Don't Fight the Future: Adapt to a High Tech World

Recently, an episode of ABC’s Blackish entitled “Their Eyes Were Watching Screens” hilariously and pointedly addressed our shared parental concern around our children’s use of digital technologies. The program highlighted the many conveniences of the Internet but also the dangers and challenges familiar to many parents across this country: access to highly inappropriate content, around-the-clock screen time and our inability as parents to control it. The parents, Dre and Bow Johnson go through the stages many of us do in attempting to address their concerns. They begin by spying on their kids’ online activities and uncover disturbing behavior from posting sexy selfies, consuming adult or violent videos to the confusing popular past time of kids watching videos of other kids playing video games.  Their ‘parenting crisis’ also exposes their own less-than-perfect online behavior.

The Problem: 

To confront the issue Dre and Bow try the strategies many parents have and come to same conclusions:

  • Talk to your kids about appropriate online activities: It’s not preventative and is less than full proof against any child willing to push boundaries.  As their teenage children point out, they have access to the Internet almost everywhere so the parents are just going to have to learn to trust them.
  • Shut down the Internet: This is not practical and proves more of a problem for the parents than the kids they are trying to protect.  
  • Employ a Net Nanny:  Both cumbersome and ineffective Dre realizes that he can’t rely on the technology because “it can’t tell the difference between porn and homework.” 

Exasperated when seeing everyone around him staring at screens Dre asks, “How could I cure my kids of a disease the whole world had caught?” This is a common feeling among parents I meet in my digital parenting presentations. There are many tools available to parents (restriction settings on the devices themselves, Wi-Fi based parental controls such as Circle, age-verification products like Privo and social media monitoring apps like PocketGuardian) but there is not one easy fix for every family, or even within one household. In reality, there is never going to be a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to any complicated parenting challenge from sleep training to college-readiness and managing digital devices is no exception.

History Repeating Itself:

And maybe we should recognize that while the technology has changed the actual parental problem is no different than what previous generations faced. Dre’s live-in mother Ruby replies to his frustration saying, “Knock it off with all the doom and gloom, you think any of this is new?” and she reminds her son about the raunchy videos he watched as a teen himself on MTV. “There’s always going to be something coming in to your house that you can’t control… kids will never stop being curious.” She’s right. There have been generation gaps going back for, well, generations. From banned books like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Catcher in the Rye” to Elvis and Rock and Roll, to the intrusion of TV in every home, the tensions are constant; it’s just the medium that has changed.  

Solution: 

Part of the problem today is that the pressures and style of parenting has changed so that we expect perfection in ourselves and the solutions designed for us. I think instead, we should welcome the advancement in technology with all the good and the bad that comes with it. Yes, we want our kids to be good digital citizens and the teens in the episode make sound arguments that the kids are alright. As parents, we should continue to model and encourage healthy use of technology and incorporate it in to our value lessons seamlessly.  Remember, there is no app and no technology that replaces your role as a parent so while using parenting software can assist you in keeping your kids safe from the most harmful aspects of our connected world; it is still up to you to guide them down the right path. As Ruby concludes, “don’t fight the future, it just makes you look old.” So, the future has entered your home. What can you do? Embrace it and adapt, like generations before you have done.

 

Feel like you still need help? Book a Digital Parenting Workshop for your school or group.