Digital parenting styles are a definite thing - and in a world where online learning is here to stay, the style you adopt is more important than ever.
Digital parenting, experts remind us, is first and foremost - well, parenting. Just as in the rest of life, doing it well depends on finding that sweet spot between love and limits.
Well before the advent of the Age of Google, developmental psychologists identified four basic parenting styles: permissive, authoritative, authoritarian and neglectful.
Each has been found to have a different impact on child behaviour. And each is identified with particular characteristics around responsiveness and control.
Permissive Parents - high responsiveness, low control
These mums and dads are more likely to take on a friendship role with their kids, avoiding conflict whenever possible, acquiescing to their children’s pleas at the first sign of distress. They may avoid setting rules and expectations entirely, or have a few that are rarely enforced. Communication tends to be open, with an emphasis on kids making their own decisions.
Authoritative Parents - high responsiveness, high control
These parents are nurturing and supportive, but they also allow natural consequences to occur without necessarily intervening - treating them as opportunities for learning and reflection. They remain flexible but also set clear rules and expectations. Authoritative parents listen to their kids, and take their feelings into account. They aim to raise kids who are self-disciplined and can think for themselves.
Authoritarian Parents - high demandingness, low responsiveness
These parents are fans of a “tough love” approach, where the grownups call the shots and kids fall into line - or else. There are plenty of rules and boundaries, which tend to be enforced rigidly and imposed without consultation (“because I said so!”). Children’s feelings may be disregarded in an effort to maintain order and obedience. Kids frequently respond by becoming sneaky and rebellious.
Neglectful Parents - low responsiveness, low demandingness
Where authoritarian parents are constantly on guard to enforce rules, neglectful parents simply can’t be bothered. They are uninvolved, indifferent - and often incapable of seeing beyond their own issues (which typically include struggles with mental illness, trauma, addiction and/or domestic violence). The outcomes for the children of truly neglectful parents can be very dire, and frequently lead to an inter-generational cycle of dysfunction.
Digital structure, digital warmth
So … you can see where this is going, can’t you?
First off, research has shown conclusively that the authoritative style leads to the best outcomes for kids. It encourages self-discipline, understanding and reason - by protecting children with a balance of love and limits.
And so too when it comes digital parenting. Authoritative digital parenting means giving your kids plenty of “digital warmth” while providing clear “digital structure,” advises parenting expert Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time.
Digital structure refers to the amount of oversight parents provide. When it comes to remote schooling, do they check kids’ assignments online, or trust them to manage homework themselves? Do they use parental controls to block distractions during children’s study times?
Outside of schooling, are there limits placed on gaming, social media, streaming services? Are there rules around device use in bedrooms?
Digital warmth is shown when parents don’t turn screen-time into a battlefield but rather see it as an opportunity to connect with kids. Maybe that means watching funny TikToks together, or finally learning some of the rudiments of Minecraft.
But however it happens, research has found, establishing these connections will lead to more compliance, not less, around online boundaries.
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