Parents as role models in a digital age

Thursday, 25 August 2016  |  Admin

LEARNING ON THE JOB: PARENTING IN MODERN IRELAND / Colm O'Doherty & Ashling JacksonThus far, we have looked at how parents can advise their child to safely navigate the digital landscape of the 21st century. While this type of protection and advice is very important, it is equally important to acknowledge that the problems with safe and appropriate Internet use may not always lie outside the home. Perhaps some parents may need to consider how their own online (including mobile/smart phone) activity might impact on the home environment.

Admittedly, while stories of the South Korean couple who were arrested for starving their three-month-old daughter to death while they spent hours playing a computer game that involved raising a virtual character of a young girl (Tran, 2010) are at the extreme end of online addiction, there is growing evidence that many parents/guardians are engaging in the same activity that parents are encouraged to monitor and prevent in children. John Bingham of the Telegraph newspaper remarked that ‘those who order their offspring to switch off televisions, computers or mobile phones because they fear they are becoming addicted might need to take a long hard look at their own screen habits’ (Bingham, 2014). In his article, he went onto to cite the findings from a study carried out on behalf of the New Forest National Park Authority by the research agency Opinion Matters, which found that almost 70% of children thought that their parents spent too much time on their mobile phone, iPad or other similar devices (Bingham, 2014).

In another study, a team of researchers from Boston Medical Center (Radesky et al, 2014) visited 15 fast food restaurants and observed the interactions between family members. In the study, 40 of the 55 caregivers were secretly observed to be preoccupied with their mobile devices at some stage during the meal, with almost one-third of the parents continuously occupied throughout the meal. A leading child psychologist and parenting expert, Dr Vicki Panaccione, notes that, while social media can help connect people from around the world, it also can act as a barrier to those who we should be closest to, our immediate family members. We have had the ‘helicopter parent’ and the ‘tiger mom’ and now we have the ‘distracted parent’. Panaccione (2012) goes onto to say that ‘distracted parenting appears to be on the rise. And with it, a rise in child injuries and even deaths!’. Admittedly, deaths and serious injuries may be extreme examples, but parents do need to consider whether they are allowing themselves to be distracted when they should be paying more attention to their young child instead of looking at their friend’s latest posting.

Aside from the phenomenon of ‘distracted parents’, another issue that children may have to contend with is that of ‘oversharenting’. This is the term used to describe parents who too post much information about their children online. While you may think that posting the image of your baby having a bath or dressed up in a costume is very cute, there are those have reservations about such actions. Given that many children now have a digital footprint based on their parent’s actions, ‘what happens in 10 or 15 years when a child inherits a Facebook page already full of embarrassing baby photos?’, asks Eliana Dockterman (2013). 

Extracted from Chapter 8: "There's an App for That!" - Parenting in a Digital Age by Tom Farrelly in LEARNING ON THE JOB: PARENTING IN MODERN IRELAND, edited by Colm O'Doherty and Ashling Jackson.