Challenges of parenting in times of cyber revolution

Challenges of parenting in times of cyber revolution

Today it’s common to find children setting the ‘hello tunes’ of their parents’ cellphones much to their chagrin, hold on to the TV remotes as virtual power centres of families, operating some high-end gizmos with ease or park before computers, gaming, chatting, or net surfing. Parents suddenly find themselves coping and battling with illiteracy albeit of a different kind.

Especially, since the advent of technological revolution of the 80s parents
have been experiencing a veritable whirlwind of confusion and frustration mainly at their inability to fully understand it, learn at a pace that matches their children and control the circumstances that these whole new technology entails.

Compounding this is their children’s increasing reliance and preoccupation with it. Knowledge is undoubtedly power; so this paradigm shift from ‘parents know better’ to ‘children know better’ has brought in new dimensions and power equations within family relationships. It is poised to usurp the traditional parental role of monitoring their children’s activities, leaving the latter to experience unscrutinised freedom and exposing them to several negative influences.

Although each developmental stage of a child puts parenting skills to test, perhaps the most challenging of all is the stage of adolescence. Their growing power of reasoning and realisation of their parents’ ignorance on many issues, make them resist and question their authority; this is truer now with parents being largely technologically less informed. Interestingly, as a result of the unprecedented changes that have swept the world past several decades, today’s parents themselves are a cusp generation of old and new values.

They find the earlier parenting models severely limiting, making parenting seem that much more difficult and challenging. Now with a burgeoning Indian middle class having greater access to TV, mobile phones, portable media devices, computer and the internet, the new age liberal parents are yet to fully comprehend the long-term consequences of their unchecked use.

Research indicates, adolescent leisure time is becoming more audio-visually oriented. They are spending more time watching television, net surfing, playing video games, or text messaging, rather than on healthy activities like sports, games and hobbies. Computers have replaced pens, postage, play, telephone and even plain conversation.
The cyber world alone is causing alarming concerns. It has been found that the most frequently engaged net activity by adolescent is e-mail (83 per cent), next only to accessing search engines (78 per cent). There are 3.3 million active internet users in rural India alone, with many times more that number in urban areas that is slated to double in the coming years.

Rise in computer literacy

It can easily be surmised that a significant part of this population are adolescents. The usage among them can be expected to further rise since computer literacy is increasingly seen as an essential component of education, with more and more schools and colleges installing them.

Most often parents have no knowledge about the information their children are accessing online, partly perhaps due to their indulgence but largely owing to their state of computer illiteracy. Children could be accessing sex portals, hate groups, violent sites, fraud gangs, or even ordering abusable drugs via the internet. The sense of anonymity helps express high levels of hostile, uninhibited or flaming behaviour.

Relying more on virtual socialising through facebooks and net groups rather than actual face-to-face interactions have made them indoor bound, socially isolated and technologically dependent. Rise in sexuality, violence, crime, anxiety and stress disorders among adolescent to a significant extent can be ascribed to these vicarious activities.
It cannot be denied however, that computers hold a great deal of potential for enhancing educational and career opportunities, contributing to the parental dilemma. Technology is here to stay and will only grow further. Unfortunately,
it has seen unbridled growth without much thought having spared at the consequence of its misuse or placing regulatory mechanism to restrict certain sites.

Parents therefore need to take a few proactive steps that are subtle yet firm. Firstly, it must be realised that children fall prey to peer pressure and can easily be drawn to undesirable, often shocking activities however well brought up and therefore parents’ watchfulness helps.

In order to bridge the knowledge gap parents need to embrace the new technology by putting concerted efforts to learn it, perhaps from their own children. This will not only open new doors of exciting and endless possibilities but they can return to their old job of mentoring their kids. Even with basic knowhow, website history could be checked periodically to know the sites visited, and some sites could also be jointly visited.
Internet could be locked and allowed use only in their presence. Further, placing the computer in the family room would encourage the child to use it responsibly and avoid stealth. Parenting has always been a gargantuan responsibility; only its methods need to change with times.

(The writer is a professor of psychology)

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