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February 2007

What to Do About the New and Growing Digital Divide?

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(2):204-205. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.2.204

The popularity of this new pastime among children has increased rapidly. This new invader of the privacy of the home has brought many a disturbing influence in its wake. Parents have become aware of a puzzling change in the behavior of their children. They are bewildered by a host of new problems, and find themselves unprepared, frightened, and helpless.”1 Azriel Eisenberg wrote these words in an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The year was 1936 and the title of the article was “Children and Radio Programs.” It could have been written today about children and the Internet. There is no doubt that the accelerating pace of technology has yet again dramatically changed the experience of American childhood. Most adults are both proud of and befuddled by their children's technological savvy. Ten years ago, we joked that we needed our children to help us program our VCRs, but our children have long since moved on to more sophisticated endeavors. The other day, a colleague shared that her 12-year-old son used the global positioning system in the family car to play MP3s. Don't ask me (or her) how he did this. The generational gap in amount of technological savvy leaves many parents flummoxed when it comes to understanding what their children are doing and, more important, how to deal with it. Sometimes this parental ignorance gives way to anxiety and paranoia. Other times it yields to benign neglect. I have parents in my clinic who will not allow their children online at all and those who blithely give their children unfettered access in the privacy of their rooms. Every child is different of course, and to some extent these variations may reflect appropriate boundary setting, but given parental cluelessness, one cannot help but wonder how well informed their decisions are.

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