Most of what you read about technology and parenting is negative: distracted parents staring at smart phone screens and ignoring toddlers, vitamin D depleted or obese kids holed up in the house playing video games, or teenagers donning headphones and rudely texting at family dinners. But in many respects the expanding use of technology has been good for families. Technologies offer a wider range of learning tools and keep families connected in ways that were impossible prior to the Internet and the iPhone. In the hands of healthy families, technologies become positive tools.
Toddlers and preschoolers can play picture matching games, learn colors, letters, and numbers, or work out the physics of flinging a bird toward a drove of evil pigs.
School aged children benefit from online learning resources. Tons of educational websites and apps developed by educators make learning interesting and keep kids engaged. Math and reading games, science experiments, and history facts are all available to curious kids who can search up topics for instant information via the Internet. Parents can look up anything on the spot with a smart phone and answer questions like, “Mommy, how hot is the sun?”
Parents can stay in touch with aunts, uncles, cousins, and dearest old friends via Facebook or can get immediate, minute-by-minute news updates about important stories affecting your family.
Tweens can receive text reminders from teachers or use class websites to stay informed about homework assignments, projects, and papers. Gone are the days of having to rely on information from a classmate for homework questions. Kids and parents can email teachers or schools administrators. Email is not only a great way to communicate, but also an excellent method to keep a record of each communication.
Teens use technology for homework and social connections, but it can also serve as a tool to keep them connected to parents. Whatever the newest, latest, greatest game app, parents and teens can learn to play it together. Parents can monitor social media use and get an insider’s glance at a teen’s social circles. And GPS systems can serve to reassure worried parents that the extracurricular activity indeed ran late, and your teen be on his way home shortly.
For college students and adults who’ve moved away from home, technology is often the primary means to keep in touch with parents. Skype, FaceTime, Instagram, and Facebook allow parents and young adults to see each others’ smiling faces often, ensuring a strong sense that home is never far away.
Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy of the family. When used thoughtfully, technology can help families grow and stay close through every stage.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.