The Net Gen: Too Plugged-in For Parenting?

Actually, the title of this post should really be, “The Net Gen: Too connected to wireless devices, social media, and ‘always-on’ technologies for parenting,” but “plugged-in” just sounded better. In fact, fewer of us are actually physically plugged-in these days, with smart phones replacing computers as the device of choice for digital accessibility as well as ‘interrupt-ability.’ We’ve researched the effect this has on the Net Generation as both customers and employees, but as this generation gets older (the oldest Net Geners are now 32), it’s also worth discussing how it will affects them as parents. We know that many Net Geners are waiting longer to have kids, but for those that have taken the plunge, how does the experience of ‘growing up digital’ translate into parenting behaviours and attitudes towards technology in the home?

In some cases, there may be benefits such as using an iPhone for interactive kid’s games, or using cell phones to keep track of older children on-the-go. In other cases, the activities raise new issues and question about appropriateness such as creating digital identities for children the moment they are born, or using Google and other online sites to diagnose children and chronicle their development. The New York Times last week published an article titled “R U Here Mom?” or “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” for the online edition. The article profiles work done by child development researchers looking at how parental addiction to technology affects communication with children and early childhood learning. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self has done extensive research on the topic for over five years, including 300 interviews. As quoted in the NYT article, she says:

“Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.

There’s something that’s so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world. I’ve talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they get resistance, ‘Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.’ It’s like ‘one more drink.’ ”

(Additional insights can be found in the comments section of the article where Dr. Turkle is very active.)

The NYT article also profiles an informal test conducted by Dr. Dana Suskind from the University of Chicago which looked at the effect of smart phone use on verbal interactions between parents and children. In most case, verbal communication dropped when devices were present. This is an important indicator because verbal communication is seen as a key indicator of how well children develop language skills and vocabulary.


Source: New York Times, June 9, 2010

As we look to the future generation of parents, the trend is a bit troubling. And, lest I get accused of throwing rocks at glass houses, I will admit my own faults as well: While certainly not the worst offender, I count myself among those guilty parents that sometimes tune-out to technology.

My last post was about social media addiction and highlighted how young people, as well as older people exhibit signs of technology addiction, including messaging during meals (49% for those under 25), while in the bathroom (24%), or even during sex (11%). “While feeding my child,” “while my child plays,” or “while taking a child to daycare” were not options in the Retrevo survey, but I’m sure there would be a substantial percentage of those people as well. I would also expect the numbers to get higher in the future. A recent report from Pew Internet and American Life Project found that one-in-three American teens sends in excess of 100 text messages per day (more than 3,000 per month). The typical (median) teen sends and receives about 50 text messages a day (30 per day for boys and 80 per day for girls), although the average (mean) is much higher at 112 messages per day. A quarter of all American teens ages 16-17 text while driving. And while texting is certainly the worst offender with respect to device-immersion, other activities are also contributing to teen technology use for communication versus face-to-face communication.

Texting teens

 Do we expect this type of device-oriented behaviour to stop in adulthood? Or, left unchecked, will it simply get worse with added work-related responsibilities (i.e. the “Crackberry” trap) and the proliferation of screens, communication channels, entertainment gadgets, and social media?

Article written by

Naumi Haque has more than a decade of experience in the research and advisory industry. Naumi has been at the forefront of customer experience management, recently arguing that enterprises need an integrated customer experience strategy to meet customer expectations. He has conducted research and provided thought leadership on a wide variety of topics related to emerging technology and business innovation, including: social media strategy, customer experience, next generation marketing, enterprise collaboration, open innovation, digital identity, new sources of enterprise data, and disruptive web-enabled business models. He received his MBA and his Honors in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.