Bridging the Gap: Parenting & Technology, by Randy Jo Hillier, LMFT

SBFC sincerely thanks Randy Hillier, LMFT, for writing part I of this original blog series for our parent community.


What is the conversation required when speaking to the topic of parenting and technology? How does one implement a roadmap for parents to follow yet continue to anticipate and prepare for the ever-changing climate of technology?

In 1998 my son left for college. As I recall my primary consolation was having a simple cell phone that enabled me to communicate with him, wherever I was at a moment’s notice. Now two decades later my son recently stated, “I better put a password on my phone.” To my surprise, his son, my four year old grandson had been waking up early, and taking the i-phone from the kitchen in order to watch cartoon videos in bed. 

 For the past thirty-seven years I have been a practicing psychotherapist. I grew up with the label digital immigrant, rather than digital native. Marc Prensky, the education and technology writer, coined these terms in 2001. The latter refers to the generations that grew up with videos, screens, and other technologies, in contrast to the earlier generations that struggled to learn technology.  The rapid rate of technological advancement has far out-paced our understanding of its effects on brain development and neurology, language, conversations, and emotional attachment between people. It has only been in more recent years that the consequences of technology are beginning to be understood, as a growing body of research supports psychological and scientific findings. 

 In the 1970’s many books emerged addressing the needs of parents and the topic of parenting skills. The primary purpose of much of this instructional material was to help parents enhance and develop the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of children. The books addressed such topics as self-esteem, discipline, communication, and relationships. The primary focus was on raising healthy, happy, and productive, children and teens who would one day contribute as citizens while fulfilling and utilizing their full potential.

No one knew or could have predicted the full implications and consequences technology would have on a parent’s job of raising children. In the year 2000, I attended a conference titled,

“Adult Survivors Beyond Abuse.” To my surprise the entire four days of the conference was spent learning about the early effects the internet was already having on the role of addiction, infidelity, pornography and pedophilia. The primary explanation of this epidemic credited the ease and accessibility the internet provided to its users in which a digital universe offered so much beyond mundane reality, and boundaries could be pushed to excessive limits and heights. Within a short period of time after attending this conference, I was repeatedly confronted with situations I had never before experienced. For example, a female adolescent patient who struggled with ADHD and lacked a sense of time and directions, phoned me in a panic. She had met a boy online and decided to go meet him. After driving for hours she was now contacting me from the roadside in Arizona, quite a distance from her Redondo Beach, California home. Within days of this event another teen had run up $300.00 worth of phone charges as a result of making calls on (900) numbers overseas to connect to porn sites.

Certainly these stories might appear extreme; unfortunately they are not. Now years later, I recently dealt with a male teen-ager who accumulated over ten-thousand dollars’ worth of charges on his parent’s credit card as a result of video-game purchases. Another situation involved a female teen who had gotten drunk with another girl, who then brought her to her home, undressed her and put her in the bathtub nude. This girl took pictures on her phone and posted them on the internet. The female was traumatized, spiraled into a depression and had to change schools before seeking treatment. Another female patient called me hysterical one early morning, as she had been contacted on My Space, a now out-dated social media site, with information that her recent ex-boyfriend had been killed while driving a car. It turned out to be false, a revenge tactic from a girl who had been jealous of her.

 It is often difficult to understand the motivation behind both cyber-bullying behaviors and reckless, impulsive actions, which characterize these stories and the thousands of other events that occur via texts, e-mails, and social-media. As parents, we look for both explanations and a place to put the blame. These situations invite both conversation and challenge we have not previously encountered. They do not have simple solutions, but they offer us a teaching opportunity to both grow and learn from the mistakes along the way. Young children and teens need to be prepared and instructed that the digital world has its place, but if used as a drug or weapon will have severe repercussions.

 As parents we want our children to grow-up making healthy, responsible choices.  We always have to be aware that all of our children and teens today (IGen) have grown-up exposed to and are proficient in technology. How do we create a healthy relationship with technology, our children, and ourselves? We will address in the next two blogs ways to manage this with our young children, including toddlers, and teens.

For national resources, articles, and guides, please visit the SBFC Teens and Technology page by clicking on the button below:

About the author: Randy Hillier has been a practicing psychotherapist in the South Bay for thirty-seven years, working with adults, teens, and children. Her new book, Teeneagram, Identity Search Made Easy offers teens, tweens, and parents a refreshing perspective on personality types and communication styles.