Gen X: Digital Parenting – The First Hi-Tech Parents

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What happens when latchkey kids grow up to become Gen X parents?

How do we parent our kids, the generation Z? How many devices do we have in our household?

How much screen time is there?  Do we encourage it?  Do we curb it?

After all, Gen X parents value tech in their lives but also wax nostalgic about their non-tech early youth.  To explore this dynamic, we turned to our Gen X Think Tank panel – looking for qualitative discoveries to understand today’s parent and their mindset.

Our panel included –

You can see the full hangout in its entirety below:

Obviously, the dangers of the internet for our children, like predators and cyber bullying, looms large for all parents.  But we wanted to set some of those important but massive topics aside and dig into the makeup of our households and overall attitudes of GenX parents.

Hessie Jones set the stage:

  • Generation X is the first generation that straddled a life experience with and without the Internet. We sit squarely in the middle of two generations with polarized experiences.
  • Her mother, a Baby Boomer, complains frequently that she “put everything on The Facebook,” although her mother embraces the technology that allows her to have contact with her grandchildren, like Skype.
  • Hessie’s parents still receive a paper newspaper, still read books in hardcover, and only relatively recently became comfortable with texting. Hessie’s children show them how to use their iPads, and she set up their iTunes accounts and showed them how to enter their wifi password on their devices.
  • Now remember how things were when GenX were kids. How they had the run of our neighborhoods from dawn ’til dusk. There was no chat or text  but there was a lot of In-Real-Life whispers and intricately folded paper notes passed. GenX was introduced to low-tech entertainment during their childhood: remember Merlin, Space Invaders and Atari?

….. now GenX is the first generation to be high-tech parents.

  • While fewer Gen Xers are getting married, their divorce rates are significantly lower than Baby Boomers’ divorce rates at the same age.
  • 48% of Gen X fathers spend 3 to 6 hours a week on child rearing, compared to only 29% of Baby Boomer fathers.
  • Today, twice as many Gen X mothers as Baby Boomer moms elect to stay at home to raise their children, rather than pursue a career.

Gen X:  Today’s digital household

Next, we sought to understand each participant’s household size, age of children, type of technology their kids use as well as  how much time kids are spending in front of a screen today.

In general, our panelists had from 1 – 4 children; some were as young as 6, others had teenagers and young adult children.

The device use among Gen X kids is impressive.  Younger children of these GenXers typically have their own ipods or iphones (with cell access turned off) as well as access to tablets, Netflix, video on demand, PVR and Apple TV. Older children also have their own phones, multiple tv access and laptops.  Several parents handed down their own technology to their kids when they upgraded.

Gregg’s family (with teen/young adult kids) has over 20 different devices – with 15 devices being connected at any one time. I had to wonder about the cost of his data plans.

There were some definite rules set around device use, like doing homework before screen time, or strict limits imposed on screen usage (1 hour a day). It was important for some parents to see their children ‘acclimatized’ to technology, but at the same time maintain a balance, making sure children kept time for the activities GenX enjoyed in their youth, like reading books and other outside activities. Interestingly none of the Gen X parents gave kids e-books!

A few quotes of note:

Susie:  “we try to make sure they read books everyday as well as have screen time. To us it is very important that they .. are getting that imagination going and using books and language as much as they are using technology.”

Joel:  “I think it is very important that kids get acclimated to technology and have the right balance between some of the analog stuff that they experience and enjoy the benefit that technology brings.”

Elijah talked about the introduction of tech to his young children – his wife was hesitant about it. She has her masters in early childhood development and, understandably, was opposed to screen time at first. However, for the sake of keeping the kids occupied, and the educational apps available, she relented.  Today the entire family has access to laptops, Netflix, tablets and more.

How have your family relationships been impacted by technology?

GenX parents have their toes in two ponds: tech savvy children and parents who may be tech luddites.  While most of our panel acknowledged having parents who weren’t particularly tech savvy, many of them opened up to it in order to communicate more easily with their grandchildren.  The opportunity to connect with grandchildren inspired the parents of our GenXers to jump willingly onto Facebook or Skype.  Once there, they discovered their own friends and some started to embrace social networks.

