By: By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer
Published: 09/25/2013 07:59 AM EDT on LiveScience
Cellphones, tablets, video games and computers — the average youngster has logged thousands of hours on digital technologies by the time they leave home.
And all these technologies have changed the way parents do their jobs.
Though digital technology allows parents to entertain or keep tabs on their youngsters, for the most part, all of these apps and websites have created more decisions, more research (to figure out what's kid-friendly and what's not) and more rules to negotiate with their children, often on the fly, media researchers say.
In many ways, digital technologies have made parenting harder, experts say. [10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]
No parent replacement
Although it may seem like parents are increasingly using technology as a babysitter, that's not true for most parents, said Alexis Lauricella, a researcher at the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University in Illinois.
"We felt like we kept seeing iPads at every restaurant we went out to with every young child," Lauricella told LiveScience. "We wondered: Was that really the case? Are parents just forking over an iPad to keep kids quiet?"
So Lauricella and her colleagues asked about 2,300 parents about their strategies surrounding parenting and digital parenting.
About 70 percent of parents said that smartphones and tablets didn't make parenting any easier, according to the June 2013 survey.
About 37 percent of parents said they're likely to turn to a smartphone or tablet to distract kids while cooking dinner, and 17 percent said they had relied on tablets or other mobile devices to placate an upset child. More often, parents used technology as carrot or stick: either as punishment for bad behavior or a reward for good behavior.
The advent of technology has also allowed parents to track their children in various ways. Whether it's GPS phone tracking to keep up with their kids' whereabouts or Internet monitoring, more and more parents use digital technology to keep up with their youngsters, said Lynn Schofield Clark, a media studies researcher at the University of Denver and the author of "The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age," (Oxford University Press, 2012).
For some parents, keeping up with schoolwork may be the most tempting mode of surveillance. No longer do parents have to rely on children to bring home their report cards.
"Now, it's possible for parents to log on and see all of what's happening with their kids' school assignments, and that's from kindergarten up through high school," Schofield Clark told LiveScience. "It makes it possible for parents to engage in helicopter parenting."
The biggest difference, however, may be how many more decisions come with digital parenting.
Before the digital age, parents may have set kids loose on their bikes and given them a few rules: "Don't talk to strangers, and be back by dinnertime."
Nowadays, children burn hours playing mobile games or posting pictures on Facebook.
Making sure kids stay safe online now means navigating myriad apps, social websites and games — and possibly coming up with different rules for each of them. [Tech Tantrums: 6 Things Parents Need to Know]
"There really are a lot more options, which means parents have to dig into them a little bit more," Lauricella said. "Growing up, we had a PBS station — and that's basically what my parents considered good television, and that's what we were allowed to watch. It's not that easy anymore."
Sometimes, the consequences of not creating Web safety for children may be dire.
Twelve-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick committed suicide earlier this month after being bullied relentlessly online. Though the Florida girl changed schools and her mother deleted her Facebook account, the young preteen downloaded newer apps that her mother didn't know about, such as ask.fm, Kik and voxer, and the bullying followed her there.
Most of the time, however, the risks associated with digital technologies are much more mundane — the worry that children won't learn moderation or good manners, or will fall behind on their homework because they're spending so much time on social media.
Making parenting even harder is that there aren't universally agreed-upon social rules governing technology use, Schofield Clark said.
For instance, is it rude or clever to hand a child an iPad in a restaurant to keep him or her quiet? Is it acceptable for children to talk on a cellphone as soon as they get home from school, or should they first greet their parents and describe their day? Are children obligated to pick up phone calls from their parents?
"There are some things now that parents and young people have to negotiate that they didn't before," Schofield Clark said.
- 7 Ways to Short-Circuit Kids' Mobile Addiction
- 9 Odd Ways Your Tech Devices May Injure You
- 10 Gadgets and Apps to Keep Your Kids Safe
Related on HuffPost:
March 2013: Teens and Technology
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Fully 95% of teens are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006. Yet, the nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically during that time ... Teens are just as likely to have a cell phone as they are to have a desktop or laptop computer. And increasingly these phones are affording teens always-on, mobile access to the internet — in some cases, serving as their primary point of access."
