Parenting is harder now because of tech

As a father of four, I’m fond of saying my kids were born with screens in their hands.

I know that sounds awful. We’re really not absent-minded, hands-off parents. We limit screen time and tech access. We set age limits on smartphone use, video games and content from streaming services.

Of course, as most parents will tell you, these rules have become increasingly difficult to enforce as the pandemic in the U.S. persists. Still, even before the pandemic, parents were struggling to find a “too much” and “too little” (or no) balance.

So, has technology really made it harder to parent?

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of parents in the U.S. with at least one child younger than 18, but who may also have an adult child, say parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago because of technology.

I don’t have adult children, but I remember what it was like to be parented by a mom and dad who didn’t have to worry about who we were chatting with online and what apps we were downloading to our phones.

After all, we didn’t have the cool toys and tech our kids have access to today.

“One of the most highly discussed and debated topics among parents today is screen time,” Pew researchers Brooke Auxier, Monica Anderson, Andrew Perrin and Erica Turner wrote in their report.

“How much is too much? And what impact will screens have on children’s development? Amid these growing questions, the World Health Organization issued guidelines last year on the amount of time young children should spend in front of screens.”

I wasn’t a big fan of the WHO recommendations when they were published in 2019.

They recommended no screen time for kids younger than 2 years old and just 60 minutes per day for 3- to 4-year-olds. Quite frankly, unless you live in an area where there is no access to technology, it’s too strict — to the point of being unenforceable.

Still, parents are anxious about high amounts of screen time. The Pew team found that 71-percent of parents of children under 12 were somewhat concerned their child might spend too much time in front of screens.

“Some parents with a child in this age range already believe their child spends too much time on certain devices, including a smartphone,” Pew’s team reported. “While a majority of parents say they are … somewhat confident in knowing the appropriate amount of screen time for their child, they are also seeking out advice from others.”

Most parents of children under 11 say they received advice about screen time from a medical professional. More than half said they get advice from other parents, and nearly half said they’ve asked teachers for recommendations.

“Parents overall are also apprehensive about the long-term effects of smartphones on children’s development,” Pew’s team added. “Seventy-one percent believe the widespread use of smartphones by young children might potentially result in more harm than benefits.”

Note that Pew’s survey was conducted before the pandemic. It’s possible their results would be different now as many children have been forced into online learning, with caretakers looking on.

You can read the full report on the Pew Research Center’s Internet & Tech section at www.pewresearch.org.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is a professor of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.


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