In search of balance: Can families both embrace and overcome the Internet?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 9 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Christine Evans, a parent counselor at the parent center, said her 14-year-old daughter Cassidy helps her with new technology, a familiar story for many teenagers whose social interactions have included the Internet throughout their young lives.

Lisa Wade, the chairman of the sociology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the Internet and technology have changed the power dynamics in the structure of some families as technologically proficient children are more tech-savvy than their parents.

"It may make a parent dependent on a child to access information, similar to the way that language proficiency can make children of immigrants translators for their parents,  or give a child information with which they can argue with your parent," Wade said. 

Evans remembers when she had to learn how to use certain software, something that seems instilled in most teenagers.

"I don't think she has noticed the change (of technology)," Evans said of her daughter. "I think it has been gradual enough for her, she is really good at figuring out (technology). She will just know how to do it.

"It is amazing to me how Internet-savvy these kids are, much more than we are," Evans said. "We had to learn it, but it is almost instilled in them from school or (I don't know) how they have this knowledge, but I would have to work at it to know this stuff that they know."

Cyberbullying at home

According to the McAfee survey, only one of 10 parents are aware that their teens are targets for cyberbullying, while 23 percent of parents are so overwhelmed with technology that they just hope for the best.

Fearing that cyberbullying and the Internet are the new "bathroom wall," Jones Bott has limited her children's activity within social media.

"That is where you can post and say (anything you want), but it has escalated because you can use pictures and videos," she said.

Ellis Godard has been studying online interactions and social life for nearly 20 years as a sociologist at California State University of Northridge. He said that bullying and the secrecy of the Internet have created a perfect environment for cyberbullying.

"Bullying happens as a function of group dynamics that are not only just as possible online, but might be found in more places online than off," Godard said. "Part of it is differences in information conveyed online, where semi-anonymous interaction is common; but part of it is the growing diversity of online social life, which creates the tensions and conditions that make interaction conflictual."

That can play out in families as well, as siblings who have to share computers or other high-tech devices compete for time.

Jones Bott said she has witnessed a new level of control and manipulation in her family because of electronics. The newly received smartphones have already caused some conflicts within her family.

"I have seen a rise of physical violence in the family over technology (because) it was their turn to use a specific remote or it was their turn to choose a movie," she said. "My kids engage more in physical violence, being angry, than we used to without all the technology used six months ago without phones and a year and a half ago without the iPods.

"It is a new form of bullying and control, manipulation where if you don't do what I want you to than I don't need to share my iPod or the Xbox controller," she said.

A West High School student said that she fights with all of her siblings because there is only one computer in her house.

"We fight over it all the time," the teenager said, agreeing to speak on condition of anonymity. "Because we all want to use it and we all want to talk to our friends." That, then, makes the computer the "friend" everyone in the house is seeking.

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