As Sherry Turkey pointed out in her great book Alone Together (2011), “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” Unfortunately, this applies to parenting as well. What parent hasn’t relied on an iPad or a cartoon to entertain a child when a break is needed?
As a child gets older, the focus shifts from the parent’s use of technology to the child’s control of it. Children are getting smartphones, on average, at age 10 (down from age 12 a few years ago). (Cite: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/technology/personaltech/whats-the-right-age-to-give-a-child-a-smartphone.html ) That trend is likely to go younger. That’s a smartphone, not a phone for emergency purposes — smartphones have internet access and texting abilities — for a 10-year old!
A great resource for internet safety for your kids is the book The Boogeyman Exists; And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket. (Hint: you can read this for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited account, or are willing to open one for a 30-day free trial) It covers cell phone use, social media, gaming, online pornography risks, and YouTube.
What’s the right age to get a child a cell phone? The answer is all over the map, but the New York Times article referenced above, with that exact title (July 2016) can help you with the decision.
So, a parent can be vigilant as to when a young child starts using technology, and a parent can diligently monitor almost everything — up to a point. But once your children are beyond a certain age (12? 13? ), a parent’s control over technology becomes much more limited. Unless a parent is willing to restrict an older child’s privacy constantly (which can cause all kinds of other problems), a child after a certain age is going to have access to all kinds of technology that simply can’t be 100% monitored by a parent.
The stress that technology has created on our children is only just starting to show itself. Time magazine’s recent cover article The Kids Are Not All Right is required reading for all parent when your kids hit age 12 or so. Kids in that article describe the enormous stress, anxiety and depression experienced by teens trying to navigate social media, constant texting, and never being without a cell phone and its demands. “We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all” describes one teen. “We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today. . . . . at no point do you get to remove yourself from it and get perspective.”
The problem is made worse when divorced or separated parents either don’t talk about the issue, or talk about it but don’t agree on the children’s use of social media and phones. If for no other reason, parents should try hard to communicate effectively about social media and cell phone use so the children aren’t left to fend with those stresses on their own.