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Pew mobile Internet study: Parenting changes with childhood mobile saturation

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Steve Helber / Associated Press

(Read caption) New data shows the mobile platform seems to be closing the digital divide in the US. Here, Afrika Lewis, left, and Ausja Mason, center, of Birmingham, Ala., watch the Presidential Inauguration on a smart phone on Jan. 21in Washington.

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After looking through the new "Teens & Technology 2013" study issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, I'm as convinced as ever that regardless of income or education level, tech parenting is changing.

“The nature of teens’ Internet use has transformed dramatically – from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day,” the study’s lead author, Mary Madden, writes in the report. And I'll summarize those interesting findings below. But some parenting context is important to consider first.

It’s difficult to control either the use or the users of an Internet that goes wherever the users go. But was control ever easy either? What replaces control? You might call it a guidance system, both internal and external. Psychologists and game designers talk about intrinsic/extrinsic rewards in learning and gaming. I think what we’re collectively learning now, urged on by the media shift, is that the most effective parenting starts with mostly external guidance (though I think children arrive with all the parts of an internal guidance system already in place; it just “learns” with use) and becomes increasingly internal and increasingly effective.*

My friend, author and teen and parent adviser Annie Fox, calls it our children’s moral compass. The child, their parents, many other people, and life experience activate, calibrate, and improve that moral compass. Those who care the most are there with the child the most when the guidance system hits an unknown. That’s why we need to keep the communication channels as wide open as possible so they’ll seek the external guidance they need to do the calibrating. So, as Henry Jenkins, a professor and friend, says about parenting our very mobile, connected kids, we need to “watch their backs, not look over their shoulders.”


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