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Modern Parenthood

Parenting the littlest media users: A study shows what concerns new parents

Are parents concerned about their wee ones becoming addicted to new media? Meh, not really. Nor are they saying media use is a source of conflict, a new study says. 

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Clark cites the view of Prof. Vikki Katz at Rutgers University, “who has studied Latino immigrant parents and their children” and said at the conference that “it’s important not to pathologize families who have economic struggles. They have the same goals as the rest of us when it comes to wanting the best for their children and in their hopes for the ‘American dream,’ and those of us working in areas of policy, research, and industry need to seek to provide support for them on their own terms.”

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Anne Collier is editor of and co-director of, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.

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Some other interesting findings

  • Tablets not babysitters: I’ve often heard it said that, when parents are busy, they just hand kids a smartphone or tablet. Not true. This study shows that they’re “more apt to turn to toys or activities (88%), books (79%) or TV (78%). Of parents with smartphones or iPads, only 37% reported being somewhat or very likely to turn to those devices.”
  • Early media independence: Lots of parents use media with young children, the authors report, “but this ‘joint media engagement’ drops off markedly for children who are six or older.”
  • Parenting no easier. These parents use digital devices a whole lot, but most (70%) “don’t think they’ve made parenting any easier.”
  • Socio-economic differences: Families with incomes of $25,000 or less are more likely than families with incomes of $100,000 or more “to turn to TV for educational purposes” – 54% vs. 31%, respectively. It may have something to do with language, I think, that the researchers found that “lower income parents are also more likely to think TV has a ‘very’ positive effect on children’s reading (23%, compared to 4% among the higher-income group) as well as their math and speaking skills.” The authors add that “similar differences are found in parents’ views about the positives and negatives of computers as well,” which makes me wonder if “computers” means the Internet.
  • Media time management. Professor Clark recommends that, instead of asking how much screen time is too much, parents might “think about teaching time management” so they can learn develop their own self-regulatory skills. And Prof. Barbara Fiese at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, encourages “healthy habits in the whole ‘family ecology’” of which media is just one part, Clark reports.

The Northwestern researchers divvied the various kinds of media environments that parents have created for their families into three buckets based on quantity of screen time: the 39% of households that are “media-centric” (11+ hours of screen time/day, with children spending 4-5 hours a day on-screen); the 45% that are “media-moderate” (spending just under 5 hours on-screen/day, with children spending just under 3 hours); and the16% that are “media-light” (generally with higher levels of income and education and spending even lower amounts of time with screen media, with children spending under 1.5 hours/day on-screen).

What does all this say about parenting these days? To Lynn Clark, it suggests that “parents will have to prepare children for a world that requires intentional effort as we seek to maintain the bonds that matter most to us.” I’m with her on that and, if I can riff on it a little bit: Successful participation in social media (not to mention school, work and all social spaces in our kids’ futures) is conscious participation. It’s both social literacy and media literacy – a “respectful connectedness,” as Lynn put it, online and offline. It doesn’t only defeat bullying and other anti-social behavior, it develops the kind of protection that’s preventive and permanent – with our children all the time and all their lives – critical thinking and resilience. And we know from the research that it increases academic as well as social success.


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