Mobile Communications: Keeping The Family Together Or Not Letting Junior Develop?
By Mike Masnick, Wed Jun 08 22:00:00 GMT 2005

It's a fine line. While some have been working hard to get parents to use mobile devices to better communicate with their kids, others get worried that this level of constant communication can hinder development. Is there a middle ground?

It really wasn't that long ago that there were a bunch of efforts underway to get parents to text message with their kids, on the assumption that this would be a much better way to communicate with the youth of today. With today's busy, always-on life-styles for both adults and children, reaching out and communicating via mobile devices is often a way to keep a strong bond between parents and children.

That's supported by a story in today's San Jose Mercury News, looking at how parents are "parenting by phone" these days -- allowing their kids to stay in constant contact, even while the kids are at school and the parents are working. The stories told sound like perfectly healthy relationships. If something good happens, and someone wants to share it with their parent or kid, they send a text message. Or, in other cases, it's practical -- saying that they'll be late or there's some problem ("you forgot your sweater.")

However, further down in the story, some begin to wonder if this communications leash between adults and children represents a developmental problem, where kids are unable to cut the virtual apron strings to figure out how to live life on their own. This isn't a new argument. Some have been worrying about it for a few years, but it's interesting to see each side so polarized. One side argues that parents and kids have enough trouble communicating already -- so anything that helps them stay connected should be a good thing. The other side says that kids need to learn to grow up on their own, make their own decisions and realize that there isn't always a safety net where you can call home to mommy.

The reality of the situation is likely to be somewhere in between. It is tremendously beneficial for families to be able to better communicate with each other -- and the fact that mobile devices and wireless connections have made that possible is a huge plus for society. However, it's the nature of those communications that is important. If it really just is staying in touch and sharing the highs and lows of life, that's a good thing. However, if the purpose is to let the parent exert control over the child's life, or for the child to always have a "fall back" position where he or she needs a parent to help make decisions, that is a problem. However, it is possible to distinguish the two types of conversations -- and rather than blaming the connecting technology to focus on making sure that families learn to use technology wisely, in ways that helps everyone, rather than holds anyone back.