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At the risk of sounding old: technology sure has changed through generations. Generation X grew up with a TV, while millennials got introduced to the internet through stationary desktop computers. For today’s children, on the other hand, technology is ubiquitous. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Any parent of a young child knows: your little one’s skills at navigating a touch screen are scarily good. In fact, a 2015 study found that toddlers as young as two years are already able to swipe, unlock, and actively search for features on smartphones and tablets.
But has this development, along with the increasingly central nature of digital devices, changed parenting for the better or worse? Considering five key ways in which technology impacts both kids and parents, we’d like to suggest that it’s a bit of both.
1. The Impact of Technology on Infant Sleep
It doesn’t take a scientist to know just how important sleep is for both infants and toddlers. In addition to giving the parents well-earned rest, sleep promotes growth, helps the heart, strengthens the immune system, and even improves attention spans. Used correctly, connected devices can promote it. But lose sight of the nuances, and the same technology can actually lead to worse sleep.
Consider for instance the Snoo cradle, a smart bassinet that is specifically designed to promote sleep for infants. Microphones, sensors, speakers, and motors all work together to pick up unhappiness from your little one and respond with soothing noises and gentle vibration. It can even prevent your baby from rolling over at night, which has been linked to SIDS. However, some reviews of the Snoo have parents wondering whether the machine is augmenting their ability to parenting or replacing a critical role – human contact to comfort a child.
And it’s not just the Snoo — baby monitors are now being touted as helping kids sleep better. The Nanit, a smart baby monitor that bills itself as “the Tesla of baby monitors” claims to use artificial intelligence to provide insights that can lead to better sleep.
And of course, the same technology responsible for better baby snoozes can also make sleep more difficult for them. Studies are beginning to find that touchscreen use on a daily basis among infants and toddlers can lead to worse sleep.
2. The Benefits & Drawbacks of Wifi Baby Monitors
The internet of things has also brought with it better tools for busy parents who want to keep track of their children even while they’re sleeping or have to go to work. Wifi baby monitors allow you to check on your little pride and joy from anywhere, at any time. Especially for parents who have to go back to work shortly after their newborn arrives, this can be a lifesaver to calm anxious nerves.
In 2015, CBS published what turned out to be a viral article, laying bare the fact that many of the most popular WiFi devices are vulnerable to hacking. Put simply, you don’t want strangers listening in or even watching you or your baby.
Fortunately, parents can take a number of steps to protect themselves from this potential problem. At the same time, the vulnerability of WiFi baby monitors is undeniable, and offers another piece of evidence on how the internet of things can at once be beneficial and detrimental to your parenting efforts.
3. Staying In Touch with Remote Family
Today, babies are being born to the most mobile generation in recent memory. The vast majority of millennials, who happen to be the parents of today’s small children, are willing to relocate for a job. As a result, more children than ever before will grow up at a distance from some of their grandparents and other close family members.
Through technology, it’s easy to stay in touch with family and friends when that happens. Almost all messaging apps, from FaceTime and Duo to Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook allow video calling. That, in turn, helps small children better know family members who are in a different place.
If you’re wondering how impactful that can be for a child’s development, think back to your own childhood. Many of our first memories are made not with our parents, but with our grandparents. Through connected devices, grandma will always be there at the touch of a button.
4. Teenage Independence & Internet Monitoring
Of course, the internet remains relevant in parenting as your children grow older. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that the majority of parents have at least once checked the websites their children visit or their social media profiles. An increasing amount also check calls and messages, and even track their teen’s location using their phones’ integrated GPS.
Undoubtedly, these activities can help teenagers stay safer. But what is the price? Studies are finding that the years between 13 and 18 are vital to build independence, which is vital to learn better and become adept at relationship-building. Connected devices may help you track your child, but at what cost?
5. How Does a Smartphone Impact Parenting?
Finally, this article would not be complete without at least touching on the device that most embodies the digital age. Chances are it’s within 10 inches of your hand right now. We’re talking, of course, about your smartphone.
The last few years have seen an explosion in smartphone apps that seek to help your little ones develop early learning skills. Many of them are quite effective, with interactive features that help children develop motor skills and digital literacy along with math, reading, and writing abilities.
But any modern parent knows the other side of the coin. A smartphone easily turns into a distraction, for parents and children alike. In the worst case, distracted parenting through technology can lead to less healthy eating habits and fewer social interactions with other parents. In other words, the long-term consequences can be significant.
The Internet & Interactive Media: Good or Bad for Parenting?
So has the internet of things actually changed parenting for the better? It’s easy to make an argument both ways. In reality, the truth is probably in the middle. As the National Association for the Education of Young Children points out in its central positioning paper on the subject,
Technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators, within the framework of developmentally appropriate practice, to support learning goals established for individual children.
In other words, technology and the internet of things can be a great parenting tool – if used correctly. In that case, it can play a vital role in helping your child’s development and preparing it for today’s digital environment. That use, however, has to be both intentional and well-intended in order to avoid potential drawbacks. Think about the technology to which you want to expose your children, and you’ve taken the first step in leaning toward its beneficial nature.