Parenting and Technology

On Tuesday, the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University released a reported titled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology to a packed audience in Washington, DC.  The repot has received a lot of press (see links below) but I want to talk about the findings of this report for parents (and with parents who want to comment!).

We surveyed a nationally representative sample of American parents of children under age 8.  That means, unlike a lot of the research that is reported in the popular press.  This is a sample of parents in the US that represents the entire US. This wasn’t a survey of  just white, middle income parents like many studies consist of; parents were economically, racially, and geographically diverse.  Also, parents were parents…. not just mothers: 42% were fathers.

There were a LOT of findings in this 31 page report. The press mostly jumped on a great headline: Parents Show Little Worry about Media Use.  But I want to talk a bit more about the findings that may be more relevant to the parents who on a daily basis are using or negotiating media use with their young children.

1.  Parents have a lot of concerns for their young children. Across all age groups, parents are concerned about the health and safety of their young children- almost half of the parents we asked said they were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned. Fitness and Nutrition also was noted as a concern for many parents.  Yes, media use was lower on the list of concerns, but 25% of parents of children under 2, 29% of parents 2-5, and 35% of parents ages 6-8 say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about media use.  Parents clearly have a lot of things they are concerned about: health, fitness, sleep, behavior, school, and yes while not quite so intensely as some others, some  are concerned about media.

2. Parents and children today live in a variety of environments that need to be studied even more deeply. Some families are active media users: TVs in the child’s bedrooms, many hours of technology use by parents and children, etc.  Some families are light media users: TV use is less frequently occurring (although, use is not zero for these families).  Technology is a part of nearly all families lives these days: just how families use it differs. For some families media use is a popular family activity, for other families it lands lower on the list.  But families today have access: TVs, Internet, Smartphones, Tablets, etc. It seems that the ways in which families use media differs by family type.

3. Parents do use media as a parenting tool but it’s not the only tool they rely on. Parents today are busy and they recognize the time crunch they are under.  Sometimes they need to keep children busy while making dinner. Sometimes they want to reward or punish their children for certain behaviors.  When these types of situations arise, parents get creative.  They use a variety of tools: books, toys, activities, TV and now that many have access to smartphones and tablet computers they use those tools too.

This is just the surface of this report.  There is a LOT of great information about how parents parent now that there is so much technology access in their homes and in their pockets.  More findings from this study will continue to be published to better understand the lives of parents and families in this age of digital technology. Stay Tuned!


Chicago Tribune

New York Times

Fred Rogers Center

USA Today


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