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(parent to child) Sure, it starts with having your own phone. But soon you're on 4chan, playing the Knockout Game and recruiting other kids for ISIS.

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases published on No Comments on Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Skim the media headlines, and there seem to be only two possibilities when it comes to parents, kids and technology. Either

  1. Parents should shield their kids from all screens until the age of 30, lest they become distracted, lazy and incapable of forming memories more complex than a 140-character message. Or,
  2. Learning to code will solve everything from youth homelessness to the mumps.

(Bonus points if you can find a writer whose byline has appeared under both kinds of headline.)

The myth of the Family Tech MarketMy wife Alexandra Samuel has studied the way parents tackle their kids’ relationship with technology over several years now. Her two-year study of more than 10,000 North American parents has some fascinating findings that she covered at South by Southwest, in a session dubbed The Myth of the Family Tech Market.

Alex has found that parents tend to fall into one of three broad groups: limiters, who try to minimize their kids’ use of technology; enablers, who give their kids more or less free rein when it comes to screens and devices; and mentors, who take an active role in guiding their kids onto the Internet. (Here’s a handy overview.)

I drew seven new cartoons about parenting in the digital age for her presentation. Drawing is easy; digital parenting is hard &emdash; we’ve found it tremendously challenging with our own kids. Parents have to sift through mountains of wildly conflicting opinions, suggestions, warnings and prescriptions. And there are plenty of people ready to condemn you loudly and publicly for whatever technology choices you end up making.

So I hope it’s clear these cartoons are meant with a lot of love. Parents are making hard choices every day based on incomplete information, being pulled in eighty different directions by people trying to sell them a product, a service or an ideology… and we’re expected to do it with confidence and certainty.

The truth is, confidence is in scarce supply and certainty is just plain dangerous. We’re all stumbling through this, and a little compassion and mutual respect around conflicting choices will go a long way.

(grandfather to dad, who is using a tablet while his daughter plays on the floor) In my day, if you wanted to be emotionally unavailable to your children, you did it the old-fashioned way - with a good book or a newspaper.

Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly.

Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly. published on No Comments on Your childhood is important to us. Please remain on the line, and a parent will be with you shortly.

I see a lot of parent-shaming going on over mobile devices. The narrative goes that we’re updating Facebook, playing Candy Crush or seeing who’s checked out our fake Tinder profiles that we created just to salve our egos, except it’s backfired horribly and confirmed every fear we ever had about our own attractiveness (no? just me, huh?) — and meanwhile our children are tugging our pantlegs and whimpering “But daddy, dinnertime was seven hours ago. I’m sooooo hungry and the guinea pig’s starting to smell really tasty.”

I have moments I’m not especially proud of. But I also have a memory of my own parents and, loving though they were, they had their own ways to lower the Cone of Silence.

See, when it comes to child-ignoring technology, digital devices are strictly the new neglected kids on the block. As a parent, I represent a proud tradition of burying your nose in whatever’s handy: crosswords, the newspaper (“But honey, I hate sports!” “Shh! And don’t look up — you’ll make eye contact, and then we’re screwed!”), television, novels, the undersides of jalopies, papal bulls or cave paintings. (“Aw, that sabre-tooth tiger wants cheezburger.”)

It’s not all self-indulgence; sanity demands some alone time, and kids do need to learn a little emotional self-reliance.

But there’s a price to pay. While I’m writing this, I can’t help but think of how much I wish I was with my kids right now – joking with them, enjoying their laughter, loving each others’ company. I forget the moments of exasperation, the stress, the need to be alone with my thoughts now and then. (That’s one reason why parent-shaming works: it’s a reminder of the opportunity cost of everything we do, and it preys on our tendency to look at that opportunity cost in only one direction.)

The issue, as with so many things, is striking a balance. And being, if not comfortable, then at least at peace with knowing that means some frustration for everyone.

Also, putting a good child-proof lock on the guinea pig’s cage.

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