Like it or not, we are all “connected parents” now, say Harvard experts Urs Gasser and John Palfrey. But while we shoulder a brand-new portfolio of responsibilities, we can still use traditional parenting strategies to get the job done.
Teens are now spending an average of nine hours a day online. Most kids are getting their first smartphones at age 11 or younger, and virtually all are using screens for classroom and remote learning. Even the majority of today’s toddlers own a mobile device.
The pace of change has been dizzying. A mere decade ago, the term “screen-time” was practically unknown. Today, the quantity and the quality of time children spend on their devices are consistently identified as a top concern for parents.
Issues around privacy and so-called “surveillance capitalism” - the practice of companies harvesting user behavioural data to drive profits - have also emerged as growing concerns for parents, not to mention policymakers and lawmakers.
The challenges that face mums and dads in this new digital reality are twofold, say Harvard experts Urs Gasser and John Palfrey: first, to minimise risks to our children’s health and wellbeing; and second, to maximise their opportunities for positive engagement.
In plain English: to keep our kids safe, and help them grow.
In their new book The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World, Gasser and Palfrey of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, argue that effective connected parenting is more than just Googling advice and tips.
It needs to rest on a solid framework grounded in experience, data and research.
“You should be led in your parenting not by fear, but by the data,” they explain. They urge parents to “get their hands dirty” with technology and to stay on top of current research trends - both positive and negative.
“You don’t have to be on Snapchat all day long, or whatever is the latest technology at that moment, but you need to be credible for your advice to resonate with young people.”
The number-one takeaway from their research? Parents need to focus on the “lived experience” of the child - in other words, to try to see the world from their child’s perspective. And that means seeing the online world as simply another dimension of experience - not “online” versus “real life,” but just … life.
Citing cyberbullying as an example, they point out that wherever bullying takes place - whether online or offline - “it’s actually all just bullying.”
And that’s good news for parents, because “the research shows that most of the strategies that have worked for us historically in good parenting are going to hold up in this new world too.”
The five keys to excellent connected parenting
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