Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Digital Age Parenting: Conquering the Cultural Divide

The challenges of raising kids born into the age of the Internet

David Castillo Dominici/
Source: David Castillo Dominici/

If you are a parent born before the age of the internet then you and your child were not born into the same culture. Not since the Industrial Revolution have we experienced an era in which the cultural divide between parents and kids seems to be so great. Parents of tweens and teens in particular sometimes learn the hard way that the old adage “ignorance is bliss” is far from accurate when it comes to digital age parenting.

Even the most tech savvy parents still find themselves at a loss, a half a step behind their digital age kids. It seems to follow that while one can be fully immersed in a culture, being born into it comes with an innate advantage. Similarly, one can learn the language of ‘text talk’ but the new ways of abbreviating and talking via tech, are constantly changing. Teens and tweens seem to have no trouble keeping up but the average parent may have a hard time understanding what their child is communicating. Just when a parent acknowledges YOLO with a lol, their kids smirk at the sight of such outdated, overused communication.

The reality of life in real-time

Being raised in a digital culture comes with many new pressures. Kids today live and communicate in real time. This means that immediate responses are not only possible but, expected. This is why if your teen loses her phone or you take it away as a consequence, she may react as if she has lost a limb. The reality is that cutting off her ability to continually communicate with her peers is like cutting her off from her world, a scary and uncomfortable feeling. Although many of us have become reliant on our cell phones, digital age kids have never lived in a time when the capability to communicate consistently failed to exist. They have no understanding of a world in which making plans or placing orders takes time.

Cautiously conscious or pressured into paranoia?

Once a teens enters the social media highway there is essentially no turning back. Social media savvy teens tend to live their lives with the understanding that they are constantly under scrutiny. What they do, say, and even wear is paramount in creating a persona. At the same time this tendency to always feel ‘on’ can create paranoia. The cognitive characteristics attributed to teens both contribute and compound the stress teens may already experience. Developmentally speaking, teens are prone to believe that they are always being watched by others, that their experiences are unique to them, and that bad things only happen to other people. The reality is that teens are not wrong to think this way. We live in a society in which everything we do and say can theoretically be captured and quickly communicated to the public at large. Today’s teens are taught to be wary of what they put out in the world. They experience stress because they feel they are constantly being judged and yet their propensity toward believing they are invincible can result in concerning conclusions when they fail to really think through the consequences of their actions.

Communicating has made a difference

The goods news is that parents have made some positive impact on tween and teen internet behavior. Specifically, research reflects that a higher percentage of tweens and teens report that their parents have talked to them about their interactions on the internet. There has been an increase in the percentage of tweens and teens who report that their parents are monitoring their internet activity. In addition, the likelihood of a teen meeting up with someone they met online has decreased dramatically.

Tweens and teens have also developed skills to manage themselves online. A majority report that they have blocked or deleted someone on a social media site. A majority also report that they have deleted content especially photos in which they have been tagged. Although researchers attribute these behaviors more to reputation management and less to safety concerns.

The amount of personal information that tweens and teens are sharing online is unfortunately staggering. This seems to support the supposition previously proposed that teens are less likely to acknowledge the consequences of their candid communications.

The impact of immediate gratification

The digital age has given birth to cohorts of children who do not understand the concept of delayed gratification, they want it and they expect it all now. The immediacy effect can cause chaos for parents and tweens and teens when availability or access is actually limited. Few things can frustrate your child more than an inability to connect due to lacking WiFi access or cell phone connectivity failure. Let’s be honest, most of us have experienced a moment when the lack of connection caused concern. Another criticism that has been associated with the idea of easy access to information is that kids seem to have a much higher threshold for shock. This can translate into an appearance of missing empathy. Essentially because generations of today are so easily exposed to sex and violence, it takes a high level of graphic exposure to produce shock. Exposure to pornography in particular seems to have impacted the way many teens think, feel, and interact in relation to sex. Social media provides the perfect platform for expression and sometimes inappropriate personal exposure. We currently live in a culture in which the request for ‘nudes’ or the sending of ‘dick pics’ is far from uncommon. While in a perfect world the solution would focus in great part on limiting the exposure to sex and violence the downside of the social media superhighway is the reality that such limitation is quite difficult. Parents are therefore best served talking with their tweens and teens about their individual exposure. Such discussions offer opportunities for open and honest communication about sensitive topics.

Digital age parenting is by no means a periless feat. Today’s parents of tweens and teens are faced with the challenge of raising kids in a culture to which they are not native. Closing the cultural divide can seem like a difficult and daunting task. Consistent communication is the best course toward total immersion. Through interactive discussion parents can both learn and teach their tweens and teens how to successfully negotiate this brave new world.