It’s so interesting to see what British psychologist Sonia Livingstone zooms in on in American psychologist Lynn Schofield Clark’s book on parenting digital media users, The Parent App. Dr. Livingstone picked up on what I liked most about the book too: diversity and depth of insight. Dr. Clark interviewed “46 very different families” for a study that Livingstone calls “one of the most astute inquiries into the state of modern American parenting.”
The diversity and insights into other families’ experiences and practices could well be comforting to parents, because we know that parenting is very individual (for the parent and the kids) and very fluid. It adjusts and calibrates to changing, maturing kids, to situations kids and parents encounter and to contexts both environmental and social. We also know that the digital parts of family members’ lives are just that: embedded parts of our communicating, relating, playing, working, learning, etc. So digital parenting, if there really is such a thing, is just as individual, situational and contextual as all the rest of it.
What’s just as individual but not nearly as fluid – thankfully – even across generations, is the bedrock of parenting:
“Clark believes that families operate with a kind of philosophy – their values, life stories, cautionary tales and tried-and-tested experiences,” Livingstone writes. “If parents openly articulate these values to their children, using this as an opportunity for shared discussion and reflection, children may understand better why things are to be done in a certain way in their family. It’s not that all families should be the same, or that parents’ views should always predominate. But it is important that children understand why their parents do things the way they do.”
I wrote “thankfully,” because it’s exactly this bedrock that helps us parents and our kids find our way as we navigate life and media each day. This is what can comfort and guide us: “a strong family narrative,” I noted in the writing of parent, author and commentator Bruce Feiler a couple of years ago. Helping our kids know who and where they came from and what’s valued and important in “our family” helps them form identity, resilience, self-knowledge and -love, which guide and protect them in and out of media.
Family approaches to digital media fall into two very basic categories, Clark found in her conversations with those 46 families:
- “Those who live by an ethic of expressive empowerment,” Livingstone writes (emphasis mine). “This is strong among upper-income families who encourage media use for learning, expression and personal development, and discourage media use that seems to promote distraction or time-wasting (as they perceive it).
- “Those who prioritise an ethic of respectful connectedness – more often found among lower-income families, where the emphasis is on media use that is respectful, compliant and family-focused.”
How helpful to be aware of these approaches and consider letting both inform our parenting styles, regardless of any class – or culture or nationality – we might identify with or fall into! At different times, aspects of both “expressive empowerment” and “respectful connectedness” will be called for in digital spaces throughout our children’s lives (not just when they’re with us), as well other parenting styles – sometimes more authoritarian, sometimes just authoritative and, ideally, most times communicative. Just know that, even with the new digital factor in the mix, underlying all the fluidity there’s bedrock to build on.
- Another very key viewpoint: “Digital & social: A teen’s perspective on parenting“
- The essential ethics piece: “‘Disconnected’: Crucial book for closing the ‘ethics gap’ online“
- “Media siege mentality: Antidote for parents“
- Alien territory?: “Consider the possibility of kids’ self-regulation of digital media“
- “Parents more protectionist than empowering: Study“
- More on Prof. Lynn Schofield Clark’s work: “Parenting the littlest media users,” “Peering thoughtfully through this window into our kids’ lives,” “One mom’s cellphone contract for her son,” and “Parenting or (digital) public humiliation?“
- Insights from another parent and professor, David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire: “Net safety’s ‘3 alarmist assumptions’: Researcher” and “Net-related ‘juvenoia,’ Part 2: So why are we afraid?“