Parenting the littlest media users: A study shows what concerns new parents(Read article summary)
Are parents concerned about their wee ones becoming addicted to new media? Meh, not really. Nor are they saying media use is a source of conflict, a new study says.
Increasingly, digital media are just part of the rhythm of everyday US family life, a significant new study of parents of young children indicates. The study, âParenting in the Age of Digital Technology,â conducted by Northwestern Universityâs Center on Media & Human Development, surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 2,300 parents of children 8 and under about how media â both âtraditionalâ and digital â inform and fit into their everyday lives and parenting. The authors found that â78% report that their childrenâs media use is not a source of family conflict, and 59% said they arenât concerned their kids will become addicted to new media,â according toÂ US News & World Report.Â
Whatâs most on parentsâ minds (Source: the âParenting in the Age of Digital Technologyâ report).
What does concern those parents is the impact of lots of screen time on kidsâ health â âthe negative impact screen time has on kidsâ physical activity levels. More than 60% said video games result in less movement by their children, with similar proportions saying the same about TV, computers and mobile devices,â US News reports. The authors themselves wrote that parents âare more likely to find a positive than negative effect of media and technology on many of their childrenâs academic skills.â
Family media use very individual
But itâs so individual from family to family, both the report and author, professor and tech parenting expert Lynn Schofield Clark indicate. Dr. Clark, who attended the release event in Washington, had an important take-away: âWe donât all experience media in the same way.â For some families in some neighborhoods, for example, staying inside playing video games might be safer than playing outside.
In her post about the report inÂ PsychologyToday.com, she points to what I think of as an ideal approach to parenting where mediaâs concerned: âan ethic of respectful connectedness,â Clark calls it. âTo the extent that media can help parents and family members to stay connected and to remain respectful of who they are and where theyâve come from, media can be seen as useful and helpful in relation to family goals.â
Less is better? It depends
So far in the digital age, our society tends to believe less media is better, but ânot all parents can engage in the kind of concerted cultivation activities hat tend to make media use lighter,â Clark writes. Families âmay face economic, health, language, or job- or transportation-related challengesâŚ. âHelicopter parentingâ and concerted cultivation are rooted in the idea that young people can achieve and improve their lives through participation in existing societal structures, whether thatâs school, sports or the arts. But while families facing greater economic challengesÂ hopeÂ that these things will help, they donâtÂ trustÂ that they will [emphases hers]. They look to their families, neighborhoods, friends and communities to help their children develop the resilience they will need to face the challenges of racism, prejudice, and structural inequalities.â
Clark cites the view of Prof. Vikki Katz at Rutgers University, âwho has studied Latino immigrant parents and their childrenâ and said at the conference that âitâs important not to pathologize families who have economic struggles. They have the same goals as the rest of us when it comes to wanting the best for their children and in their hopes for the âAmerican dream,â and those of us working in areas of policy, research, and industry need to seek to provide support for them on their own terms.â
Some other interesting findings
- Tablets not babysitters: Iâve often heard it said that, when parents are busy, they just hand kids a smartphone or tablet. Not true. This study shows that theyâre âmore apt to turn to toys or activities (88%), books (79%) or TV (78%). Of parents with smartphones or iPads, only 37% reported being somewhat or very likely to turn to those devices.â
- Early media independence: Lots of parents use media with young children, the authors report, âbut this âjoint media engagementâ drops off markedly for children who are six or older.â
- Parenting no easier. These parents use digital devices a whole lot, but most (70%) âdonât think theyâve made parenting any easier.â
- Socio-economic differences: Families with incomes of $25,000 or less are more likely than families with incomes of $100,000 or more âto turn to TV for educational purposesâ â 54% vs. 31%, respectively. It may have something to do with language, I think, that the researchers found that âlower income parents are also more likely to think TV has a âveryâ positive effect on childrenâs reading (23%, compared to 4% among the higher-income group) as well as their math and speaking skills.â The authors add that âsimilar differences are found in parentsâ views about the positives and negatives of computers as well,â which makes me wonder if âcomputersâ means the Internet.
- Media time management. Professor Clark recommends that, instead of asking how much screen time is too much, parents might âthink about teaching time managementâ so they can learn develop their own self-regulatory skills. And Prof. Barbara Fiese at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, encourages âhealthy habits in the whole âfamily ecologyââ of which media is just one part, Clark reports.
The Northwestern researchers divvied the various kinds of media environments that parents have created for their families into three buckets based on quantity of screen time: the 39% of households that are âmedia-centricâ (11+ hours of screen time/day, with children spending 4-5 hours a day on-screen); the 45% that are âmedia-moderateâ (spending just under 5 hours on-screen/day, with children spending just under 3 hours); and the16% that are âmedia-lightâ (generally with higher levels of income and education and spending even lower amounts of time with screen media, with children spending under 1.5 hours/day on-screen).
What does all this say about parenting these days? To Lynn Clark, it suggests that âparents will have to prepare children for a world that requires intentional effort as we seek to maintain the bonds that matter most to us.â Iâm with her on that and, if I can riff on it a little bit: Successful participation in social media (not to mention school, work and all social spaces in our kidsâ futures) is conscious participation. Itâs both social literacy and media literacy â a ârespectful connectedness,â as Lynn put it, online and offline. It doesnât only defeat bullying and other anti-social behavior, it develops the kind of protection thatâs preventive and permanent â with our children all the time and all their lives â critical thinking and resilience. And we know from the research that it increases academic as well as social success.