Outsourcing Parenting to Technology?

I was at an event the other night featuring a panel of education technology entrepreneurs talking about how their companies teach kids skills beyond the traditional three R’s of the school curriculum. For example, Class Dojo is supposed to use gamification to improve kids’ behavior, with the founder talking about the importance of improving self-control (the famous marshmallow experiment). EverFi teaches kids financial literacy and Mindset Works is meant to change the very mindset, or self-conception, of children.

Then I got home, and saw on TV that Verizon commercial in which a kid’s family can’t be at his French horn recital, but they can watch him via connected devices. It’s a sweet commercial, for sure, and someone sitting on my couch (not me) got a little misty eyed. But it got me thinking that maybe we are outsourcing too much parenting to our technology.

I mean, yes it’s sweet that the kid’s dad uses a tablet camera to watch the recital, but wouldn’t it be better if the dad were actually there? And to the extent that self-control can be taught, shouldn’t parents be teaching it rather than some technology company? Especially since most of these education tech companies are started by entrepreneurs, not educators or child psychologists (except for Mindset Works).

I’m not trying to criticize any of these companies or entrepreneurs, all of whom are doing good work trying to help kids. And I’m not criticizing parents or teachers who use these tools. I’m not even definitively saying that I think using these tools is bad. After all, leveraging technology is something that we all do. When I use Excel instead of green ledger paper, am I outsourcing my financial analysis to Microsoft? No, I’m just using a tool that makes me more efficient. So why does it feel different when it comes to parenting?

Perhaps I am just hopelessly retro, thinking that parents should manage kids themselves, instead of using every tool available. Perhaps it is because I am not (yet!) a parent, so don’t fully appreciate the desire to do everything you possibly can to improve your children’s lives. Or perhaps I fear that parents who outsource teaching their children aren’t using the found time to be with their kids, but on themselves. I can’t rationally pin down why this parenting technology makes me uncomfortable; it just does.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

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5 responses to “Outsourcing Parenting to Technology?

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Thoughtbasket. I HAVE had children and currently work as a Family Coach and strongly agree with you. Parents too often use the “We’re too busy” excuse rather than cook a meal together, read to their children, attend soccer games. But with or without gadgets we need to be consistently and enthusiastically engaged in our children’s lives. No hour in front of the TV (even if it’s PBS or Sprout) is as important as an animated conversation (even with an infant) or exploring the brightly-colored pictures in a book or passing a ball back and forth (with encouraging words). No pictures on a phone take the place of a parent in the audience, smiling and clapping and hugging warmly after the performance. And, if a parent feels uncertain about skills or techniques – there are so many resources to help with positive and effective parenting. Please – do it yourself, be passionately involved in your children’s lives, don’t “outsource”.

  2. I can see the value in technology at times (hello, facetime while out of town is a wonderful tool), however relying on it too much short changes our children’s experience. As always, it is the relationship that solidifies the learning experience. Without that deep connection, the experience is not as rich and meaningful.

  3. Thanks FayeC and plm for your thoughtful contributions!

  4. My daughter certainly knows the difference between real face time and virtual face time. Part if being a parent is just BEING there. I love my phone/netflix/facebook/email time as much as the next over-extended adult, but my kids are here right now.

  5. If these people were really looking to “help” their kids, they would not be trying to make their lives easier at their expense. They would be making the necessary sacrifices to make sure they have time and energy to spend on their kids.

    It’s not a question of “retro”. It’s a question of doing things the right way, and doing things the wrong way. Leaving the care of your kid to something or someone other than yourself is the way of a bad parent. Whether that “something” is the street, an expensive toy, or a piece of machinery, makes no difference.

    Parenting is as parenting does. If you don’t parent, you’re not a parent; at least not a good one.

    Nothing in the trendy world of contemporary childcare provides any rational basis to believe these people have any idea what they’re talking about. Are our kids happier and better-behaved? Or are they overdiagnosed, neglected and strung out on prescription drugs?

    Create a problem and market the cure.

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