I became a mother at the dawn of the Internet and watched technology and social media change parenting in ways I could never have imagined. I got my first email address in the months before my last child was born and thus my family has quite literally grown up in parallel with the World Wide Web.
From Chatrooms to Snapchat, I have navigated parenthood through a maze of social media and technological innovations. Who could I consult with experience of social media and teens? What did grandparents, pediatricians or even my friends know of this evolving landscape. If I felt that I was constantly making up the rules as I went along, it was because I was.
Technology and social media permanently altered the way we raised the first generation of children who were already out in the world, long before they left our homes. Here are 10 ways my life as a parent was changed, how about yours?
1. The irony of cell phones is that my kids are not as present when they are actually with me but are far more present, when they are away. At home they are often distracted by their phones but at school, they will text, send photos and answer questions at all times, including in the middle of class.
2. The internet diluted my influence on my children, broadening their world views and creating teens less bound by the parochial constraints of their time and place. In an earlier age my children would have seen the world through my eyes or that of media I had paid to have delivered to our home. Instead from an early stage they began to ask questions of Google and Wikipedia, and with that I lost some control of what they knew and how they knew it, and it all happened much younger than I imagined.
3. I can stalk my kids with only my laptop and a cup of coffee. I can see every transaction in their bank accounts and every text or call on their cell phones, almost in real time. I can see their friends’ FB pages and twitter feeds, as well as that of their teachers. Photos, stories and videos of their actions will stream my way and I cannot help but feel a little sorry for them. I am not sure I would have wanted my parents to have had such a window into my teen life. My ability, should I have chosen to spy on them from the confines of my living room, is almost limitless.
4. If I can stalk them, they can certainly return the favor. If I have regrets, I better hope that Google can’t find them. Ditto every adult in their lives.
5. With the tap of their two thumbs, they update me about their days, letting me into their lives with a level of detail that selfishly, as a parent, is wonderful. The almost-contemporaneous communication alters the fabric of our relationship entirely. I am much closer to their day-to-day lives, for better and for worse.
6. Technology and social media are as much a distraction for parents as kids and it is easy to ignore my children, even when they are a few feet away from me. Before my iPhone sat in the palm of my hand, they were more likely to have my undivided attention. As I scan through my email while my sons are talking to me, I am more guilty, because I should know better.
7. Technology allows me to give my children greater freedom in their teen years as we can always stay in touch. Parents complain that the world is a dangerous place and therefore, kids must be kept closer than previous generations. Cell phones allow us to loosen the reins.
8. Grounding was Defcon 5 in the house in which I grew up. When my kids misbehave, I blow up their world by sending them back to the ’70s, making them live technologically as I did at their age. Removing technology from their lives has turned out to be an effective punishment, beyond my wildest imagination.
9. Bad things can come into our homes, seep through the internet, and appear on my children’s computers. In earlier times, we guarded our families with door locks and burglar alarms. Now protecting our children is far more complicated. When Snapchat sends unseemly images right to our children’s phones, it becomes harder to protect them.
10. Trust has become a bigger, not smaller, part of our parent-child relationship as it becomes harder to keep technologically apace of our children. I set up parental controls on my kid’s computers when they were younger and then found them in a flood of giggles as they circumvented my feeble attempts. We made rules, they followed them or didn’t, but trusting them to obey us became a bigger part of our relationship when they understood technology as well or better than I.