A couple of weeks ago on the Unconditional Parenting (UP) discussion group that I moderate, the terrible dangers of cell phones on kids was brought up. One parent mentioned that parents these days felt pressured to give young kids cell phones. I said I didn’t feel pressured about it. Rather, I’m looking forward to Dylan having his own cell phone! I love my technology and don’t fear it in Dylan’s life. Other parents see things quite differently.
Shortly after that conversation, I received an offer to get a free copy of the book Raising Generation Tech by Jim Taylor, PhD so I could do this review. Dr Taylor has written several other books, including Your Children Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You, and as a parenting and psychology expert he blogs for popular websites and appears on news shows. On the heels of that UP discussion, and as Dylan gets more and more interested in the technology around him, Raising Generation Tech popped up at just the right time!
Right off the bat, Dr Taylor makes a distinction between authentic popular culture and synthetic popular culture. I was resistant to this distinction because I don’t want to just reject current popular culture because it’s current and I’m increasingly not. Isn’t it a cliche that parents are always worried about “kids these days”? You can find texts from centuries past moaning about the perils of popular culture. I hate to fall into that trap. On the other hand, Dr Taylor makes the case that because of our fast-pace, broadcast-to-millions technology what we think of as popular culture is not really “popular” but instead comes to us from a limited number of materialistic, capitalistic companies. “Popular culture” these days is advertising. It’s important to pay attention to what we’re being sold. Some of the potentially alarming things that Dr Taylor mentions don’t concern me at all. Kids listing god/heaven last on a list of important things? I approve! On the other hand, the sexualization of very young children is a big concern of mine.
I appreciate Dr Taylor’s attempt to not be alarmist about technology itself. Other books demonize the hardware, such as The Plug-In Drug, which argues that the evils of television are inherent in the machine. Instead, Dr Taylor talks about how it’s not the tech that’s the issue, it’s the particular relationship your child and your family develops with the technology. This can be difficult when parents and kids can view and approach tech so differently, but it’s important not to increase that rift by attacking the equipment itself. Dr Taylor promotes setting a good foundation for your kids’ use of technology.
Raising Generation Tech dives into the potential positive and negative effects that technology can have on kids’ self-identities, self-esteem, thinking, decision making, relationships, health, and more. Dr Taylor gives each aspect of kids’ lives a multi-faceted look and presents research to help fill out the picture of how technology and popular culture interacts with these different parts of life. Since these aspects rely on values and judgements, I suspect that most people will find some disagreement with Dr Taylor’s conclusions. I cringed every time he tossed around “obesity” in the health section, for instance. And I disagreed with much of what he said about what makes positive relationships, because I have experience with people with disabilities that make them less able to benefit from traditional, face-to-face relating.
That being said, it doesn’t matter if you agree with each thing in this book or even most of them. What matters is that this is an important topic worth exploring, and Raising Generation Tech does an excellent job of leading the way for that exploration. There are many practical tasks offered to help you think through your own values and the effects of technology on your kids, and you will come away from reading with a greater understanding of yourself, your kids, the world you are navigating together, and the technology you’re using to do it.