Parenting in the Age of the Smartphone

Born in the 1980s, I experienced life before and after the advent of the internet, mobile devices and certainly smartphones. I’ve witnessed my family and peers’ everyday habits shift over the years, from Key Maps to Google Maps, handwritten birthday cards to Facebook birthday posts, drugstore photo pick-ups to digital galleries, desk calendars to Outlook calendars, and so on. Habits changed by the onset of the smartphone seem to evolve rapidly, even more so than the arrival of the internet. What used to be available only at desktop computers (at a turtle pace to boot), was now available at our fingertips using speedy data or wifi anywhere at anytime.

Increasingly, it seemed like a quick email, social media post, or multiple calendar checks were taking precedent over real time situations. Sometimes the convenience is great for work or play. For example, when waiting for hours at the doctor’s office, quickly finding directions to our next destination, or communicating with friends abroad, and all the while seemingly able to manage work and life balance more efficiently. However, I can’t help but notice there are integral moments missed in our personal relationships, specifically parent to child relationships. As a new parent myself, this conclusion was intimately startling; like when you notice a parent’s nose in their phone during their child’s recital, or while at the dinner table, or even worse, while driving.

Furthermore, our idea of a well-rounded childhood is changing, as youngsters are using smartphones to purchase apps, play games, and post to social media; nearly every moment recorded, not one moment bored, ever entertained by a four inch screen. Busy posting their current mood on Instagram, the newer generation seems to have an entirely different idea of social cues and how to carry a conversation face-to-face. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve been surrounded by internet media their entire lives, both in their hands and taking notice of adults’ habits around them.

This realization spurred the inspiration for my article where I interviewed four generations of parents, Baby Boomer, on to Generation X, Y, and Z. I asked each local Granbury parent the same questions: how smartphones have changed their lives, how they create boundaries, and if they agree or disagree that smartphones ironically create distance within interpersonal relationships.

Baby Boom

1946 – 1965

Baby boomers are the most talked about generation in the country. At approximately 77 million people, they’re also the largest (“Millennials” are a close second).

Starting with Baby Boomer, Peggy Jones, mother of three, as well has seven grandchildren. As an added bonus, recently retired Peggy had been a practicing child care specialist for nearly a decade. Peggy maintains that smartphones have lent to the decline of conversation as she noted, “when the conversation lulls, everyone whips their phone out and exits the conversation at hand.” For this reason, she feels smartphones are terribly intrusive and isolating. Despite the trainwreck she sees for face-to-face communication, Peggy enjoys the added convenience and security of a lifeline, as well as sharing photos and quick texts with her family and the moms whose children she cared for. When asked about using her phone’s camera and social media for documenting moments, Peggy said she still loves hands-on scrapbooking and a good ‘ol Polaroid photograph. As many Baby Boomers will tell you and Peggy contends, “just because it’s modern, doesn’t mean it’s the best.”

Generation X

1966 – 1979

Latchkey Kids: This overlooked generation currently ranges in age from 34 to 49, which may be one reason they’re so often missing from stories about demographic, social and political change.

For the Generation X candidate, I interviewed local winery operator, Josh Winters. 

Josh is an interesting candidate as he’s father to four children, in addition to one on the way. The eldest is in college, age 21, and the youngest, a stepson, age six. He and his wife, Amy, do an excellent job juggling the lot, one moment running to a graduation, the next teaching a driving lesson, on to dance lessons and finally homework interrupted by a formidable game of living room army men with the whole family. In response to the effect of smartphone technology, Josh answered, “It’s convenient because people can always get a hold of you and inconvenient because people can always get a hold of you.” Like Peggy, Josh agreed that the smartphone has ironically made relationships less personal. He said that he and his eldest son text more than they talk on the phone. “It’s a give and take,” Josh explained. He sees positive results due to this technology, too. His daughter, age nine, is shy and her smartphone helps her to express herself when she may not be able to otherwise. However, Josh and Amy keep firm phone policies for their household that seem to help balance it all. These include: designated phone time, no phone at dinner and no phones in the car.

Generation Y

1980 – 1994

Millennials: Most Millennials resist the Millennial label. 33% – mostly older Millennials – consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X.

Millennial parents, Matt and Reagan Deming were next. Their daughter is Arianisa, “Ari”, age eight. I spoke with Reagan for the portion of the interview. She shared that owning a smartphone has affected her family in positive ways such as having FaceTime with family members that live outside the U.S., also hardly ever getting lost while driving with the use of smart navigation (a resounding plus shared by all the parents I interviewed). Reagan and Matt download educational apps for Ari that seem to be very effective. Their situation is an atypical one as they do not own a television, all entertainment in the home is had via a phone or tablet… a direction I think a lot of Millennials are moving toward. Ari has access to a Kindle for internet surfing, however Reagan makes use of a parental setting that requires Ari to read for two hours before surfing. Parental controls like this, make it possible for Reagan and Matt to set media boundaries. As for smartphones creating a gap in intimacy and lending to parental negligence, Reagan felt this was less a smartphone problem and more of a parenting choice. Lastly, I asked how she felt about the ability to record her child’s every move via smartphone cameras and social media apps, a convenience not shared by our parents. To this she said, “…when I was younger, there was no cloud, the photos were far between and poor quality, but I’ll admit they seemed to be a more honest reflection of my life and my parents’ lives.” That said, she still enjoys the convenience of documenting Ari’s life in fun and modern ways with her smartphone.

Generation Z

1995 – 2016

Gen Next: The values survey finds that young Americans are far less conservative on traditional and social values — including attitudes toward homosexuality, women’s roles, and censorship.

The final interview was with Generation Z-er, Taylor Holland. Taylor is a hairdresser and a mother of two, Raelyn, age eight, and Triston, age five. Her responses were unexpected in comparison with the other candidates. Besides the added convenience for communicating with her clients, Taylor doesn’t have much use for a smartphone. As well, her kids don’t own them and won’t until they’re well into their teens. However, like the rest of the focus group, Taylor enjoys recording precious moments instantly with her phone’s camera. Also, she laughed as she told me, that as a teen, she once got lost driving to Ridgmar Mall and ended up in Dallas. As a result, she much appreciates Google Maps for it’s easy navigation app. Otherwise, Taylor looks forward to being away from her phone and spending time with her family and friends face-to-face, in the moment.

According to the information I collected, it seems the youngest adult generation has less of an infatuation with mobile technology. They are regularly active on social media, but less interested in being accessible all the time. Perhaps this is a move in a direction where society refrains from living life through a screen and begins to look up to actively participate again.

Like most things in life, it seems that with the smartphone, moderation is key. It is important to create space and time regularly, where we put the phones down. Worry less about recording the moment and more about living it. Aim to have a healthy understanding of where technology can and cannot take you.

The art of conversation continues with us.