Wrote this after I saw Black Mirror Season 3. Yes, I was inspired by the Arkangel episode. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers below.
I’m a tech optimist by nature.
I know technology has made our lives infinitely better. I don’t usually prescribe to technological doomsday scenarios because I am a humanist I and have faith in humanity’s innate goodness (even though it’s getting harder every day to hang on to that belief).
But every since I became a parent my relationship with technology has started drifting into complicated love/hate territory.
I think because as a tech advocate I am always aware fact that technology is amoral. Technology can do a lot of good. It can save lives. It can save the world.
But if you want to use it for evil, you definitely could and with fantastic results.
Because I know what the worst possible scenario could be, my mind can’t help but drift in that direction. And it doesn’t help that the news can often confirm my worst fears. There are monsters out there just waiting to take advantage of our kids. There are idiots who will who do stupid things online because they can. And because they are rewarded with attention, notoriety and legitimacy.
It’s frustrating really. It’s easy to blame technology in general for all of this but I know that’s not it. Technology is the collective product of humanity’s genius over a millenia. We know from history that almost every innovation is due to humanity’s drive to achieve perfection. We just underestimate our ability to be total idiots sometimes.
I thought about it and tried to understand the root of this conflict. Did a lot of reading, discussion and self evaluation. And I have come to the conclusion that dilemma isn’t necessarily about technology per se. This is about us as parents and our never ending struggle in striking a balance between autonomy and control.
Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Freedom?
Yes, there is, especially when our kids are concerned.
As parents, we know that it is our job to prepare our kids for the future. We do this because by it’s our nature to yearn for autonomy. We want to be free from influence. But understand that to live as an individual that our freedoms are not absolute. So we show them the responsibilities that come with freedom. Once they understand what being a free individual entails, our children achieve autonomy.
What terrifies us about technology is the potential it has to give our children too much freedom which they can mistake for autonomy. Having all that freedom is intoxicating. It’s so easy to make mistakes when you don’t know better. It’s so exhilarating when you finally have so much control over your surrounding even when you’re not ready for it.
I felt this way when I first took driving lessons. I crashed the car.
So we regulate technology. One way we do that is through implementing all the parental and security controls available to make sure she stays within what we consider as a technology safe zone. But even with all that in place, I have this lingering fear that she’ll find a way to get around it. It’s a legitimate fear because it’s damn near impossible to stop a determined child.
I have this recurring nightmare scenario that once the floodgates open (a.k.a she figures out my password) strangers could have access to her and try to lure her into dangerous situations. She could go to websites where she would learn about horrible things. She might do something stupid, take a video of it, and post it online. Or worse, she would make good on her threat and actually unleash SkyNet to the world!
Restriction works for now but it’s not really that practical in the long run. We’ve become so dependent on our devices it’s virtually impossible to imagine life without it. She has access to technology in school. She needs it. I can’t stop her friends from sharing their phones and tablets with her. I know how I some control now but I know that control will practically disappear in a few years. We can only delay the inevitable.
Once you pop, you can’t stop.
In fact, in a recent survey of Filipino internet users, it shows that we actually spend an average of 9 hours online. That’s longer than a full night’s sleep. Why do we do this?
Because technology makes our lives better. It allows us to communicate with each other better and more often. It gives us access to information and opportunities we otherwise won’t have. There’s no limit to what we can achieve is we use technology wisely. The benefits of having it in our lives far outweigh the cost. It’s so ingrained in our society turning away from technology is not only impossible, it’s unimaginable.
And most parents don’t want to admit this but technology is such an effective tool for control. Come on, we’ve all done it.
Is your toddler being rowdy in a public place? Put a tablet in front of them.
Need to know where your teenager is sneaking to after class? Put a tracking app on their phone.
Want to scare your school age child to follow the straight and narrow? Threaten to take away their iPad.
It’s easy to judge parents who do this. But I know from experience that when you’re tired, you’re outnumbered, and desperate, we’ll use any weapon at our disposal. Those perfect parents who do everything by the book don’t exist.
So how do we resolve this complicated relationship. Is there a way to parent well with technology? Is that even possible?
Yes to all those questions. I’d like to think there is a way.
I think we have to acknowledge that parenting is always going to be a convoluted and subjective process. The goal to to be a good parent but there’s no guidebook or template for it. We’re all just trying out what works for our family. We can’t expect it to work for everyone else.
It’s the same with technology. There’s no good tech or bad tech. It’s how we use it AND how we teach our children to use it. Like teaching manners and good hygiene. What you want to exposure your child to and how much exposure is healthy depends on what your child and your family needs.
Is your child ready to have a phone? That depends on what your child needs and what your family needs.
Is he or she ready to have a social media? That’s up to you and your child. Are both of you ready to risks and responsibilities that having an online presence entails? That’s a difficult conversation we will all have to go through. Like the sex talk. Only with this one, it’s okay to have have demonstrations and visual aids.
Am I ready to support my daughter’s plans to build a fighting robot? Her learning to program, yes. Giving her access to powertools, hard no.
I know, it sucks. It would have been easier if there was an app for it. But half the fun is figuring out.
So good luck to us all…
Plowman, L., McPake, J. and Stephen, C. (2010), The Technologisation of Childhood? Young Children and Technology in the Home. Children & Society, 24: 63–74. doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2008.00180.x
Wartella, E., & Jennings, N. (2000). Children and Computers: New Technology. Old Concerns. The Future of Children, 10(2), 31-43. doi:10.2307/1602688
Wang, K.-W. K. and Barnard, A. (2004), Technology-dependent children and their families: a review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45: 36–46. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02858.x
Jackson, L., et al. (2012), Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project. Computers in Human Behavior, 28: 370-376. //doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.006
Sherer, M, et al., (2001) Enhancing Conversation Skills in Children with Autism Via Video Technology: Which Is Better, “Self” or “Other” as a Model? Behavior Modification, 25: 140-158. doi.org/10.1177/0145445501251008
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