Ann Marie: “My parents want all the gadgets, however they are not very tech savvy so I spend a lot of time trouble shooting with them.  However.. my father in law is very tech savvy… my son spends a lot of time connecting with him via on skype.  We are embracing technology.. letting grandparent and grandchild interact – it seems to work, he [son] loves it.”  

“Once you become grandparents, the adaption is quicker because [I have to admit that my mother does not have a debit card and has never used a cash machine] however if she can see her grandchild… she will figure out how to use Facetime”.

Elijah noted that his parents are luddites when it comes to technology but his inlaws, while they don’t have smartphones, do use Skype and Facebook to interact with his children. He pointed out that the fastest growing generation on Facebook are Boomers; connection with grandchildren is an important part of this. Greg agrees and notes his parents, who originally got on Facebook to connect with their grandchildren, also continue to find their own friends on Facebook.

Joel named April 12, 2013 as “the day that will live in infamy” because his mother friended him on Facebook. She connects with his daughter via email and texting predominantly,and he encourages his daughter to use these mediums with trusted family members and learn the proper etiquette within this safe environment vs among strangers.

How are you consuming entertainments within your household?

Quite a few of our panelists admitted to being ‘cord cutters,’ having disconnected from cable television.  Neither Anne Marie or I have cable for well over six years.   There are number of studies that measure cord cutting or cord shaving (buying less expensive TV bundles.)  ComScore studies confirm that 1 in 4  18 – 24 year olds don’t have traditional pay TV.

What’s taking its place?  YouTube and Netflix.

Several panelists practice TV show screening with their kids to ensure they avoid certain programming.   This type of screening is very difficult with Netflix or online entertainment choices since the Internet is an open arena.  Search terms, like “Frozen,” can result in entirely inappropriate content.  Youtube and Netflix still do not have an effective way to limit or restrict access to mature content.

Susie pinpointed one of the biggest challenges GenX parents face:

It’s really hard to be on top of what [my children] are consuming all the time. I find that part exhausting.

How do you manage the potentially dangerous internet environment for your children?

Most of the panel included individuals who work in the new media space. They understand technology and live in a world of evolving possibilities. However, when it comes to their children, they are much more sensitive to the potential for harm. This led Joel to ask the group for their perspectives on the appropriate guardrails for kids using social media. Although many were not ready to give their young children access to Facebook, all understood that pre-teens lie about their ages to create accounts.

Susie tries to be semi-private about her children; she is more comfortable posting things about them to Facebook because her connections are predominantly friends and family. She will not allow her kids a Facebook account until they are much older.  She things 13 is too young to be on Facebook, and she does see Facebook as a fulfilling childhood experience.

Instagram causes our Gen X parents to be more selective; some will not post pictures of their kids because of the networks openness. I agree. Like many new parents, I added a lot of photos of my newborns but as my children age, I find am much more selective about what I share – recognizing that my own sharing could come back to haunt my children later in life.

Children and Selfies

For Hessie’s teen daughter, selifes are a normal part of life.  However, when Hessie saw an innocent group selfie post by her daughter, including her and her friends in bathing suits, she was concerned.  While it was taken and posted innocently, the pictures looked like the girls were wearing undergarments. They were completely oblivious to the risks of such an image, and Hessie made her daughter take the pic down.

Our panel agreed that teenagers need to be reminded that they are being watched.  One panelist told of catching his teenager on Instagram “skipping school.” He immediately commented “Well, this is interesting” only see the Instagram account disappear photo, by photo by photo.

Our panel also talked about the  improved self-esteem and increased self-awareness that can result from kids posting within social media. The “reinforcement” of likes, followers and friend interactions makes a child feel validated. Hessie added that if kids don’t receive validation in real life, then this online validation can be a real positive.

Susie pointed to shared common experiences that can help with self-esteem.  However, she continued, teenagers do not have the emotional capacity to deal with dissension when it arises.

