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Is Technology Making Us Better Parents?

Sep09

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Or more paranoid parents who use technology as a way feeling like we have control?

Wow, Mom, I don’t know how you even LIVED back then!

My children say this to me as though I was a pioneer barely eeking out an existence, slaughtering livestock and washing my clothes down at the river. When, in fact, I am merely telling them that when I was their age we had to watch television live. With the commercials. On one of the three channels that we were able to get, after we moved the tinfoil covered rabbit ears around. And we had to get up and walk across the room to the tv to change the channel.

Rabbit ears? That is what we called the antennas that stuck out of the tv.
Tinfoil? Yeah, I’m not sure it really did anything.

Then they ask me about all the other things that I didn’t have growing up:

Microwave? No
DVDs? No. No VHS either. (What’s that, the youngest of my children want to know.)
Cellphones? No.
Nor did we have cordless phones.
Yes, the phone was attached to the wall.
No, you could not text from it.
Internet? No.
iPods? No. We had cassette tapes. Their confused faces tell me I have to elaborate.
They were before CDs.

We had to make plans BEFORE we went out for the night.

They look at me the same way that I remember looking at my mother when she would tell me how they sat around listening to shows on the radio. Awww, what a quaint and simple time. Clearly that was why she didn’t get me.  It would take me twenty years to realize the reason she didn’t understand me was because I was a teenager, no one understands them. 

I know how life has changed from the perspective of being a kid. I can see it clearly with my own children who are constantly plugged into their friends. The children of today know nothing else. But what about from the perspective of the parent? Have we become better parents? Has having technology and information at our fingertips made us better parents?

The microwave, infinite television stations, the DVR, cellphones… all of these things have made life easier, at a price.  It is hard to tell exactly what that price is, but one thing I think is that it has made us impatient.  It has made us look for a quick fix.  Sending a text message is much quicker than a phone call or email and usually receives an immediate reply. 

Last week I went to the 6th grade orientation at the middle school. One of the things the principal discussed was cell phone usage. They changed the rules so that kids may use their phones for texting and calls during their lunch period. She said that if you needed to talk to your child that was the time to call them. Parents around me murmured how great it was to be able to connect with your kid during the day. I, on the other hand, thought it was not so great. For six hours a day I think you can let your middle school aged children be out from under your thumb. The needing to get in touch with them because it is an emergency argument doesn’t hold water either because for most of the day their phones need to be turned off. And what sort of emergency would be appropriate to call your middle schooler and tell them about in the middle of the school day anyway.

Only my highschool aged children have their own phones. It was a rite of passage.  My fourth and sixth grade sons tell me that they are the ONLY kids in their classes without a phone of their own. While I doubt that they are the only ones, they are certainly in the minority. Who exactly are they calling?  I ask my sons this and they have no answer.  But I know the answer, they are calling their mothers.  They talk enough to me in person, I don’t want them calling me on the phone too. 

Most of the parents I know who have given their children cell phones say that it is so they can “track them down” at all times.  I don’t really feel the need to do that either.  Something which probably makes me sound like a bad mother in some social circles.

At the church my children attend they are scanned in with a little bar code.  It seems excessive to me.  But it is hard to argue against the “safety” argument, without seeming to be uncaring.   No one can kidnap them from the church classroom.

At the highschool I had to show my driver’s license to check my teenage son out of school in an elaborate process.  I thought it was to prove I was his parent, but no, the office worker told me it was to run the driver’s license against a sexual offender database and make sure no child is released to a sex offender.  Has this been a problem I wondered?  No, they are just being proactive. 

Have these things made any difference in the safety of our children?

Recently, I was looking at my phone plan and I realized that there is tracking device that can be added to our phones. It would give me the exact location of the phone’s whereabouts, and presumably the person to whom the phone belongs. I would think that most people are getting this tracking device for their children. But, why? Is it because you are worried that your child is going to be kidnapped on their way home from school? Something which is highly unlikely, though if you watch shows like Dateline or Nancy Grace you would think they were daily occurrences.  Is it because you think your kid is going somewhere they are not supposed to be going?  Which really is a different issue that won’t be solved with a GPS tracking device in their phone.

We have the illusion of control and the peace of mind that comes with that. We feel like we have covered every “what if” or “better safe than sorry” scenario.  But are we better parents?  Or the same old parents with a heaping of guilt added to the top?

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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20 Responses to “Is Technology Making Us Better Parents?”

  1. Rayne of Terror Sep 09 at 9:53 am Reply Reply

    Have you told them about the card catalog?

  2. Adriana Sep 09 at 11:39 am Reply Reply

    Ahahaha! We just watched Modern Marvels- the 60’s. My boys, 10 & 9, were so wowed about what was invented back then. Wait til they watch the 70’s episode- Pong!

    Have you read “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy? I’ve started following her blog and seriously, things are crazy out there in regards to the fear factor and our kids.

