Generation Tech: Where are the Parents?

December 27th, 2010

By Dr. Jim Taylor

The march of technology is inevitable and inexorable. We can’t stop it or even slow it down and we definitely can’t reverse it (nor should we want to). As I have noted in a previous post, one of my concerns is that this progress is so rapid that we don’t have time to determine or even consider the implications of each technological advancement on our individual and collective lives before it is released and entrenched in our personal lifestyles and the zeitgeist of our culture.

I will admit that, as someone who has serious concerns about the influence of technology on us since the introduction of the Internet, I may be more Chicken Little than Paul Revere. There’s no doubt that calls of “The sky is falling” have been heard throughout the history of technological advancement, for example, with the introduction of the printing press, the internal combustion engine, and the television. In all these cases, most would agree that each of these “game changers” have been boons to humanity. Plus, we are adaptable creatures who have demonstrated the ability adjust to all sorts of changes with which we have been confronted.

And it’s easy to make doom-and-gloom predictions that may or may not come true. But we can look at what is happening now and draw some conclusions from what we see before our very eyes.

This introduction leads me to a very unsettling and, at times, bizarre article I read in the New York Times recently. The focus of the article is on what it’s like growing up in this digital age. It discusses research that is showing the staggering amount of time that young people devote to the new technology and social media, and how this is impacting young people, for good and for bad. But I’m not going to talk about the scientific side of this phenomenon. My concern and fascination lies in the individual stories that the article told about young people, their lives, families, and schools.

Out of respect for the privacy of the students I discuss, I’m not naming names, though, incredibly, these young people and their parents allowed them to be identified in the Times article.

A school in the heart of Silicon Valley moved the start of the day an hour later to accommodate students who are staying up later, ostensibly because they spend so much time connected at the expense of their schoolwork and their health.

A high school senior with a passion for filmmaking whose time and energy devoted to technology seems so obviously counterproductive to both his present life and his future goals. For instance, he regularly neglects his schoolwork to work on his video projects. He plays video games ten hours a week and updates his Facebook page in the wee hours of the morning. The results of this absorption in technology include poor grades and concerns about his getting into the college of his choice to pursue his love of filmmaking.

This next example is nothing less than mindboggling. A 14-year-old girl sends up to 27,000 text messages a month. No, that was not a typo; three zeroes to the right of 27. I did the math and it seems inconceivable. Assuming this girl is awake 18 hours a day (meaning that she’s not getting enough sleep), she is sending 50 texts an hour or almost one text a minute. This girl indicated that she usually carries on multiple text conservations at once (that is obviously the only way this math could work out). How does she have time to do anything else, such as eat, bathe, study, or actually talk to other people? Boy, I hope her family has an unlimited texting plan!

Another boy plays video games six hours a day during the week and even more on weekends. Let’s do some more math. Assuming this boy is in school eight hours a day (including transportation and transitions) and sleeps eight hours at night, that leaves two hours each day to study, eat, participate in extracurricular activities, and interact with actual human beings.

So what, or should I say who, is missing from these stories? If you said parents, you hit the nail right on the head. Where, for the love of all things sacred, are the parents? Largely in absentia apparently despite the obvious harm that their children’s obsession with technology is inflicting on their lives.

Based on the Times article, parents seem to fall into several categories. First, there are the parents both of whom work full-time and simply aren’t around to monitor and limit their children’s use of technology. Not surprisingly, research shows that these parents tend to be of lower income and their children’s use of technology, contrary to the expectations of those who believed a computer in their homes would be beneficial, actually hurts them academically.

Other parents just seem to be in denial. One father stated that if children aren’t up on technology, they’re going to fall behind, even while his son’s grades have slipped and the boy admits that he hasn’t exercised in several years.

Still others are veritable Luddites who seem incapable of or unwilling to understand, much less control, the cyberworld that their children inhabit.

