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Why kids think their parents are high-tech hypocrites

Posted November 11

 (Deseret Photo)

It’s time to walk the walk, moms and dads.

A good part of parents’ lives is spent keeping up on what technology their kids use, or may want to use; deciding whether it’s appropriate for them, and for how much time per day. We set screen-free zones and ask them to put their phones away when others are trying to speak to them.

But have parents set any similar rules for themselves? Not really.

Kids notice this discrepancy and many are calling their parents technology hypocrites.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Washington asked hundreds of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 an interesting question: If they were able to set technology rules for their parents, what would they be?

Their requests fell into some basic categories and are perfectly reasonable for the most part. But are parents ready to set and follow technology rules for grown-ups?

Here are the most popular rules kids gave when asked what tech rules parents should follow:

Be present: Pack your bags because the most popular rule kids requested for their parents sends you on a guilt trip. Kids say when they try to talk about important things, moms and dads rarely look up from their phones. Harvard psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair interviewed more than 1,000 kids for her book "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age." In an NPR interview, she said, “One of the many things that absolutely knocked my socks off, was the consistency with which children — whether they were 4 or 8 or 18 or 24 — talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated and sad or mad trying to get their parents’ attention, competing with computer screens or iPhone screens or any kind of technology, much like in therapy you hear kids talk about sibling rivalry.” Parents should be modeling a better behavior for their kids. I presume a parent would expect their child to look up from their phone when someone is talking to them. Adults should do the same, especially when it’s their child.

No oversharing: I’ve run into this problem with my children. It may exacerbate the problem that I often share personal stories, videos and photos in the media. These days, when I start to video my 10-year-old, he will often point at me and say, “Don’t post this!” Kids want preapproval for anything that involves them that their parents put online. I don’t blame them. Smart Facebook users set the permission requirement before anyone can tag them in a post. Then the user can decide whether they want to allow the tag on that photo of you with your eyes half closed. Kids want the same courtesy. I now make it part of my social media process to ask my kids if they mind before I post a photo, video or story about them.

Moderate use: Parents want their kids to have other interests besides those that include a screen. Turns out our children have similar goals for us. Kids often see their parents spending all their free time with technology. Just as we encourage our kids to get outside and use their creativity, parents should do the same.

Not while driving: Children report seeing their parents using phones while driving. Even if that only involves texting at a red light, children don’t like it. Plus, what kind of model is that for your teen drivers? If they notice you on your phone while behind the wheel, they will think it’s fine for them to do as well.

The other rules children would enact for their parents involve allowing kids more privacy on social media — not going to happen — and the very responsible request that parents check out websites before kids are allowed to use them. The 10- to 17-year-olds in this study actually don’t mind having technology-related rules established and enforced by their parents. But they felt parents should follow them too, especially the one about staying off phones during mealtimes.

In addition to monitoring children on technology, parents must be mentors. Digital skills are a necessity in today’s world for adults and kids. It’s up to parents to embrace the mentor strategy; setting rules — let children be involved in the process — and enforcing them. Just don’t forget children may expect their parents to follow the rules as well.

Maybe the perfect world is one in which family members hold each other accountable for those technology ideals we all set together. It just may be time, parents, to practice what we preach.

Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson

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