    As for cell phones, 3yrs ago when my son was in 1st grade, after the bell rang, a first grader girl comes out of the classroom, put down her backpack, pulled out her cell phone, called someone and started talking, then picked up her bag and off she goes… Who is a first grader calling immediately after school? A parent? School gets out at the same time everyday!

    I haven’t decided when my boys will get their own cell phones but high school sounds like a good idea.

  3. Fabs Sep 09 at 12:43 pm Reply Reply

    We are the same old parents with a HEAP of guilt on top. I can not figure out why I feel so guilty all the time? My fifth grader wants a cell phone, and I ask her “who are you going to call?” and she doesn’t have an answer. I am relieved to know you won’t let your kids have cell phones until high school! Now I can tell my kids “I know another mom who won’t let her kids have a cell phone until high school!”

  4. Nicki Sep 09 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    Ha… My parents were slow to upgrade for a time.. so I actually remember having an 8-track tape deck in their stereo.

    I can’t believe the number of kids 5th grade and under that have cell phone.  Sometimes texting can give the wrong impression on tone of the conversation too.  

    By the way, the barcode at your church does seem a bit much.  I can see at a large in-door playground…to each their own, I guess.

    As for the tracking of your kids with GPS, I would have seriously hated my parents for that.   To some degree I can understand the desire to protect them… but a normal/good  teenager would really despise that.

    Sometimes I wonder if as a society we have let fear take over and now we don’t live because “something might happen.”  Perfect instance of this, I was sitting in my son’s allergist lobby watching those health videos they show.  The lady doing the talking said that we needed to keep the windows shut, run the A/C, monitor the allergen count and keep them inside on certain days.  My son has year round seasonal allergies.  If I followed the video advice he’d never see the light of day!  Not to mention in-door air can be more harmful than outdoor!

    Then again I, who was a total geek (computer science degree and all) have become somewhat technophobic after discovering this site:

    http://www.spokeo.com/name

    I closed my facebook and twitter accounts.

  5. Lucinda Sep 09 at 2:05 pm Reply Reply

    Well said. I think so much of it is about perspective. Society blows safety issues out of perspective. The other thing is letting go. It’s hard letting go. But it’s necessary. This technology impedes that process that is so necessary for our children to become functioning adults. Technology is a tool that has made many facets of our lives easier but we need to make sure we are using the tool reasonably instead of using it to give in to all our fears (and guilt).

  6. Mrs. D. Sep 09 at 2:20 pm Reply Reply

    I am in the minority as well then because I do not hyper-parent my children. I expect that enough of what I teach them about values and responsibility and all that other good stuff actually sticks in their thick skulls enough that they can make good decisions even if I’m not right there to guide them.

    However will children grow into responsible adults if we do not allow them to be responsible children?

    Also – my 14-year-old son pays for his own phone because I refused to.

  7. Carolyn Sep 09 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I am your typical hypocrite parent. I HATE cell phones with a passion. We caved when my oldest turned 14. So, the bar is now set. My daughter got hers on her birthday…at 14. My 12 year old IS the only friend in her group without a cell phone, and luckily, she is OK with it (mostly because she has seen the havoc it has created, both with her siblings AND her friends (nothing like spending the night with a friend and have her spend the entire time texting a DIFFERENT friend).

    So, the phones have become a disciplinary tool for us. Step out of line…the first thing to go is the phone.

    My biggest issue with the phone (and the computers, texting, AIM, etc) is that these children are losing their ability to communicate unless it is via technology. They type things to their friends (and me) that they would NEVER consider saying to a person’s face. And losing that ability to filter is dropping the civility bar to the point where now, anything goes.

    It will be interesting to see the types of adults these children become. I’m willing to bet that this is going to be one of those issues that parents will look back in perfect 20-20 hindsight and say…What the hell were we thinking?

  8. Kathy Sep 09 at 4:24 pm Reply Reply

    My 6th and 4th graders do not have cell phones either. When asked why they wanted them, the answer was “everyone else has them”. Not a good enough reason for me. I even called my ex to get his take; thinking perhaps I wasn’t seeing the big picture. Amazingly we agreed – when they start participating in activities and going places where we don’t drop off and pick up then maybe a cell phone is necessary.
    In response to Carolyn – people cannot communicate these days without technology. Yesterday at work I got a “hand slap” for not including a co-worker on an informational e-mail. He wasn’t included because I had walked two desks down and spoken to him directly. CRAZY!! No one had even thought that; they just assumed I hadn’t done my duty in getting all the information to everyone that needed it.

  9. Brigitte Sep 10 at 5:48 am Reply Reply

    As far as our parenting skills go, the only improvement I can actually think of is the online information available (assuming you’re a parent who can filter the real info from the junk) when there is a health problem with your child, and the online communities and support people can find if there is a serious issue with the child.
    . . . . Whereas, in “the old days”, you had to relie on whatever your one local doctor said, even if he was a narrow-viewed doctor, and had to feel isolated and alone if your child had a special issue. . . . Otherwise, nope, don’t see the improvement.

