Nowhere is the impact of popular culture and technology on children’s relationships more noticeable than in families. Both influences have contributed to a growing divide between the traditional roles that children and their parents play while, at the same time, blurring those same lines between parents and children. Over the past two decades, children who, for example, watch television, have received messages from popular culture telling them that parents are selfish, immature, incompetent, and generally clueless, for example, from Malcolm in the Middle, Tool Time, Family Guy, Two and a Half Men, and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, not to mention reality TV shows such as SuperNanny and the Housewives franchise.
This divide has grown due to the increased use of technology among children in several ways. First, children’s absorption in technology, from texting to playing video games, does by their very nature limit their availability to communicate with their parents. One study found that when the working parent arrived home after work, his or her children were so immersed in technology that the parent was greeted only 30 percent of the time and was totally ignored 50 percent of the time. Another study reported that family time was not affected when technology was used for school, but did hurt family communications when used for social reasons. Interestingly, children who spent considerable time on a popular social networking site indicated that they felt less supported by their parents.
Second, as digital immigrants, parents can struggle to gain proficiency and comfort with the new technology that their digital-native children have already mastered. This divergence in competence in such an important area of children’s lives makes it more difficult for parents to assume the role of teacher and guide in their children’s use of technology. Because of the lack of technological acumen on the part of many parents, they lack the authority, at least in the eyes of their children, to regulate its use. Due to parents’ anxiety or apprehension about the use of technology, they may be unwilling to assert themselves in their children’s technological lives. Because of their children’s sense of superiority and lack of respect for parents’ authority in these matters, children may be unwilling to listen to their parents’ attempts to guide or limit their use of technology.