February 2013: Preschoolers Can Learn Great Things From TV
<strong>Source</strong>: Huffington Post (to read the actual study, visit <a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/02/13/peds.2012-3872.full.pdf">Pediatrics</a> -- subscription required) <strong>Gist</strong>: "New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that putting our time and energy into working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior -- even for children as young as 3 years of age."
February 2013: Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "While longitudinal research does allow us to speak in terms of a 'causal' relationship, it is probably more accurate and useful to think about media violence as a 'risk factor' rather than a 'cause' of violence — one variable among many that increases the risk of violent behavior among some children."
January 2013: Screen Time Not Linked To Kids' Physical Activity
<strong>Source</strong>: Reuters (to read the actual study, visit <a href="http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1548755">JAMA Pediatrics</a> -- log-in required) <strong>Gist</strong>: "[R]esearchers said the new study backs up earlier findings showing too much screen time and not enough exercise may be separate issues that parents and schools need to address independently."
December 2012: How Families Interact on Facebook
<strong>Source</strong>: Facebook <strong>Gist</strong>: "We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends."
November 2012: Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Most parents of teenagers are concerned about what their teenage children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others. Some parents are taking steps to observe, discuss, and check up on their children’s digital footprints."
<strong>Source</strong>: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health <strong>Gist</strong>: "In this Poll, nearly two out of three adults expressed strong support for proposed COPPA updates, including requiring apps designed for kids to confirm that users are at least 13 and prohibiting apps from collecting personal information from users under age 13."
November 2012: The Online Generation Gap
<strong>Source</strong>: Family Online Safety Institute <strong>Gist</strong>: "These surveys indicate that teens’ concerns about their online safety parallel parents’ concerns more closely than parents realize and that many teens are taking steps to protect their privacy and personal information. Nonetheless, teens suggest that parents are not as informed about what their teens do online as parents think they are, and some teens are taking risks by providing personal information to strangers online."
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "America’s teachers -- whether they are long-time classroom veterans or young, tech-savvy ones, at wealthy schools or low-income schools, public or private, elementary or high school -- surface relatively consistent concerns: Students are having issues with their attention span, writing, and face-to-face communication, and, in the experience of teachers, children’s media use is contributing to the problem. On the plus side, teachers find that young people’s facility with media is helping them find information quickly and multitask more effectively."
November 2012: How Teens Do Research in the Digital World
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Three-quarters of AP [Advanced Placement] and NWP [National Writing Project] teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a 'mostly positive' impact on their students’ research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an 'easily distracted generation with short attention spans' and 64% say today’s digital technologies 'do more to distract students than to help them academically.'"
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "Three out of four teens have social networking sites, and half of all teens are on their sites on a daily basis. But despite our concerns about social media, in the vast majority of cases, these media do not appear to be causing great tumult in teenagers’ lives."
March 2012: Teens, Smartphones and Texting: Texting Volume Is Up While Frequency of Voice Calling Is Down
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. The frequency of teens' phone chatter with friends - on cell phones and landlines - has fallen. But the heaviest texters are also the heaviest talkers with their friends.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: "There was no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at anytime, than children receiving the inactive video games."
November 2011: Teens, Kindness And Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American Teens Navigate the New World of “Digital Citizenship”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15% report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “We found that children in as many as 70% of home-based child care settings and 36% of center-based child care settings watch television daily. More importantly, when television is viewed at all, infants and children spend 2 to 3 hours watching in home-based programs and ~1.5 hours watching in center-based programs.”
October 2011: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reafﬁrms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group. This statement also discourages the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.”
October 2011: Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward. Having an accurate understanding of the role of media in children’s lives is essential for all of those concerned about promoting healthy child development: parents, educators, pediatricians, public health advocates, and policymakers, to name just a few."
July 2011: Cell Phone Study ‘Misleading’: Children May Still Be At Increased Cancer Risk, Experts Say
<strong>Source</strong>: The Huffington Post <strong>Gist</strong>: “[E]xperts have some serious concerns regarding the methods and conclusions of the first study evaluating the connection between cell phone radiation and brain cancer in children and teens. Not only was the study flawed, they note, but it was also financially supported by the cell phone industry.”
October 2010: Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “This study found that greater television and computer use was related to greater psychological difﬁculties, independent of gender, age, level of deprivation, pubertal status, and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: "Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood."
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “Fully two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.”
January 2010: Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds
<strong>Source</strong>: Kaiser Family Foundation <strong>Gist</strong>: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”