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Amy Howell Ph.D.

Connecting with Your Children Authentically in a Wired World

Making sense of (and making peace with) technology's presence in family life.

In an era of intensive parenting, there are often conflicting pressures to be both mindfully engaged while simultaneously “thoughtfully” hands-off. We’re told to make sure our children are engaged in activities, sports, artistic, and altruistic pursuits and also to be aware of the dangers of over-parenting in the realms of scheduling and excessive restrictions. We’re told to be connected, involved, and present while also giving ample space for the development of independence, grit, and resilience. We’re told to be aware of the potent role of our primary relationships with respect to lifelong learning and wellness. Yet, we’re also told to support a growth mindset and the inherent role of mistakes and failure in the learning process. Is anyone else getting dizzy yet?

Dawid Sobolewski/Unsplash
Source: Dawid Sobolewski/Unsplash

With the pressures exerted on today’s parents, it’s not difficult to imagine the potential connection with the increase in behaviors, such as anxiety and challenged focus among children. And, it’s not unreasonable that to soothe ourselves, we would reach for our children’s fidget spinners now that they’ve moved on to the next gadget. Add to this the complexity of navigating our children’s digital engagement—including their use of technology and participation in social media—and we have the recipe for a perpetual spin that only the best ball bearings could yield.

Conscientious Connections: Mindful Interactions in the Digital Age is a blog dedicated to exploring the interactions between families and technology. It’s about understanding the role of all family members, including children, tweens, teens, parents, and grandparents, in fostering digital literacy and the understanding that today’s world affords increased opportunities, concerns, and complexities when it comes to technology. As a parent, partner, and teacher educator, I am both personally and professionally dedicated to exploring the ways in which development, education, and technology intersect.

As exemplified in the recent article by Jean Twenge in the Atlantic and the subsequent response from Alexandra Samuel in JSTOR Daily, the tension between defining the role of devices, such as smartphones, in our family lives highlights a bigger question of how technology fits into our beliefs about raising children, our expectations of ourselves as parents, our core values as a family, and our struggles—as adults in the lives of children—to find balance. For a meaningful review of the response to Twenge’s recent article, I recommend visiting NetFamilyNews.

To begin to make sense of the role of devices and social media in our children’s lives, I encourage families to first consider technology as it fits within the broader collection of family activities. How does the use of particular technologies support or take away from other activities? Before jumping into contracts, excessive monitoring, or restriction-based language, it is helpful to begin with a conversation about technology and the way in which family members, including children and youth, view its role, importance, and challenges. Recommendations, such as those from the cybersecurity software company, Hueya, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Family Media Plan, and researcher Lynn Schofield Clark prioritize the role of relationships and personal connection in any family agreement. By beginning with a mindful awareness of the voices of all family members, we move toward what Carrie James, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes as conscientious connectivity in a digital age.

As a parent myself, I offer a word of cautionary compassion as you begin to consider your own family technology agreements. If you embrace a parent-as-mentor role and are open to fostering the opportunity for youth to share their concerns alongside your own, be prepared for a few awkward moments—like when your tween points out your own habit of checking texts while in the midst of a family activity. Moments of honesty such as these, regardless of their immediate discomfort, highlight to our youth that they can trust us with their own understandings and concerns. As a result, they are far more open to hearing our own suggestions.

May you be well connected!


About the Author

Amy Howell, Ph.D., is the Program Director and Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Central Oregon Community College. She is also an education consultant with Hueya Inc.


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