  10. Mama Fly Sep 10 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    I agree with you, Chris. Especially about the fact that they talk to me enough, I do NOT need to chat with them through the school day. What kind of emergency could occur that would not allow a parent to contact their child via the school phone number? My fourth and fifth graders mention phones, but I don’t think they actually have peers who have them. Our answer now is no phone until you have a job so you can pay the bill. I am sure this will change as they get older, but I think the impulse to be in constant contact is really costing us in terms of family and personal time.

  11. ~annie Sep 10 at 3:55 pm Reply Reply

    What kills the the constant texting: Across the aisle on the bus, across the table at lunch, across the living room while watching a movie. Texting is apparently even better than making s’mores! It was the main activity across the campfire at our last group camping trip… Depressing.

  12. Rachel Sep 11 at 2:04 pm Reply Reply

    Interesting article. I’m 24 years old (no kids) so I guess I’m kind of seeing it from both sides – both as the kid who so desperately wanted a cell phone and the parent who is trying to find a balance (I’m close with my 38 year old sister-in-law who is a single mom with an 11 year old and a 15 year old so I hear the parent-venting side a lot).

    My parents got me a cell phone when I was a junior in high school I think. This was before the days that texting was super-popular, so I didn’t really text a lot until college. The amount of time that my 15 year old niece spends texting amazes me – about eight or ten THOUSAND a month. So much time wasted. And now the 11 year old has one because most of her friends do and my SIL wanted to cancel the home phone which was what the 11 year old used.

    I don’t really see a point in a kid having a phone until high school, and I could even make the argument that they don’t need one till driving time. Kids need to be learning how to have face-to-face relationships and then how to balance technology with that…which is still something that even I am working on. :/ Sometimes I wonder what kind of world my teenagers are going to be living in…

  13. PamS Sep 13 at 9:32 am Reply Reply

    I’m not sure we are better or worse parents, however I do believe that this ridiculous amount of parent/child connection makes them unable to think for themselves or problem solve. You can’t teach common sense and if they call you up for every little thing in school – can you imagine what a mess they could make when you hand them the keys to a virtual weapon (aka – the car) when they are 16? I agree – you don’t need to talk to your kids while they are in school – unless the principal is telling them to call you (YIKES). I knew a woman who had to call her kid at school to tell her that their cat had died! WHY??? Don’t you think that is info that could wait till the student gets home? Now the kid is upset at school and the cat is still dead! You are right Chris – if you need to GPS track your kid you have other issues. And Rachel is right – kids need to learn how to face to face better – but that is a difficult argument to followup on when you see as many parents texting these days as you see kids doing it! Whew! Okay I”m done – good question!

  14. Christina Sep 13 at 12:34 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I have been talking about what-will-be when we have kids. We agree kids are too connected.
    I got a cell phone when I got a driver’s license and it was only to stay in the glove compartment and to be used in case of accidents.

    My husband didn’t have cable growing up (though cable was new-ish, then) and thought public access was the extent of the channels until he was 10 or so. Sometimes I’m afraid to tell people that story about him…

  15. Sandy Sep 13 at 1:04 pm Reply Reply

    I think this is linked to the recent articles I’ve read about helicopter parents and their difficulty in letting go when their kids started college. College, for heaven’s sake. They’re 18 years old! Let them go! More to your point, why does a child need to talk to his/her mother during the day? Emergencies can be communicated to the office and they can get the kids out of class. Let them grow up! They’re not your property!

  16. Jennifer Sep 13 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

    My youngest daughter is 6. Her best friend now has her own cell phone. Who do they call at the age of 6? they call me on the bus ride home. nice. The point of the phone is what at that age?

  17. tiff Sep 15 at 9:45 am Reply Reply

    My main argument about cell phones is the ability it gives kids to have a CONSTANT separate “life” going on that parents cannot be aware of, interact with, control,etc. Kids used to have to at least tolerate the situations they were in apart from their friends, now they just check out and connect with their friends. Kids’ general manners and ability to interact with adults is aftected as well. It’s a whole new area of etiquette that parents need to tutor their kids in.

  18. Jennifer Sep 16 at 8:14 pm Reply Reply

    In my family I got a cell phone when I was traveling with a sports team (to let my parents know when I was close to the pick up spot) and I wasn’t allowed to have it on me unless I was taveling. I got a cell phone of my own when I turned 16 and it was because I was beginning to drive that way I would always have a cell phone on me.

  19. Grainne Sep 18 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    I love that here in the UK (Northern Ireland) we don’t yet have the same fear fed into us by our media, I childmind and my eldest charge (an 11YO girl) gets the school bus and then walks (at least part of the way) home by herself or with another girlfriend, she has a phone but only uses it if she wants a lift (in bad weather).
    When the kids play out they go off and I don’t worry, they were raised with sense and I trust them and the area. It is so sad that so many are wrapped in cotton wool (even here) and not allowed some freedom to explore and adventure (even if it’s just in their local neighbourhood).
    I loved my childhood (I’m 28), sent out to play and told to be back before dark or when I was hungry, you can make your children smile that in our backward wee country we only got the equivalent of DVR’s lat year!

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