In the reading and research I do about video games, technology and families there are a handful of books that have stood out. Sonia Livingstone and Alicia Blum-Ross’ Parenting for a Digital Future is one of those. It’s a detailed and evidence-based look at how hopes and fears about technology shape children’s lives. And it’s fantastic.
The book draws on research and home visits to combine qualitative and quantitative data. It forms a clear picture of what it’s like to be a parent of children in this technological age. There are some fascinating, and moving, insights that come from this.
From the off, the book clears space for a conversation about the real issues around technology by highlighting how this discourse is often about more than it appears to be. “As parents strive to understand the profound changes they are living through, digital dilemmas act as a lightning rod for contemporary contestations over values, identity and responsibility… our research has led us to observe, over and over again, how [technology] provokes fundamental anxieties about agency, values and (the loss of) tradition.”
This is helpful and important. It means the book can then look in detail at the shape of family life in the digital age and tease apart general fears from those around technology.
There are opportunities highlighted, but also the risks and challenges families face to capitalise upon technology. What stayed with me after reading was the understanding that supportive networks, communication between parents, links to school and the home context all play a crucial part in the success or failure of technology benefitting children.
This means that, as highlighted in the book’s data and interviews, families with more support and better access to resources can perpetuate their advantaged position. This plays against the idea that technology is a simple way to lift a child to a more prosperous future. Programming might be the new Latin, but learning it isn’t about accessing a new tablet but growing up in a context where this new language is supported and appreciated.
Most powerfully, this uncovers the dilemma of parents and care givers. On the one hand, they are told to capitalise on technology but on the other they are warned about too much screen time. “Society tells parents that they should support their children’s development and build their future by engaging with, and managing, digital technologies. But, it seems, society then prefers to criticize parents for their digital practices rather than support them.”
What parents need, is not better guidance on how much screen time is too much screen time, but deeper support and frameworks for technology that provide a coherent way forward. Not only with how to benefit from it individually, but how to have wider conversations and ongoing connections with other families, teachers and services who are doing similar work.
As someone working to provide parents with advice and guidance about video games, this was helpful and moving to read. I’m sure it will inspire other to join the work to offer parents connection, understand and confidence around technology rather than rules and warnings. The book culminates in six steps that are an excellent manifesto for anyone working in this area.
- Provide support for parents that encompasses the digital environment.
- Offer parents a realistic vision in public and media discourses.
- Recognise the contribution of parents in educational settings.
- Increase attention to the design and governance of the digital environment.
- Make room for parent’s voices in policymaking.
- Ensure that policy, and the design of technology is based on evidence.
Parenting for a Digital Future is a book that places parents back at the centre of this debate. Reading the stories and hearing about the research makes it clear that this is a part of the conversation often lacking. Which in turn leads to advise and resources that don’t deliver (or understand) what families really need.
“In the digital age, parents’ imaginations are intensely mobilized by their hopes and fears about technology. These hopes and fears are fanned by a society that takes little responsibility for the realities of families’ digital lives or the opportunities open to them, preferring to pass the responsibility to the parents it then judges for their ‘failures’ or ignores as muddle-headed or ‘hard to reach’.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I was challenged and inspired to deeper thinking in many areas.