Parenting Across the Digital Divide: A National Conversation on the Impact of Technology and Media on Our Families

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We did not grow up on the same side of the digital divide as did the offspring we welcomed into to the world and have nurtured for the past two decades. Parents may be comfortable on one side, but on the other side of the divide sits post-millennial youngsters who have never known a time without social media or that the Amazon (without the .com) is a river in South America.  They use google as a verb and don’t remember when MTV only played music videos. They are affectionately known as Digital Natives, Post-Millennials, GenZ and iGen.  If you ask them where they live, they will answer, “On the Internet.”

Straddling this digital divide are the iconic iPhone and iPad, giving rise to the sea change that has now defined the distinct neurological wiring differences between generations. The original side of touch-screen technology included high tech toys and personal digital assistants (PDAs) like Palm Pilots and Newtons. The introduction of the Apple iPad on April 3, 2010, however, put digital tools and portals to knowledge on the new side of the digital divide and literally, into the hands of babes. Remarkably, toddlers, unable to operate a computer mouse, could use their fists and fingers to swipe, touch and open icons on tablets!  Now, a new generation of our youngest children are empowered to discover new worlds of information and live (where else?) on the Internet.

If you have ever witnessed a baby swatting a picture in a magazine trying to reveal what’s behind it, or stroking an image on a TV screen, wondering why it won’t open, it’s easy to be completely awestruck by the power of this technology and the absolute wonder of their intent. Our youngest post-millennials now have the astounding ability to interact with technology and create a dynamic dialogue. It is open sesame with some 21st century magic sprinkled on top. “Pat the Bunny” – or anything else – and you’re on the net!

Since the introduction of the iPad, colorful touchscreens have become the most favored playthings for toddlers.  With the same little hand a child uses to explore her three-dimensional universe, she is able to single-handedly unlock a world of information pathways and learning adventures.  So, as kids interact with technology, parents must responsibly provide guidance and protection, as well as model appropriate behaviors and become involved in content choices. Sounds overwhelming, and it – ALMOST -is!