There’s the iPad, the Kindle, maybe a smart phone or two. Then there’s a computer, a few Blackberry devices which mom and dad use to stay connected to work while at home, a computer and a high-definition television. Your toddler can have their very own set of “kid-friendly” apps on the iPhone and Google can be a big help to a middle-school-aged child tackling their homework. It’s no wonder that technology has impacted parenting – and many people probably think it’s made it worse. A new study released by the Center on Media and Human Development Northwestern University, however, finds this is not the case.
“It still has not made as much of an impact on how moms and dads parent their young children,” says the report, “Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology.
“It’s good news, yes, but because technology plays an increasingly important part in childhood development, it’s crucial that Latino parents understand how best to use digital media as a learning tool,” says Wilma Robles de Melendez, Ph.D., the Director/Program Professor of Early Childhood Education at Nova Southeastern University.
“One of the challenges parents face is how to equip children with the tools they need to be successful,” says Dr. Robles de Melendez. “And that includes teaching them how to use technology. But when you see things that could become excellent resources not being used in the right way, you aren’t supporting your child’s development in a way that equips them for the future – and that’s something parents should be cautious of,” she says.
This is especially important, because nearly 40% of families reported themselves as “media centric” (consuming an average of 11 hours of screen time a day), leaving little doubt about the extent of influence media can have on parenting styles and child development.
The way parents choose to engage with the children over digital media together is key, says Dr. Robles de Melendez. That might mean reading a book with your preschooler on a tablet and asking them to point out objects or figures on the screen; watching a television show together and discussing the show’s themes and plot, or even dancing while listening to tunes on the radio or iPod, she explains.
“The key to using technology appropriately is viewing it as a toolbox, suggests Dr. Robles de Melendez, and being “careful not to emphasize one item over the other, but use them each in an age-appropriate way that’s aligned with what the child is capable of doing – and encouraging their development.”
Tech blogger and NBC Latino contributor Monica Vila says balance is key when it comes to the way parents approach their use of media, emphasizing that technology itself isn’t a bad thing.
“The bottom line is that you should not use technology to build an emotional connection between you and your child,” says Vila. “Connecting with your kids on an emotional level and really knowing them isn’t going to happen with technology, but that relationship can be enhanced with it.”
Vila suggests a few golden rules when it comes to the creating a positive media environment in the home: Don’t leave cell phones on the dinner table, put them away at night, set screen use time for older kids and above all, focus on your children in the moment.
“Digital media does have an addictive quality,” warns Vila, “but when used to enhance your child’s life, you can equip them to achieve success in a digital world.”