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Parenting In The Digital Age: Do Devices Pose A New Challenge?

June 8, 2017

By Eric Seiverling

Remember the good old days when parents only had to lecture their kids about drugs, alcohol, and stranger danger?

Thanks to modern technology, today’s parents have a new challenge to face: the influx of electronic devices available to children and the unfiltered access to the Internet and social media.

According to a study by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of nine hours per day on social media. The study also found that 53 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 12 – also known as tweens – have their own tablet and spend an average of six hours per day on social media.

“It absolutely is an important issue for today’s families,” said Maria Conte, a Pittsburgh-based licensed professional counselor who works from offices in Edgewood and Greensburg. “I can’t tell you how many families I see that have problems and the roots are issues with social media… For some teens, social media is their whole life.”

Conte said symptoms of social media addiction can even include depression and isolation.

So what is a parent to do?

Photo: Twenty20 / @darby

Photo: Twenty20 / @darby

Many parents feel it’s a fine line between letting their children take advantage of modern technology for fun and schoolwork and knowing when to say “no” to overuse of devices.

“It’s a trust factor at the moment,” said Kerry Dunseath, a parent of a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter who have three tablets, three laptop computers, and four cell phones in their household. “My kids mostly use their devices for games and research papers. But, I still check my son’s Internet history and I know all of my daughter’s passwords. They know if they break the rules, the devices will be gone forever.” 

Cristina Panaccione, licensed professional counselor and owner of Cristina Panaccione and Associates, LLC in McMurray, said healthy electronic device usage should start with the parents.

“There is a lot of dependance on technology, such as parents using technology as a babysitter,” she said. “That creates conflicts between the teen and parents. The teen has an assumption of privacy, and the parents are worried about the teen being exploited and not being involved with the family.”

Kathryn Huff, the parent of a 9-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, said it’s a challenge to provide a good example to her kids when asked about her family’s device usage.

“I’m addicted to my phone and I’m on it constantly,” Huff said. “But, I still want my kids to be kids. I want them to go outside and use their imagination and build forts and mud pies. When it comes to TV and electronics, I tell them that those are privileges. You have to pick and choose your battles.”

To help parents monitor their child’s device usage, many companies have created monitoring and watchdog solutions.

Norton Online Family lets parents monitor their children’s online searches and restrict times spent online. Conte recommends visiting the website www.shapethesky.org, and Panaccione recently developed a therapy session that specifically targets social media addiction.

Comcast recently launched XFINITY xFI, a digital dashboard that lets customers see what devices are connected to their home Wi-fi network, set parental controls, and even restrict Wi-fi access during dinner and bedtimes.

“It takes a community to help keep kids safe,” Panaccione said. “It’s great to see companies lending a hand and giving parents the tools they need for these situations.”