The majority of teens today talk on an Internet-connected cell phone and share details of their lives on Facebook.
That wasn't the case in 2002, when The Morning Call launched the Help for Families column to answer parents' questions. In fact, Facebook wasn't even invented 10 years ago.
The weekly column has answered more than 500 questions since September 2002. Dozens have dealt with new issues raised by plugged-in kids who are often outpacing their parents in adopting new technology.
Just last week, a grandmother asked if her 8-month-old grandson was too young for his new iPad. Other topics have included video game obsession, online bullying and the right age for children to get cell phones.
The Morning Call created the Monday column with Project Child, a Valley-wide coalition of agencies and individuals working to prevent child abuse. Then called The Family Project, it created a panel of local parenting professionals to answer questions.
Three panel members -- Bill Vogler, Denise Continenza and Joanne Nigito-Raftas -- have been with the project since it started. We sat down recently with the original members and panel coordinator Rochelle Freedman to discuss the impact of technology on children and other ways parenting has changed in 10 years.
"The primary task of parenting has not changed," says Vogler, executive director of Family Answers in Allentown. "The goal of parents is still to create independent, healthy, safe and well-loved individuals."
"Challenges shift," he adds. "I not convinced that what parents are worrying about with technology is that different from parents who worried about kids listening to records and rock and roll. What's important is being a good listener and being open to changes. That way you can talk about them with kids and teach them rather than setting absolute limits."
But the panel agrees that technology has created new challenges for parents.
Vogler notes that parents can feel overwhelmed by how quickly technology changes.
"We give these amazing tools to kids but don't give them role models on how to use it," he says. "As a parent you are more likely to lose control if you don't try to understand it. Technology ups the ante on how much we have to be involved."
He urges parents to learn everything they can about the media that children use, from Facebook to Twitter to texting. Understand their world better by engaging children in their media (by playing video games with them, for example) even if you don't enjoy them.
"Its never wise to forbid certain things because they are not in your experience," Vogler says. "Be aware of how your own issues affect how you react."
One of the important tenets of parenting that hasn't changed is setting consistent boundaries. But technology makes boundaries more difficult to enforce, says Continenza, a family living specialist for Penn State's Lehigh County Cooperative Extension.
She notes that when her children were younger, she could simply look out the window to watch them playing. Now parents need to be aware not only of where their children are, but who they are calling on their cell phones and what they are posting on Facebook.
"Parents have to work harder because there are so many more things to deal with," she says. "The fundamentals haven't changed but the tools have changed."
The original goal of Help for Families was to improve parenting as a way to prevent child abuse, says Freedman, program coordinator of Project Child. Freedman notes that in the past 10 years, research has shown there are five factors that strengthen families and reduce the chance of child abuse.
The risk of child abuse goes down, she says, when parents practice the five factors, which are understanding child development; being nurturing; being socially connected; having access to services and having coping skills.
Vogler says two of the factors can be enhanced by technology. Social media allows parents to connect with other parents, and the Internet provides access to numerous resources.
"Technology is not necessarily bad," he says.
Technology also creates a greater awareness of global issues. With news available 24-hours a day on television and online, it is hard to escape upsetting or violent happenings throughout the world. Being exposed to so much information can cause children to become anxious and even have trouble sleeping.
"The information is amplified," Vogler says, "It's is immediate and there is no escaping it so you have to deal with it."
Be mindful of the media that your child sees, says Joanne Nigito-Raftas, a registered play therapist.
"When the TV is on all the time, children see the images over and over and often kids don't understand what's happening," she says. "It's too much information. It could cause a lot of anxiety. The images are so vivid, we, as adults, get desensitized over time. But kids don't know how to turn it off. Monitor the media."
Other impacts on families
Another change that has impacted parenting is the economy, says Nigito-Raftas.
The fallout from the Great Recession has left many families struggling to make ends meet. Studies show that child abuse increases when parents are under stress because of financial difficulties.
"The problems caused by the economy are very challenging," Nigito-Raftas says. "There aren't as many choices for many families. Both parents may have to work and don't have the option to stay home with the children."
Another change is the number of organized activities for children.
There is a lot of value in unstructured play, which seems to be disappearing, Vogler says.
"Watch how kids cope with unstructured time," Freedman says. "If they can't, they need fewer activities and more time to engage themselves. They need to develop the capacity to be alone. You're shortchanging your children if they can't appreciate quiet off-time."
Although many things have changed in 10 years, parents are still dealing with the same basic issues and need to practice a variety of parenting techniques, Vogler says.
"Many changes are around values," Nigito-Raftas. "The more society changes, the more parents have to talk to their children and tweak things."
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