Recently, I overheard a mother say, “Who needs a babysitter? Now there is the iPad!” It triggered an interesting thought: Is technology the new part-time parent? The new babysitter?
I began to question some of my teen and parent readers about this idea, and realized that both teens and parents view technology as a quasi-babysitter. Here are some quotes:
“The other day I left the house to grab something from the supermarket. I told my son I would be back in 15 minutes. I got a flat tire and it took me about an hour and a half to go to the grocery store, call Triple A and get back. When I got back, my son didn’t even notice I had been gone for longer. He was engrossed in his video games.”
“When I have a problem, I might go to my parents. But more likely I would go to my Facebook, post something, and ask my friends what I should do.”
“Instead of worrying about my daughter when she is driving, we now have technology that tells me if she is speeding, where she is going, and if she runs red lights. I do not need to worry about it anymore.”
“Social networking and texting entertains my son more than I ever could.”
“I use parental controls to monitor my child. They do it, so I do not have to.”
Some aspects of parenting are slowly being usurped by technology. Teens, for instance, turn to technology for entertainment, help, and amusement. Even parents are using technology to monitor or watch their children.
I believe this is both good and bad. On one hand, parental controls and GPS software can help keep kids safe. Educational games can keep kids entertained while they learn. Social networks allow young people to keep in touch with friends and family from far away.
On the other hand, kids need to ask their parents for help less and less often, choosing instead their technological support system. Parents might also pay less attention to their kids, thereby missing opportunities to bond with them. Most parental control software simply blocks content; it does not value the moments where a child can be taught right from wrong.
What to do? Technology is not going away! So we need to make sure that technology as a surrogate parent has all the good and none of the bad.
1. Make Appointments for Media
Make your kids set appointments for TV or Internet use, so that Facebook, video games and other media won’t be such an automatic addition to their days. This way, they look forward to media time, and parents can keep track of time spent on devices.
2. Don’t Outsource
If you have parental controls, that’s great! But be sure to parent along with them. Set the parental controls to block bad content, but also to alert you about the types of websites your child is viewing. For example, you should be alerted if your child is browsing through anorexia websites or pornography.
3. Match Technology with Reading Time or Outside Time
Make a deal in the house that for every hour of media, they must also spend an hour reading or playing outside. This makes sure kids keep a balance between technology and other activities.
Most importantly, we must consider the media and technology use in the home so it does not become automatic, but deliberate and carefully implemented.
Vanessa Van Petten is a CNN columnist, winner of the Mom’s Choice Award and an author with Penguin Books. She travels the country speaking to all types of groups about family relationships, teen lifestyles, advertising to Net-Generation and many other issues pertaining to Gen Y. She also gives keynote and inspirational speeches. She is the author of “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?”