Children’s experiences with digital technologies include young users born and developing in environments where new digital technologies are widely available. This happens in early infancy due to the rapid spread of touchscreen devices among young children. Children 2-4 years old can actually use touch screen devices such as tablets or smartphones to play and watch movies. Usually parents give their hands a tablet or phone in social situations that children find boring (pediatrician’s waiting rooms or restaurants, etc.).
According to the latest report on the spread of the Internet among young people around the world, it is estimated that one in three users is a child or teenager (under 18). Often children are present with intense and prolonged activities with digital devices, especially on weekends, and these are children especially of their age. Children use their digital technology at school at least one day a week (almost 30% between ages 9-11), but in many countries it is banned by school regulations.
Even though many resource inequalities remain between developed or developing countries, access to digital technologies is increasing among younger generations. For example, it is estimated that children in Africa (Ghana) predominantly use 0.9 mobile devices to connect to the Internet, compared to 2.9 in South America (Chile) and 2.6 in Europe (Italy). Similarly, only 12% of children in Africa (Ghana), 21% in the Philippines and 26% in Albania, 63-54% of children in other South American or European countries such as Argentina can be connected to.
This reality is just a few questions about how to guarantee the opportunities offered by new technologies to younger generations (to work, develop skills, socialize, etc.) and protect them from the potential dangers of the digitalized world (i.e. contact with unknown people, pornographic content, exposure to violence, etc.) reveals. In fact, although children are growing up in a reality that is permeated by new media, they are not automatically “digital literate”, meaning they cannot juggle and reflect on the digital world.
Research studies not only young users but also adult users’ finding, managing and evaluating information, managing their online privacy and online personal security. […] they face difficulties in providing and therefore their digital skills may differ ”.
Along with their children, parents themselves are greatly exposed to media experiences in many areas of their lives. Digital technologies have rapidly changed the way family members communicate, have fun, gain information, and solve everyday problems. Parents are also the first agents of children’s experiences with digital tools: they have a duty to integrate their use into ordinary routines (play, entertainment, learning, mealtime, etc.), and to promote constructive and safe uses. Digital parenting defines parental efforts and practices to understand, support and regulate children’s activities in digital environments.
A growing research on digital parenting is on parents’ digital technologies. According to Vygotsky’s theory of child development and the concept of the proximal developmental zone, parental mediation can be considered a key feature in facilitating interaction between children and new media. The proximal developmental zone is an intermediate area between what the child can do alone and what they can learn with the guidance of others. During a shared activity, support and assistance is adapted so that the child can develop their skills and gradually take responsibility for acting alone. However, unlike real experiences, activities taking place in the virtual environments of the web can reverse the relationship between the authorized person (adult) and the student (child).
Today’s children take an early, almost “intuitive” approach to digital technologies, so in some cases they can become active agents towards their parents. When children’s knowledge and digital competence (for example, the functions and benefits of a new app) exceed those of the parents, many shared experiences can be initiated by the child. And children can also realize some forms of support and digital teaching for parents. This reverse socialization seems to be a peculiar feature of digital experiences and poses new challenges for the parent role.
Reverse socialization describes all situations where children have a better understanding or more advanced skills than adults. This gap between generations is more pronounced in low-income families or low-educated parents who have access to limited resources and digital technologies. However, in the past years many parents have developed enough knowledge and technical skills to share their digital experiences with their children. They appreciate the benefits of the web and try to understand its complexity.
A common challenge parents actually face is the proliferation of “portable” devices (smartphones and tablets) that children start to use in early infancy (under 2 years old). Later, due to unlimited Wi-Fi access and enhanced connectivity, children incorporate mobile activities into many daily routines, such as mealtime, school homework, conversations with parents or before going to sleep. In particular, parents are concerned about the “prevalence” (or everywhere) of mobile technologies in everyday activities and fear that effective guidance and control over them will be diminished.
Studies conducted with large samples of young digital users (9-16 years old) in many European countries compared the views of parents before (2010 Eu Kids Online Survey) and later (Net Children Go Mobile) is the widespread use of mobile devices. After 4 years, many parents report that they know less about their children’s online activities and have more difficulty closely monitoring their children’s use (for example, time spent connected). Interestingly, parents are now more aware of the risks of using the web and prefer to talk to children about Internet safety (for example, do not leave personal data online or block unknown people) rather than limiting or banning Internet use.
Parents can encourage or limit the use of digital technologies to children based on the opportunities or danger attributed to them. Because parents themselves are regular, sometimes enthusiastic, digital media users, their digital skills and confidence, and their daily use frequency (or overuse), along with beliefs about the digital world, are important factors that researchers have. So they started to explore this situation systematically.
Parental Beliefs and Views
Each parent has personal opinions about the use of the media by children, such as their usefulness or harm, or the age at which children should use them. Beliefs are the cognitive dimensions of attitudes that guide an individual’s behavior and choices. When parents raise their children, they act according to their own perceptions of what is desired or what they value positively for their child’s development and make choices for them. Although parents are not always aware of their beliefs, they affect parent-child interaction and the child’s opportunity to learn, experience and develop digital skills. Parental beliefs are important aspects of parenting and family microsystems, along with factors such as parental background and education, socioeconomic status and culture.
Parents have a personal opinion about modern technologies: they can be thought of as a source of entertainment, relaxation, or a learning tool. Conversely, for some, computers, tablets and smartphones are harmful because they interfere with children’s health (sleep problems, obesity, etc.), social risks (such as unfamiliar or social isolation) or parent-child activities and time spent together.
A qualitative study shows that parents have more pessimistic (70.55%) thoughts about the Internet use of primary school children than optimistic (29.45%). For example, parents feel that they do not have the maturity of being involved in excessive time spent online, intervention in face-to-face interviews, or some content that is not suitable for children (such as violence, sex or drug-related content). Other concerns relate to learning and academic performance (i.e. reduced attention span), physical development (prolonged sedentary activities), social skills and peer interactions (i.e. less opportunities to learn to play together), and negative consequences on the child’s health. (ie using a smartphone to overcome boredom). Interestingly, many parents fear losing control over their children’s online behavior.
Some researchers investigated parents’ perceptions of family open communication regarding the positive (i.e. shared by generations) or negative impact (i.e., exposing family privacy) to social media – such as Facebook or WhatsApp. Young people are heavily involved in social media use, but adults are also regular users. On the one hand, parents use social networks to communicate. On the other hand, they fear negatively affecting family relationships, for example through the phubbing phenomenon (i.e. ignoring someone or cutting meal time to control a conversation or smartphone). Researchers have found that parents’ perceptions are a meditative variable between collective family activity (i.e., perceived activity to manage family relationships, support each other, etc.) and openness of communication:
Parents’ beliefs can affect the extent to which parents give opportunity or restrict their children’s media use, but beliefs should not be seen as the cause of behavior towards children. Studies show that parents’ positive views (for example, “improves tablet reading skills”) are related to positive attitudes, a combination approach, communication, or suggestions to improve their children’s appropriate use of the Internet. For example, when parents consider smartphones to be useful tools (i.e., stimulate the child’s intelligence and knowledge), they allow preschoolers to use them more often (i.e. in the restaurant) and children spend more time becoming regular users (at least 2 ha days)
Conversely, parents who attribute negative effects to digital media tend to limit activities to children (ie, impose time limits or react to excessive use of the smartphone); In turn, these restrictive behaviors can affect how long children can use these devices. Thus, the effects of parental beliefs on the child’s behavior are not guided, but mediated by parental apps and other factors such as parental education or mobile device involvement that may interfere.
Author: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu