Remember the good old days, when "watching TV" meant Saturday morning cartoons and "using the computer" was something that you did on the odd occasion that you visited your dad at work? Fast forward 20 years and you’re now parenting in the digital age. Thanks to new technology, modern parenting means a new wave of hi-tech issues to deal with, and that your family’s well-intentioned (but old-fashioned) advice just doesn’t cut it.
- New Concerns. Your mom never had to worry that you were spending too much time on the computer or that a love affair with an iPad would hurt your learning abilities. As a digital mama, you must consider technology as part of your spectrum of parenting concerns, which can cause you sleepless nights and some serious self-doubt. On the bright side, you're not the only one worrying about screen time limits—with new technology comes a crop of new-age parents who are learning as they go, too.
- Parent-Child Communication. Once upon a time, yelling in the backyard was considered a sophisticated type of parent-child communication. Introducing cell phones into the mix requires you to rethink how you and your kid are sharing information. Even young children are learning how to text and therefore, also need to learn to interpret written tone. On one hand, text communication can be awesome, since you can always get in touch with your child and stay up-to-date. On the other hand, it may be problematic when used as a substitute for verbal communication.
- New Learning. Kids have the entire world at their fingertips—literally! Logging onto a computer means they have access to history lessons, learning tools and math help. However, the availability of information can also be a detriment, since the Internet also offers a ton of distractions. In a 2012 article published in Psychology Today, psychologist Jim Taylor warns, "The bottom line is that too much screen time and not enough other activities, such as reading, playing games, and good old unstructured and imaginative play, will result in your children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more, prepared to thrive in this crazy new world of technology." Instead of plunking your little learner in front of the computer for a quick-fix answer, consider a trip to the library instead. There, you and your child can always revisit the computer as a last resort, but she’ll also learn how to use offline help resources to problem-solve as well.
- Better Support. Let's face it: parenting can be pretty isolating. While you probably wave "hi" to another mom at the playground or grab a few minutes to chat while dropping your child off for a play date, you might not get a lot of in-depth conversation about parenting. Technology and the ability to connect with people from around the world has changed the face of parental support. Online forums, chats, blogs and groups mean you always have someone to vent about the good, the bad and the ugly parts of parenting.
- Child Safety. Online child safety is a huge issue, particularly when your little one is first starting to use the Internet. The child predator of yesterday looks very little like the predator of today, thanks to the anonymity of the World Wide Web. As a parent, you need to learn the face of online predators and teach your child about Internet safety. Brushing up on up-to-date safety rules could prove beneficial to you as well—is your personal password too easy to crack?
- Discipline. Sending your little one for a time-out in his room might not mean all that much when that room is outfitted with a TV, video games, a computer and other tech stuff that keeps him happy. As a parent, you need to be more thoughtful about your discipline, thanks to the accessibility of technology. Taking away a toy might not be as effective as limiting video gaming. If your child is a total tech junkie, you'll need to learn how to use tech-based disciplinary tactics to get the behavior you want.
- Down Time. You love to settle in for an episode of Downton Abbey after a long day, so there's no surprise that your child likes to unwind with technology as well. While flicking on the TV or grabbing a few minutes with a computer game won't hurt, becoming entirely dependent on technology—and skipping other types of leisure activities, such as reading or playing LEGO—could hurt your child in the long run. "Technology is all around us, and provides a great opportunity for learning with children when used properly and in moderation," says Tricia Striano, PhD., professor of psychology at Hunter College. "Set time aside for technology—whether it is some quiet time after dinner or perhaps on a long flight or car ride." Don't use technology as a crutch or a babysitter for your child—it could end up backfiring in the future.
Look, technology isn’t inherently evil; it simply requires time restraints and good judgment calls. In fact, some days, reading blogs or allowing your little one to have some quiet iPad time could be enough to save your sanity. Just be sure that when using technology with parenting, it's used as a smart tool—not a total escape.