If I had to boil it down to one pervasive truth – parents are afraid. We live in a time when the very thing we fear is also fueling the fear. We read article after article, weigh the pros and the cons and the pros again. We worry and feel guilty that no matter what side of the screen time/technology debate we fall on, it’s the wrong one. We have all the tools we’ll ever need to raise our kids and we don’t want to screw it up. So, we read and listen, taking it all in, making the best decisions we can. But I’m starting to think that this is building more fear in all of us instead of helping us.
One article I’ve seen in recent weeks was named “The scary truth about what is hurting our kids.” Sure titles are supposed to catch our attention but before we even read the story we already know it’s going to be bad. The article recapped a recent CNN interview with author Jean M. Twenge, PhD and author of the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. Based on decades of research, the author has dubbed anyone born from 1995 – 2012 as the “iGen”, where “i” stands for Internet. (She states you could also associate it with the obvious iPhone and iPad.) The summary of this article and the CNN interview focuses on the pieces of the research showing the iGen is hanging out less with their friends, dating less and more likely to feel lonely. However, if you read the book, you will also find this generation (and the millennials before them) are waiting longer to drink alcohol, get their drivers license and have sex. Did you know the teen birth rate has dropped over 50% from 1992 to 2015! I can’t be the only one that thinks that is an important statistic, but yet, that part of the book is not talked about in the article. Hmmm?
I am not saying that one statistic is more important or more valid than another, but I do want to point out one important thing. I create graphs every day and cannot emphasize how important it is to look at the range of the numbers on the axis and the words used. It’s easy to assume that the lower corner is 0 and the numbers grow by 10 or by 100 or by 1,000, but that is not always the case. One of the graphs shared on CNN was “Times per week teenagers go out without their parents”. The scale starts at 1.9 times per week and goes to 2.9 times per week. The graph declines from 1976 – 2015, showing 12th grade kids are going out less without their parents. When the iPhone first came out, 12th graders averaged 2.7 times per week and then it declined to 2.3 times a week by 2015. Mathematically decreasing from 2.7 to 2.3 may be statistically significant, but in layman’s terms 12th grade kids today go out without their parents now about twice a week, compared to just over two and a half times a week before the iPhone. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference to me, sure it’s a change, but is it really the iPhone’s fault?
The question I want to ask is – how come they are going everywhere with their parents? I am as guilty as the next parent – there is no way my 8th grade daughter is going to the mall to hang out with her friends without a parent at the mall. Most of the other parents in our circle feel the same, we don’t trust other people, so we feel more comfortable if an adult is around. And you know what? Our kids are ok with this as a condition of going to the mall. The book also shows statistics that there are fewer latchkey kids, in other words, more parents are at home after school when the kids are. Another surprising statistic is that just over 70% of 12 graders had their drivers license in 2014 compared to almost 90% in 1979. Many kids are getting their drivers license at 18 only because their parents are pushing them to do so. The inherent desire for freedom and being out on their own has decreased significantly. All of these statistics looked at together make me wonder, is this solely a result of technology? Or have parents made it so comfortable for our children that they are in no hurry to take on adult responsibilities before they absolutely have to?
Here’s the thing – technology is not good and it’s not bad. Technology itself is a neutral tool. Yes, we have challenges right now in our society that are very serious, but so did the generations before us. In the end, it ultimately comes down to the relationship you have with your child. Do you take the time to talk to them about the things that matter to them? Do you take the time to play and be goofy and have fun? Do they know that you are there for them, that you see them for who they are and that they know they matter?
We put a lot of our time and trust into technology we cannot see –can you imagine a day without Wi-Fi? You can’t see it, but you depend on it every day.
I think it’s time that we put our trust into something else we cannot see. Something that we depend on every day, that we could not live without and that’s been around a lot longer than technology - love. Let’s put our trust in loving our children and the people they will grow up to be. With love at the forefront, all the external influences will have much less of an impact.