6 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age - Baby Chick
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Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Parenting in the digital age is hard; technology and screens surround our kids. These tips will help millennial parents make sound choices.

Published September 11, 2019

by Aimee Ketchum

Pediatric Occupational Therapist

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Do any of these comments about parenting in the digital age sound familiar to you?

“Parents aren’t parenting their kids anymore.”

“Millennial parents just give their kids their phones to play on.”

“When I was a kid, I played outside.”

There is a growing degree of finger-pointing on the sensitive topic of parenting young children. A study known as the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) found that 71% of children are not kindergarten-ready when walking into kindergarten on that first day.1,6 Many believe that the blame falls squarely on the parents. Parents are getting a bum rap! Placing blame only exacerbates a problem that we should work together to fix.

Parenting is by far the hardest job in the world. And I would argue that parenting young children in today’s digital age is more complicated than ever before. We have trusted organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, putting significant restrictions on screen time when the reality is screens surround our children in every aspect of their lives.2,3 Research tells us that limiting screen time is critical to ensure healthy interactions between parent and child, but integrating these stringent regulations into a typical American family is another story.

Parenting in the Digital Age is Hard

We generally parent in the same fashion that we were parented, but we lose this as a reliable reference point if we grew up when the digital world did not exist and expectations were not as high.

Parenting in the digital age can’t be judged in the same way.

If you are a grandparent, aunt, or anyone who had the privilege of raising your children when there were no cellphones, tablets, laptops, or TVs in the backseat of every vehicle, please don’t judge the young parents in your life who are attempting to navigate this difficult new reality.

Expectations for parenting in the digital age are higher.

Twenty or thirty years ago, the only benchmark necessary for a child to start kindergarten was that their birthday falls before a certain date in early September. Kindergarten assessments did not exist, and when assessments began, the focus was simply on reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Newsflash, the three R’s’ don’t cut it anymore.4 Now we have the ‘six C’s.’ 5 According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick, authors of Becoming Brilliant, What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, for a child to be kindergarten ready and successful in school, they need to demonstrate proficiency in the six C’s. Collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. That’s a tall order for a five-year-old, but so necessary to be competitive in the global workforce of the 21st century.

Demands on children are higher.

So, the demands on children have become much more rigorous, and parents are operating in a world with countless barriers to success.

How is a young mom supposed to model a screen-free day for her toddler when she tracks her baby’s feeding schedule on an app? How can a self-employed parent respond quickly to clients’ e-mails and texts without taking time away from young children? These are the realities of parenting in the digital age.

Parenting in the digital age is different.

Parents are parenting but doing it differently because they have to. Parents are tasked with preparing their children to grow up in an ever-changing world.

Being an engaged parent is challenging with all the distractions, but there are ways of integrating digital technology into children’s lives in a productive way. There are also some critical times to avoid digital technology.

Here are a few suggestions that go with the times.

1. Recognize that mobile phones are a part of our day-to-day reality.

And we can still set a good example for our children. Establish rules early on that you and your partner follow, and you will expect your children to follow, such as no phones at the dinner table, no phones in the bedroom, or phones stay in the car when you go to a restaurant. Perhaps if you are a business owner or your boss expects you to be reachable 100% of the time, you can explain to your child that being on your phone is your job while playing is their job.

2. Think ahead.

Bring coloring books, games, storybooks, and other items to distract your kids at restaurants, church, and doctor visits to resist the temptation to hand your phone over to a bored toddler. At the grocery store, talk about what you see, make scavenger hunts, and give older children coupons or picture lists to keep them engaged.

3. Try to set some boundaries.

For example, maybe you can put an outgoing voicemail message once in a while that says, “For the next two hours, I will be enjoying my daughter’s dance recital. I will return your call when it is over.” Be sure to tell your daughter that you have left this outgoing message so she understands your respect for her hard work so that someday when you ask for her respect, she will respond in kind. You can declare “airplane mode” times so your phones are silenced during your children’s sporting events, bedtime routines, and while playing together at the park. Tell your clients up front that you do not respond to texts or e-mails in the evenings between seven and eight PM because you are putting your children to bed. Maybe they will respect you and implement the same practice with their family.

4. Use texts and e-mails as a reminder to talk to your child.

Even newborn babies are listening to our speech and beginning to learn vocabulary. Read your texts and e-mails aloud and tell your child about the sender. Tell your child how the message might affect him. “This text is reminding me that I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. You will stay with grandma while I get my teeth cleaned.” Every time you use your phone to check the weather, tell your child the forecast and how it will affect her. “It might rain tomorrow. We will have to put on your raincoat when we go out.”

5. Avoid screens when you can.

Screens in the backseat of cars are great for long trips. But for short trips around town, try to engage your child in games. Try I Spy, spotting letters on signs, telling stories, and singing along with the radio. This will add so many important interactions!

Avoid screens at bedtime because the light from the screen disrupts sleep patterns. Read books instead.

6. Teach about technology through interactive play.

Remember that allowing your child to play on a screen is not teaching them about technology. Building structures with marshmallows and toothpicks, using tools such as shovels, and inventing new ways of doing things teaches them about technology. These all help teach the 6 Cs. Children under two years old do not learn from screens; they just miss out on important interactions. If your child watches a 20-minute show occasionally, provide double the time for an interactive activity.

Allow playdates, so children can learn from other children, collaborate, and play cooperatively. Provide lots of structured and unstructured play with different toys and materials so children have the opportunity to be creative and innovative. Designate screen time as a special treat, not a given part of every day. Use a parent-control device to put parameters on-screen time in your home.

Kindergarten readiness is a complex process. Ready children plus ready parents plus ready school plus a ready community equals kindergarten readiness. And each of these components is a critical piece of the puzzle. We need to stop blaming and accusing parents of poor parenting in the digital age simply because their parenting style is different. We need to shift our perception of what parenting looks like and be as supportive and non-judgemental as possible.

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Aimee Ketchum Pediatric Occupational Therapist
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Dr. Aimee Ketchum is an Academic Fieldwork Coordinator and Assistant Professor of early child development at Cedar Crest College Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program. She continues practicing her skills as a… Read more

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