The Plight of the 21st Century Parent

Hi. My name is Natalie, and I am an internet addict. I’m also a mom. A plugged-in parent. A modern mama. A virtual… Er… Velociraptor? Okay, whatever. You get the point. Me + Internet = BFF. Being an internet lover was all fun and games until I had a kid — then it got complicated. Loving technology and parenting doesn’t always mesh. Here’s why.

Netflix & apps are the best. EVER.
I’m just going to straight-up admit something to y’all: My daughter gets more screen time than is recommended by the AAP, Dr. Phil, and that random blogger on the internet who — despite having no professional credentials is seen as a “parenting expert” — combined. Using screens to distract my child is convenient. Kid getting impatient at a restaurant? BOOM: NETFLIXED. Need a few free moments so you can do normal human things like cook, clean, or poop? BOOM: ANGRY BIRD…ED. Going to go insane if you have to read that same bedtime story one more freaking time? BOOM: YOUTUBE CAT VIDEO…ED…

… My point is that technology is easy and effective. While it may be lazy, it’s also sometimes necessary to preserve one’s sanity. If you can honestly say you have never distracted your child with a screen, my guess is you are either a time-traveller who doesn’t know what an iPhone is or you are a liar, liar, pants on fire.

But… I’m probably rotting my kid’s brain and stunting her social skills.
I admit that I use technology as a parenting crutch and I feel conflicted about it. Sometimes I need an easy way to distract her so I can get things done. Sometimes I do it because I want her to stop jabbering at me for a few minutes. That’s when I call on my friends Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. On the other hand, I don’t want my daughter’s default setting to be TV shows and tablets, and I don’t want all her friends to live in the computer. I want her to get out, live her life, and explore the world… But I also know how fun technology is, and I don’t blame her for wanting it all the time (especially when I’m the reason she wants it in the first place). INNER TURMOIL.

Technology is amazing, and the internet is a wonderland of fun!
Every time I log off from a Skype session with my family in Chicago, I shake my head in wonder. The fact that I can talk to my dad face-to-face even though we are 600+ miles apart blows my mind. I can’t help but think, “What’s next? What will the tech world be like in ten years?” I think it’s amazing. I love technology, and if I had a diary I would probably draw big sparkle hearts and scribble, “NATALIE + THE INTERNET = TRUE LOVE 4 EVER.” I would appreciate it if you didn’t judge me, because I don’t judge you for the weird crap you’re into. Jeez.

But the internet is also a terrifying, unregulated playground for perverts. PERVERTS, I TELL YOU.
When I was 9, my family got our first internet-capable computer. Do you remember Prodigy? There wasn’t much for a 9-year-old kid to do on it besides gab on message boards and play games, but once my family subscribed to America Online (AOL), everything changed. When I was 12, my parents divorced and my mother spiralled into a depression that lasted the rest of her life. I escaped by throwing myself headfirst into the online role-playing community. I cut my writer’s teeth in chat rooms during the wee hours of the morning; an unhappy adolescent hunched over the keyboard and pretending she was someone — anyone — else. My fantasy escape became a literal escape when I dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and moved from Chicago to Chattanooga with my then-boyfriend. I met him in a chatroom.

He was ten years older than me.

Looking back, I realize how differently my life could have turned out. The ex was not homicidal or a rapist — but he easily could have been, and I wouldn’t have known until it was too late.

The internet can be a valuable tool to children and adolescents, but there are also real dangers lurking: child predators, Craigslist killers, cyber-bullying. As a parent, I worry for my child’s safety. I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made, but if I saw my daughter heading down the same road I did… I’d lose my s#!%. Does that make me a hypocrite? Hey, look! I don’t care. I’m the mom, and if I say you can’t get online and run away with a mystery person who lives in the Googlebox, THEN SO HELP ME YOU CAN’T. GET IN YOUR ROOM AND READ YOUR BABY-SITTER’S CLUB BOOKS, YOUNG LADY.

Ahem. Anyway. All of this is to say that I’m conflicted. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for those late-night chat room sessions. When I was younger, internet use was no big deal… But now I have this little person to raise and I want to find the right balance. I want to encourage her to embrace everything technology has to offer, but I also want to keep her safe. Right now it’s all Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, but I know that will change someday. 21st century parents are navigating unknown waters, and it’s hard to know the right thing to do. I suppose that in a lot of ways, making a decision about technology and the internet is just like anything else in parenting — nobody ever really knows what they’re doing, so we all just do our best, hold our breath, and hope we didn’t totally screw up.

*This post was written by Natalie Anastasia Green for the Torch community of parents.