world bombarded with the iCulture?

“It used to be that we set boundaries and curfews for our kids when they went out on dates,” says Malcolm Gauld, president of Hyde Schools, an organization of boarding and charter schools from Maine to Washington DC that specialize in character education and leadership development. “Now, our timeouts and groundings also focus on the use of hi-tech gadgets, computer games, and the Internet. As with all things, there must be some moderation.”

The Pew ‘Internet and American Life Project’ offers some research results in this area:

  • 88 percent of all teenagers say that technology devices make their lives easier, compared with 69 percent of all parents who were asked about technology’s role in their own lives.
  • Teens who have desktops and cell phones are more likely to say that gadgets make life easier than are teens who do not own those particular technology devices.
  • While well over half of all parents of online teens (59 percent) say that the Internet has been a good thing for their children, that number has decreased significantly from the 67 percent recorded in 2004.
  • Parents of today’s online teens are vigilant: 65 percent of parents report that after their child has been on the Internet, they check to see which websites were viewed. In addition, almost three quarters of parents (74 percent) can correctly identify whether or not their online teen has ever created a social networking site profile that others can see at sites such as MySpace or Facebook.
  • 58 percent of all parents regulate how much time their children can spend watching television;
  • 59 percent of all parents regulate how much time their children can spend playing video games; and
  • 55 percent of all parents have rules about how much time their children can spend using the Internet.

The concern for most parents tends to be with content, rather than how much time a child is electronically engaged.

But Gauld says another concern of equal significance should be with the addictive use of technology, which in many ways can be similar to alcohol and drug abuses — all posing threats that can isolate children and turn them away from meaningful relationships with their families and even their peers.

And with good reason — numerous examples of teens going crazy — literally — when something goes wrong with their computer game, as well as their inability to turn it off and walk away from it, have been recorded by siblings and posted on the Internet at popular websites. These exhibits of the addictive side of electronic gaming in a virtual universe, and a teen’s potential separation from reality, are frightening. Gauld, who delivers presentations on the subject, often asks audiences to ask themselves what kind of adults will these teens become?

“It is imperative that we remain clear as parents on the role of technology in our lives,” says Gauld, who is also co-author of the parenting book ‘The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have,’ and co-founder of The Biggest Job parenting seminars.

“Technology is a tool that is helpful and can be fun. For example, our own Hyde schools have benefited from our websites and blogs. In this light, communication has taken on an immediate nature that is lively, and I get to stay in touch with the school communities in a more timely manner. Even the environment is helped, as we become more paperless.

Gauld often reminds parents that ultimately it is the technology that serves us — not likewise.

“Parents need to be vigilant when circumstances change and their teen becomes increasingly isolated, or increasingly preoccupied with a game or game level, unable to take the headphones off in conversation, or unable to put down the gadget,” he says. “Remaining present to real relationships comes first, and that needs to be made clear.”

Most would agree that technology is moving at a speed faster than adults can comprehend or control. With this in mind, Gauld believes parents’ only hope is to instill principles and values with their children and how they handle this tool. As with most things in life, technology can be a strength or an obstacle to helping prepare our young people for life.

To help prevent ‘iCulture madness’ in your child’s life, through excessive use of gadgets, Gauld offers these suggestions:

SET LIMITS. Work from the premise of ‘everything in moderation.’ Speak with your child about specific situations when it is appropriate and inappropriate to use electronic gadgets and then set a time limit each day that is consistent.

PROMOTE CONVERSATION ABOUT REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCES. When was the last time your child told a story about his or her day at the dinner table or before bedtime? For that matter, when was the last time you did? Good story-telling skills are rare and a true gift in life. Promote and encourage conversation in your child’s life, and try never to speak for your child.

BE PRESENT. There is no greater reward in a relationship than knowing someone cares enough about you to pay attention to what you have to say and acknowledge the positive of what you do. Set the example for your child that people are more important than games and gadgets by modeling that in your daily life. Having the self-discipline to disengage completely from an inanimate object in a moment and the respect for others to walk away graciously from gadgets is a far more admirable quality to possess than faster-than-the-speed-of-light fingers and dodging virtual ammo.

“As with everything else, our relationship with technology is related to our character, principles and the choices we make,” says Gauld. “What parents can do most for their child is to help them become the best adult they can be. That may mean setting some rules about gadgets—and becoming unpopular—but taking the short-term fight for the best long-term results.”