Or could it be something even closer to home?
A recent survey in the United Kingdom found that 80 percent of parents believe their kids are growing up too fast. Eight out of ten parents blamed peer pressure, the Internet and social networking sites. These same parents said they allow their 10-year-olds to own cell phones, have TVs in their bedrooms, have their own iPads, and to search the Internet without supervision by age 12.
The findings are similar to a 2013 Microsoft survey that found that eight years of age is the average at which most parents allow unsupervised Internet use. Most alarming, among parents of children under age seven – 29 percent allow their kids to use cell phones unsupervised, and 40 percent allow their kids to use a computer unsupervised.
Is the problem really with technology or could it be, say, a problem with parenting?
The statistics on kids’ media use are disturbing but not surprising. Many of my daughter’s peers have iPads and/or video gaming consoles, their own televisions, and are way more tech-savvy than most adults. I also know plenty of 11-year-olds whose parents get them a Facebook account, buy them cell phones with texting capabilities, and allow unsupervised online gaming or surfing.
What is surprising is that parents who buy their aged 10 and under kids the latest technological gadgets and allow unsupervised screen time are blaming the Internet or the kids’ peers for causing their children to grow up too fast, while ignoring the obvious factor of the lack of protective parenting.
As the parent of a nine year-old girl and a three year-old boy, my “mommy radar” is always on high alert for anything remotely sexual from which to shield my children. Wherever I turn, it seems the world is trying to rob my daughter and son of their natural childhood innocence, to push them into adolescence too soon, and to desensitize and sexualize them. There are the TV commercials advertising a sexually violent crime drama that seem always to air during college football games, the nearly-naked women sprawled on the covers of magazines at the grocery checkout counter, and even the supposedly harmless Disney Channel “tween” dramas that market teenage “values.” Then, there is the Internet – where at the accidental click of a mouse, or the innocent scroll of someone’s open Facebook page, my child can be instantly exposed to the most vile aspects of our world, including obscenity, graphic violence and pornography.
These constant threats have made me an unabashed “helicopter parent” in the fullest sense of the term, especially when it comes to protecting my children from inappropriate media content. It’s why my husband and I take what many of our friends and family consider “extreme” precautions to shield our children from the overly sexualized culture – including a zero tolerance policy for commercials, no nightly news or channel surfing while the kids are awake, no cable, no TVs in bedrooms, and absolutely no unsupervised online time, even for homework.
What’s odd about permissive parenting when it comes to the media and Internet is that there’s no lack of protective parenting in the outside world, where the very real fear of child predators causes most parents, including myself, to exercise caution about outdoor play. Most of us won’t allow our kids to walk to school alone (if we can help it), ride their bikes to the library, or even play outside in the front yard without some kind of adult supervision. A recent study of middle class homes in the L.A. area found that 90 percent of children in the study spend their leisure time playing video games, watching TV, and using computers.