Joel cleverly articulated the dangers,

Social is an accelerant.. and if there is one umbrella topic it is: I’M SCARED. I’m scared of what’s around the corner. I’m scared of what I don’t know.

While Joel tries to equip his children with the right tools and techniques, the reality is that it only takes one incident, one Cyberbully to change things forever.

How do we achieve balance between the positives versus the negatives of the internet’s influence?

Our panel had some useful advice:

  1.  Limit the screen time.  It is possible that too much screen time will reduce a child’s ability accurately perceive visual cues because they don’t have enough face-to-face interaction. Compounding this is a child’s inability to distinguish the proper mediums to communicate based on the message. An example: using text messaging to break up with someone. One parent gets around this issue by asking for balance between old world activities and the new. She makes her kids read for ½ hr in order to earn 20 minutes of screen time.
  2. Remind kids – technology is a privilege not a right. Most parents use technology as a bargaining tool. Access to technology comes with boundaries – sometimes reinforced by a contract between the parent and child.If a child doesn’t follow the contract, their access is revoked.  Moreover, access to technology during important family meals or restaurant gatherings is not encouraged.   As one parent said “,,, At a restaurant, we are breaking a bit of a social contract with each other … being able to sustain a conversation is important…”
  3. Reinforce that technology is a means to ‘create things’.  Parents want their kids to be skilful.  By reinforcing some of the more constructive uses of technology, parents feel better about kids’ screen time.

Technology may limit a child’s learning ability

If children want to get the summary of a book, they can go to Wikipedia. If they want immediate answers, they can ask Siri or Google as opposed to doing library research. When our kids text, they use acronyms to the degree that we question whether they have the ability to spell or use proper sentences.

Parents, in general, worry about their children’s grades as well as their comprehension of subjects. Ann Maria believes that limiting screen time has improved her son’s socialization skills, his conversation skills as well his grades.

Our panel agreed that there can be a balance and it’s up to the parents to set that example. For the most part, the panelists’ children are encouraged to read every day. They’re also encouraged to play outside. While conversation may happen via text or applications, there is a degree of face-to-face time as well.

Do you feel that you’re parenting in the dark?

While our panelists are for the most part socially adept, trying to keep ahead of the constant changes can be harrowing. Anne Marie writes about and educates on cyber bullying, and agrees that she is still learning more everyday. Elijah fears the future, when new technologies are introduced and he is unable to be there for his kids, but he’s banking on on the lessons he’s taught them.

Joel summed it up: At the end the day, technology isn’t good nor bad, but rather, how it is used. Don’t leave it up to your children. Insist on constant discussion and interaction.


GenX, a tech savvy generation, is clearly aware of the endless possibilities of technology and how it can benefit their children. At the same time, they are more controlling of their children’s use of technology, especially as it relates to their education, their safety, and their communication and socialization skills.

Having grown up in an environment where in-real-life experiences, including socialization, playing outside and face-to-face conversation were important, this group clearly tries to create a balance that allows their kids to have human and offline experiences.

Stay tuned for our next GenX Think Tank when we discuss Reinvention.

photo credit: evilpeacock via photopin cc

0 thoughts on “Gen X: Digital Parenting – The First Hi-Tech Parents

  1. steve_dodd says:

    Wow, great discussion.  What concerns me most about this that those participating in this call are all very “internet aware” and cannot help but wonder how those parents who are not in the game and familiar with what is “really” going on actually deal with this.

  2. hessiejones says:

    steve_dodd Yes Steve! That was pretty clear. This deserves another hangout amongst those parents who don’t have the same tech savvy.

  3. AmyMccTobin says:

    steve_dodd You know those speakers who teach parents about the names of street drugs etc? We need a training program for un-tech savvy parents.

  4. steve_dodd says:

    hessiejones steve_dodd i would love to be a “fly on the wall” during that one!

  5. steve_dodd says:

    AmyMccTobin steve_dodd If I could be of ANY help with that, please let me know.  I’m sure there are lots of folks who could help as well.

  6. hessiejones says:

    erinmkelly thanks Erin!

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