If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make my blood boil it is hearing baby boomers make vague and sweeping claims about the use of technology by the current generation of parents. I’ve heard many horror stories over the years. I’ve even heard these horror stories from experienced health professionals at professional conferences.
Horror stories like:
- parents looking at their phones while their children play at the park
- mothers multi-tasking online shopping or social media with breastfeeding
- parents keeping track of baby kicks, or feeds, or child behaviour using an app
- parents contacting their friends via text messages or social media while parenting at the same time
Cue scary music
There is a clear cohort effect in our reactions to technology and it is useful, I think, for all of us to remember that. To consciously remove our own biases before we pass judgments on how a particular piece of technology may be useful or harmful for a particular parent. This cohort effect was best described by the late and great Douglas Adams:
“everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really”
The reality is, parents have always multi-tasked parenting with running errands, socialising, and meeting their own needs. Technology just makes this look a little different, that’s all. Instead of taking your child with you to the bank, you set your child up in an activity and do the banking online while they are occupied. Instead of reaching for a newspaper or a magazine when your child is playing independently you reach for social media on your smartphone. Instead of talking to your best friend on the phone while your child plays, you have a text conversation. And, guess what? There have always been parents who weren’t particularly responsive to their children. Just because nowadays they have a phone in their hands doesn’t mean that smartphones are inherently damaging.
In fact, you can argue that many of our modern technologies are actually deeply familiar. What is an email but a letter that you can send instantly? What is a text message but a really fast telegram? I think, with hindsight, we will look upon the time when the telephone dominated as the aberration in our communication history. And then there’s social media, hasn’t media, apart from a short strange period in our recent history when ordinary citizens were expected to sit back and consume media passively, always been social? Aren’t we just back around that campfire telling each other stories? Chatting, like the social animals we are? Just now the campfire is really, really big and digital? I love the fact that the internet gives ordinary people the ability to reclaim the arts and the media, to take it back from the professionals, the media companies and the copyright lawyers, and to start sharing it freely again.
So, I don’t fear modern technology and I don’t think that smartphones or the internet are damaging parenting. In fact, I think for the most part, people are doing what people have always done. And I promise that as I get older, I’ll remember that cohort effect. I’ll put my biases aside and judge virtual reality or whatever the next big technological advance is on its own merits and without fear.
Apply it in your life: How does technology intersect with your role as a parent?