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Society - Written by on Friday, June 18, 2010 7:12 - 5 Comments

Naumi Haque
The Net Gen: Too plugged-in for parenting?

Actually, the title of this post should really be, “The Net Gen: Too connected to wireless devices, social media, and ‘always-on’ technologies for parenting,” but “plugged-in” just sounded better. In fact, fewer of us are actually physically plugged-in these days, with smart phones replacing computers as the device of choice for digital accessibility as well as ‘interrupt-ability.’ We’ve researched the effect this has on the Net Generation as both customers and employees, but as this generation gets older (the oldest Net Geners are now 32), it’s also worth discussing how it will affects them as parents. We know that many Net Geners are waiting longer to have kids, but for those that have taken the plunge, how does the experience of ‘growing up digital’ translate into parenting behaviours and attitudes towards technology in the home?

In some cases, there may be benefits such as using an iPhone for interactive kid’s games, or using cell phones to keep track of older children on-the-go. In other cases, the activities raise new issues and question about appropriateness such as creating digital identities for children the moment they are born, or using Google and other online sites to diagnose children and chronicle their development. The New York Times last week published an article titled “R U Here Mom?” or “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” for the online edition. The article profiles work done by child development researchers looking at how parental addiction to technology affects communication with children and early childhood learning. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self has done extensive research on the topic for over five years, including 300 interviews. As quoted in the NYT article, she says:

“Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.

There’s something that’s so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world. I’ve talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they get resistance, ‘Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.’ It’s like ‘one more drink.’ ”

(Additional insights can be found in the comments section of the article where Dr. Turkle is very active.)

The NYT article also profiles an informal test conducted by Dr. Dana Suskind from the University of Chicago which looked at the effect of smart phone use on verbal interactions between parents and children. In most case, verbal communication dropped when devices were present. This is an important indicator because verbal communication is seen as a key indicator of how well children develop language skills and vocabulary.

Source: New York Times, June 9, 2010

As we look to the future generation of parents, the trend is a bit troubling. And, lest I get accused of throwing rocks at glass houses, I will admit my own faults as well: While certainly not the worst offender, I count myself among those guilty parents that sometimes tune-out to technology.

My last post was about social media addiction and highlighted how young people, as well as older people exhibit signs of technology addiction, including messaging during meals (49% for those under 25), while in the bathroom (24%), or even during sex (11%). “While feeding my child,” “while my child plays,” or “while taking a child to daycare” were not options in the Retrevo survey, but I’m sure there would be a substantial percentage of those people as well. I would also expect the numbers to get higher in the future. A recent report from Pew Internet and American Life Project found that one-in-three American teens sends in excess of 100 text messages per day (more than 3,000 per month). The typical (median) teen sends and receives about 50 text messages a day (30 per day for boys and 80 per day for girls), although the average (mean) is much higher at 112 messages per day. A quarter of all American teens ages 16-17 text while driving. And while texting is certainly the worst offender with respect to device-immersion, other activities are also contributing to teen technology use for communication versus face-to-face communication.

Texting teens

 Do we expect this type of device-oriented behaviour to stop in adulthood? Or, left unchecked, will it simply get worse with added work-related responsibilities (i.e. the “Crackberry” trap) and the proliferation of screens, communication channels, entertainment gadgets, and social media?


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Ben Ziegler
Jun 18, 2010 10:07

Good research/post Naumi. I’m not sure how it will turn out for next geners entering parenthood. To me it seems an interesting paradox: on one hand all the devices give us (and especially those growing up with the technology) more ways to communicate with others, and have a conversation, … a good thing. On the other hand, the zoning out in the technology… to detriment of verbal, face-to-face communications. As a family, as a society… which is having larger effect? It’s (device happiness) all so new, not sure how one could trend/predict impact too far into the future. Still, your post gives adds nicely to the discussion.

Naumi Haque
Jun 18, 2010 11:44

Thanks Ben. One of the positive aspects from the NYT article that I didn’t mention is that our mobile technology and personal devices often allow us to work more flexibly, which can be a boon for work\life balance and parenting in particular. Personally, I work from home about half the week, which is made possible by my laptop, wireless, and IP phone. So, there is absolutely an upside as well in terms of being around when my son comes home from daycare and being with him in the morning after my wife leaves for work – even if having the work devices on means I end up entertaining work e-mails and requests at odd hours or late in the evening.

Joanne Gouaux
Jun 22, 2010 19:16

The “too plugged in for parenting” title grabbed me. It hits close to home. While the trend may be a bit troubling, I think the key is “everything in moderation.” There is no shortage of temptations to distract parents and people in general from focusing on real face-to-face relationships (tv, over working, over drinking, etc.) It’s an interesting topic. Good food for thought. Well done!

Great blue machine
Jul 5, 2010 4:32

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Kamal Latif
Jul 6, 2010 6:20

Interesting article Naumi. I was left pondering how my interaction with technology affects my parenting whilst working from home on the dinner table (though not at dinner time thankfully) and I was confronted by a confused little daughter who wanted to play with her father as he was home and had apparently lept over the boundary of work to focus on her. The increasing digital connections in our lives do blur traditional boundaries and force me certainly to think about putting the laptop away to focus on my parenting. Kam

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