FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Parenting By Phone

With so many households on cell phone "family plans" these days, it's little wonder that the cell phone is becoming a primary means of communication between parents and children.

Families find this type of contact convenient and -- in this age of concern over child abduction -- reassuring for both parent and child. And certainly the cell phone carriers would agree. But "parenting by phone" has its critics as well.

Some parenting experts believe that such heavy reliance on phone communication is a weak substitute for face-to-face contact, and symptomatic of a society in which working parents can't afford to spend quality time with their kids. Others fear the exact opposite, that a constant phone link robs children of personal space needed to grow and mature. They believe, for instance, that it's too easy for a child facing a dilemma (as opposed to a genuine emergency) to call Mom and Dad for help, rather than to take risks and figure out a solution themselves.

This, psychologists note, becomes especially problematic for older children going off to college or otherwise beginning to make their way in the world. Experts have for some time noted a phenomenon they call "helicoptering," in which parents "hover" over their kids even as they enter adulthood. They observe how parents have become increasingly protective of their children (credit baby boomer sensibilities, affluence and lower birthrates), and express little surprise that parents micromanage their children's lives well into adulthood. These are the same parents who shouldn't be surprised when their kids are still living at home long after they themselves moved away from their parents at the same age.

Technology's role in these phenomena will continue -- and likely grow -- as families continue to adopt text messaging and instant messaging as well as cell phones. However, the technology is neither the hero or the villain here. Families must determine reasonable boundaries when applying technology, answering for themselves such questions as, when is too much contact "too much"? More fundamentally, kids must learn when to become self-reliant, and parents must learn when to back off.

Sources: The Mercury News, TheFeature, USA Today