4. Parents’ attitudes – and experiences – related to digital technology



Published in Pew Research Center

JULY 28, 2020

In today’s digitally connected world, parents have to manage their own relationship with the internet and mobile devices, along with managing their children’s use of and exposure to the same technology. This brings with it a host of both benefits and challenges.

Parents, which includes those who have at least one child under the age of 18 but who may also have adult children, are far more likely to say that parenting is harder today than it was two decades ago than believe the opposite is true. Two-thirds of these parents say that parenting today is harder than it was 20 years ago for most parents. Just 7% say it is easier, and 26% say it is about the same.

The belief that parenting is harder today than in the past is common across demographic groups, but there are some differences by age. Older parents are more likely to say that raising children has grown more difficult, with 71% of parents 50 and older saying parenting is harder, compared with smaller shares of parents ages 18 to 49 (65%).

The survey also asked parents to explain, in their own words, why they believe parenting is easier or harder today for most parents than it was 20 years ago.

Among respondents who believe that parenting is harder today, 26% cite technology. Many of these responses mention the increased use of technology and the rapid changes in technology that can be hard for parents to keep up with. They also mention how these technologies may be changing the behaviors and experiences of children. (Responses are lightly edited for spelling, style and readability.)

“Parents don’t know how to handle the technology.” – Man, age 43

“Technology has taught kids instant gratification and no patience.” – Man, age 49

“We have so much technology today that was not available 20 years ago. Social media, reality TV shows, video games have really changed our society and how we interact with each other.” – Woman, age 49

“There’s too much technology. Kids are addicted. They don’t go outside, they don’t hang out with friends, they are getting overweight due to lack of exercise and poor diet.” – Man, age 46

Another 21% of these respondents mentioned social media and the potential negative impact it may be having on children.

“I think that social media is harmful to kids and their self-concepts and self-images. It’s difficult to combat the messages that [they] are getting ALL THE TIME from the outside world. Being a teen is more difficult than it was even 10 years ago, and much more difficult than it was 30 years ago. Parenting through all of the obstacles is really challenging.” – Woman, age 51

“Social media, more information available about everybody. Fear of strangers communicating with kids via internet.” – Man, age 43

Other responses cited the changing morals of society. These responses often noted that society is worse off today than in the past, with more violence and more drugs.

“Kids are doing more drugs and drinking. Less religion in people’s lives.” – Woman, age 48

“Moral slide in culture at large creates a hostile environment for parents who are trying to instill values in their children.” – Man, age 53

“It’s a different world, more violence, more sex trafficking, more crime, more dangers.” – Woman, age 41

Some 14% of parents that view parenting as a harder endeavor today than in the past also note that they believe technology gives kids access and exposure to things at a young age, which in turn makes parenting harder, while some parents mention financial constraints, including the need for both parents to work in order to raise a family.

“So much access to information with electronic devices. Information overload gives kids too many ideas and can adversely affect their behavior.” – Man, age 45

“While the internet can be wonderful, it also makes inappropriate material far too accessible for children and also makes them vulnerable to predators. Parents must stay engaged with technology to monitor use in efforts to protect children more than previous generations.” – Woman, age 37

“Salaries have not kept up with cost of living increases and so most families are struggling to make ends meet and raise a child at the same time. Technology has also added new challenges.” – Man, age 36

“More families 20 years ago had two parents, and often one parent could care for the children full time. Now, many families are single parent or often both parents feel the need to work in order to make ends meet. The work/family time balance can be stressful now.” – Woman, age 31

Less commonly mentioned reasons center around not being able to discipline children in the same way as in the past, children being less respectful and more entitled, higher expectations on parents and more judgment, more device distractions and too much time with screens, and less family time.

In total, roughly half of parents (52%) who believe that parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago cited technology in some way as a reason.

Parents who say parenting is easier today cite tech advancements, access to more information and advice

By contrast, a relatively small share of parents agree that parenting today is easier than two decades ago. When asked to explain why they thought parenting is easier now than in the past for most parents, the most commonly cited reasons revolve around advancement and access to technology, more information and advice for parents and the ease of keeping track of kids.

Some 30% of parents reference how technology has improved education and entertainment and made parents’ lives easier.

“Technology! Kids can play games for entertainment or education. It’s a great distraction when you need them to be home, but you have to cook. Also, kids with learning disabilities thrive with the help of devices.” – Woman, age 35

“People are better off today. Technology has advanced to make parenting, security and transportation easier.” – Man, age 34

“Technology helps and our kids are smarter and learn faster.” – Woman, age 38

Parents who mentioned that parenting is easier today due to more information being available for parents often noted the accessibility of resources on the internet and access to a broad range of sources.

“Many more resources are available for parents now than then. More books, more articles, better psychological services available, better understanding of what makes a good childhood, better everything.” – Man, age 35

“The information available to us to educate ourselves when it comes to a child’s development and what is best for them.” – Woman, age 24

“There [are] way more resources to guide and help new parents nowadays. Most of which are free and some for very low or reasonable prices.” – Man, age 31

“The internet information helps a lot with professional advice on child psychology and medical information.” – Woman, age 52

About one-in-ten parents (9%) who said parenting is easier today than it was 20 years ago say that parents have more help.

“There’s so much more help today, with everything.” – Woman, age 21

“More younger parents have their parents to help or leave their kids with.” – Woman, age 48

“More care options.” – Man, age 44

Another 7% of parents said that today, it is easier to keep track of and reach children.

“Due to today’s technology we can monitor and track our kid’s movements. Both physically and daily in school.” – Woman, age 42

“As a parent you can have better tabs on your child. You know how they are doing in school, you can track where they are and you can put better limits on what they can see and for how long.” – Man, age 42

Some 6% of parents also noted that there are more things to keep children occupied today compared with 20 years ago.

“We have more options to entertain, play and teach.” – Woman, age 32

“More diversions to keep kids entertained, they can also look up information at a moment’s notice that would have required a trip to the library. Internet was dial up then.” – Man, age 57

Fewer respondents mentioned that parents don’t discipline their kids in the same way and the role of parents has shifted (5%) and that society in general has progressed and is more open (4%).

Across all of the open-ended responses about why parenting is easier today than it was 20 years ago, 43% of respondents cited some form of technology.


Comment: This article nicely displays both the positive and negative aspects of technology regarding kids and parents. This is a useful source to see what parents actually think about the topic rather than studies about what parents should or should not do.