And the final category is what I call capitulating parents, who actually enable their children’s unhealthy relationship with technology. For example, the parents of the young filmmaker I discuss above bought him a state-of-the-art, $2,000 computer so he can pursue his dream. These parents are also rationalizers as the boy’s mother tried to convince herself that it was the right decision by saying that her son was really making an effort to do his homework. In fact, his grades did initially improve, mostly because he was taking a lighter course load and avoiding advanced classes, but then declined again because he was neglecting his schoolwork because, you guessed it, he was spending time on his spanking new computer instead of studying.

Several of the students highlighted in the article recognized that their use of technology is out of hand, they don’t have the ability to control themselves, and actually wish their parents would step in and set limits. Yet, their parents still don’t take action.

So who’s responsible here? I can’t blame the kids because they lack the maturity to make good decisions and they’re just living in the world into which they were born.

So who’s left? The parents, of course, who have abdicated their essential role as, well, parents, in other words, establishing expectations, setting limits, and administering consequences, all for the health and well being of their children. That’s the job of parents, plain and simple. I’m just amazed that so many parents, who obviously love their children, are well intentioned, and want what’s best for them, aren’t up to the task when it comes to technology.

(This article was also posted at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)

(Please visit Dr. Jim Taylor’s YouTube channel to see some of his television interviews.)

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6 Responses to “Generation Tech: Where are the Parents?”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Children’s high-tech lifestyle and submergence in social media really do seem out of control. Unfortunately, many parents are also failing in most other areas of their children’s lives.

    I’ve often thought that since we have to be qualified and licensed to drive a car, own a gun (in most civilized places), fly an airplane, hunt a duck or a deer (for those who take pleasure in killing), catch a fish, practice many professions…why don’t we require people to be trained and licensed before they can have kids? What’s more important than that? I know, I know, it’s a stupid idea, but still….

    Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get my mind around 27,000 text messages in one month! How the heck is that even possible?

  2. drjim |

    @Tom: I sort of agree with your notion of licenses for having kids. But I think the libertarians would consider that government intrusion into the rights and privacy of individuals. :->

  3. Tom Carter |

    Jim, no doubt many folks of all persuasions would object. And I suppose there’s that pesky question of how to enforce the licensing requirement. It’s an idea whose time will never come, but when you see the way some people deal with their kids, or don’t deal with them at all, it makes you itch for something, anything, that would prevent them from having them. But then the Nazis had their solutions, and the Chinese, too, with their one-kid policy. Guess we’d best not go there….

  4. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Tom: Yes, best not go there… Happy New Year!

  5. Dan Miller |

    How about such things as Kindle? Mightn’t they be good? Lots of books — free classics — and other stuff to be downloaded quickly and at modest cost?

    I do have one concern, however, with small book sellers like an elderly Canadian gentleman, Hal, in our neck of the woods. He owns and operates the best English language used book store I have seen in a very long time and has (literally) thousands of books for sale, hard cover and paperback. He seems to know each of them and, based on my reading tastes he has managed over the years to learn, always has something to recommend; I find his recommendations very helpful. If he does not have a book I want, he can order it via the internet and have it for me in about a month for slightly less than I could buy it for via the internet.

    Buy a used paperback book for $4.00, read and if I wish return it for a $2.00 credit. Kindle would have a hard time beating that, and I do wonder what would happen to Hal’s book store if Kindle became ubiquitous among the English speaking folks here.

  6. Tom Carter |

    I’ve never had the urge to get a Kindle or something like it. I don’t think anything can replace the feel of an actual book in your hands.

    I just saw a woman reading a Kindle (or something like it) in a swimming pool. There’s another example of technical possibilities exceeding common sense. Read a book in the pool, drop it, and you’re out the cost of a book. Or maybe you can even still read it. Drop the Kindle, and you’re out about $300.

    Your bookstore sounds wonderful! I’ve always thought of running a store like that, except there’s probably not much money in it. Owning an expatriate bar would be better; Rick’s Cafe Americain comes to mind….

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