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Parenting Across the Decades: A Mom's Perspective

Phones from across the decades are held in different people's hands.

It’s no secret that technology has changed parenting. But just how much has it really changed over the years? Helen Martin, an Aqua One parent and mom of 11 kids is here to pull back the curtain and give us a peak into what it’s really been like to raise a family among the advances of technology. Pull up a seat and get ready because this kind of insight is priceless.

As my oldest son approaches his 38th birthday and my youngest child just obtained her driver-learner permit (15 years old) I find myself reflecting on the changes in culture and technology through my parenting journey.  As a mom of a large family, (11 kids, that span 23 years), technology has changed a lot along the way.  When my oldest son was 15, cell phones were just starting to become more common, but most kids didn’t have them yet. Cellphone plans were limited.  The internet was just becoming a thing on computers but smartphones were not invented.  Texting was T-9 and just becoming popular.  (Yes, I'm that old).  The days and years slip by so fast and change happens one step at a time so we don’t even realize the shifts in culture.  

Before our kids had phones, we had to be a lot more intentional about knowing where our kids were and connecting with other parents to make plans for our kids. Such as designating meeting places and planning out a schedule of where they would be.  Making phone calls to friend's homes to see if they had arrived safely. Now, we can track our kids wherever they go and get ahold of them in a second. Kids used to make their plans more with parent’s involvement and when friends called each other it usually was on a home land line so you pretty much knew who your kids were interacting with and got to know their friends. I feel we had more connection in the past as now I find myself just tracking on their phone if they have arrived at their destination and just texting my child from the driveway that I'm there to pick them up instead of walking to the front door and engaging with their friend's parents.   Without a lot of work or parenting phone software, you really have no idea who your kids are interacting with. 

Our kids also used to have more downtime, and time to just be a kid. Time to step back from peer pressure. More time to connect with family. Now peers are just a touch of a button away. While some peer pressure can be positive, too much leaves kids open to bullying and being exhausted by the feeling of never being enough. With social media and texting there really is no time alone.  

In the beginning, my kids had very limited internet access and they didn’t have their own phones until they reached adulthood.  Most homes didn’t have Wi-Fi and most devices didn’t have Wi-Fi access but around 2015, by the time my next set of teen were emerging, things were rapidly changing.  When my 14-year-old son was given his first smartphone by his noncustodial father, I had no idea what the phone was capable of… What a shock that was.  My talented good-natured son changed and became a different person.  He stopped drawing and playing Legos and interacting with the family and became obsessed with his phone.  I quickly learned that there was a whole new world out there.  It was very hard to parent when my child had access to a phone that I didn’t have control of.  I knew things needed to be different for the next kids. As much as I felt kids didn’t need phones, the culture was shifting and it was getting hard to not have your older kids have phones.  For example, as my daughters started babysitting, fewer people had landlines so they had no way to reach the parents or call for emergency help if they didn’t have their own phones.  Also, people stopped telling you where they were going; they just left their cell numbers.  You no longer needed to track them down through their location as you could reach them directly.  So for my next teens,  I only allowed non-smart phones with limited contacts, at a point when I felt they “needed a phone.” This worked for a time but they wanted more.  By this time, I had my own smartphone and so I shared my phone with my daughters, letting them access social media or more contacts through my phone.  This was an eye-opening experience to the new culture of the world.  Other kids thought the number they texted was my daughter's phone and I was introduced to the new sexting world as “nice” boys that I had known for years now texted my daughters and asked for pics.  People called at all hours asking for my daughters.  My daughter's Facebook looked totally different than mine.  I began to see there was a very dark side to the culture.  Trying to protect my kids was exhausting and I also learned about “burner phones.” Suddenly all kinds of people and “friends” are slipping into your kids' phones and now every device has Wi-Fi so even if you “lock down” things at home they can find ways around it.   



Reliance on technology kept growing. Now, people stopped giving directions as they figured everyone has GPS and maps on their phones.  I found my teen drivers were literally getting lost and we no longer had a culture where if you had car trouble you could trust kind strangers to help you out and there are no pay phones to walk to.  Kids also were no longer happy with T-9 texting as phones had little keyboard you could use and when we were totally used to that, alas those phones were no longer available.  So now it seems we are almost forced into allowing kids smartphones.  I went into each one of these phases kicking and screaming trying to build up trust and responsibility with my kids and for some, this works well.  But other teens fall victim to child trafficking and cyberbullying.  The carefree childhood of my older kids is hard to find these days. 

Still, I was able to control most of the kids' technology use until COVID…. At that point, every kid was issued a computer by the school and there were no parental controls.  The school had controls but it seems that kids were always one step ahead and even when they could access “dangerous” material they could get sucked into hours of “mindless” hours of YouTube videos and Pinterest.  My kids became withdrawn and in their own world.  When summer comes and the computers are turned back into school, they become totally different kids.  


While I mourn the days of no internet and cellphones,  I must move on, there is no going back.  This is the world our kids are growing up in.  We must know our kids, be involved, and know when they are ready for each new step and try to stay one step ahead of them to keep them safe.  We also need to be careful not to fall into a pattern of stalking our kids.  It is hard to read and see everything your kids do sometimes as they are going to be kids and do and say things that maybe we wouldn’t agree with.  Im sure we wouldn’t have wanted our parents to hear and see all we were doing back in the day.  But the world is dangerous.  There are so many dangers and so I will keep walking the tightrope of trying to protect my kids and giving them room to learn.  But I urge all parents to stay vigilant, and give freedoms slowly.  Our kids only have one chance to be kids and a lifetime to be adults.  Work hard to keep your kids screen-free as long as possible and then limit and keep screens as safe as possible.  It seems like a losing battle and your kids will push back when they are some of the last to have phones or they think they are the only ones with screen limits or parent controls, but, I feel in the end they will be thankful.  Who knows what new technology challenges lie ahead, the world is constantly changing, and as much as we long for carefree days this is our kids’ world.  So, I will be thankful for the good things about technology, for example, GPS is a great thing and Google and YouTube make finding answers quick and easy.  I can access my kids when they are away from home and be available in an instant if they need help.  So, I will choose to embrace the good and fight to keep my kids safe and hopefully teach them to be responsible adults who can control technology and not be controlled by it.

- Helen Martin