About This Blog

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"The Parent App" (Lynn Schofield Clark)

TITLE: The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age
AUTHOR: Lynn Schofield Clark
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012, (320 pages).

How do technologies impact relationships in the family? How do they shape the relationships of middle-upper and lower class families? In what manner does modern technological gadgets shape families of today and tomorrow? What if parents have an app in which to rely on, to learn how to relate to their children, or how to shape the family dynamics, and at the same time prevent the negative effects of technology in this age? These questions and many more are probed by Clark in this insightful book on technology and the family in the digital age. Technology is here to stay. From mobile gadgets to the tablets, from computers to the social media network, the pervasive nature of technology increasingly demands a response. The question is, how is it shaping families and us? Parents need help to understand the impact of technology and how to navigate by avoiding the risks and at the same time maximize the potential.

Part One deals with matters that concern parents more.  Things like risks of losing privacy, potential dangers by Internet predators, and how the new media and technology magnify such risks. How do parents keep up with change, let alone, understand the implications? How can parents from another era of little technology deal with the new era of pervasive technology? Balancing risks and resources begin with understanding not only the modern cultural perspective, but also the kind of background the family hails from. This is because the middle-upper class families respond differently from the lower-class families, so says Clark. Parents in the former practises a form of "ethic of expressive empowerment," while the latter adopts an "ethic of respectful connectedness." The former focuses more on intellectual curiosity, self-esteem, self-reliance, etc. The latter promotes family bonding and relational matters. According to Clark, the main determinant is the "access" factor, how much technology and how pervasive each family uses the new media. Clark also talks about overparenting, where technology is used to monitor children. Such tactics impede trust building. How then do parents balance concern for their children versus their need for independence? Clark also talks a bit about the different parenting styles across the family groups. For instance, less well-off parents tend to exercise greater control over the use of technology.

Part Two looks from the perspective of youths. Beginning with the more well-off groups, it tells of stories of young people growing up in the social media age, how they find recognition, meaning, and connection. The struggle is in interpreting the parents' desire to continue to protect their teens, versus the teens desire to want to be trusted by their parents, and to have greater freedom and independence. Such tussles deal with differences when trying to understand how much information to share on social media, how to relate or engage well, and how to make a distinction between needs and wants. Clark also uses secondary data, such as the 2010 study by the Kaiser Foundation. There is also the important issue of identity among young people, and how they use technology to express that. It also points out the growing desire of young people to use technology as their new "right" to use. With the less well-off group, there is a bigger emphasis on respect, of young people more adept and even being able to teach their parents on the latest and the greatest (a reversal of roles), and the greater level of parental restrictions on the use of technology.

Part Three brings parents and youths together under the umbrella of family communications. Clark deals with the factors that influence parents' view of technology, how these impact the way families interact, and that good parenting opportunities is a better way to make decisions rather than the avoidance of risks. Here, Clark makes a home run with her use of the two different ethics. In the "Ethic of Expressive Empowerment," parents in the upper-middle class tend to worry that their children's use of technology may impede their focus on more profitable matters. Such families tend to look for a "parent app" that enables their kids to do more productive work, like excellence in education. On the other hand, the lower-income families' "Ethic of respectful connectedness," come through more distinctly as the children's use of technology needs to be secondary to more important needs, like making a living, or supporting one another in sacrificial service.  The "Parent app" needed is one that will enable them to close the gap as much as possible to the societal inequalities they face.

My Thoughts

Social class studies are always difficult to analyze and give a clear answer. The nuances are too many to count. Even the more than ten years of research by Clark, the hundreds of interviews and observations, the many states in the USA, the wide sampling of families across ethnic groups, social groups, income brackets, etc, only gives a small insight to a large cultural effect. More importantly, studies like these are only snapshots of a particular time and space. Things and technology change too fast, and often the results are not only too late, they are also outdated. Just as technology faces obsolescence, so do data in social studies.

Such distinction between the various classes may be labeled as stereotyping. The author is well aware of this accusation. While one cannot generalize any one group, it is fair to say that there is evidence that points to such a use of modern technology. Families relate differently because their lifestyles manifest their unique ways to parenting. Ability to afford modern technology also affects the use of technology. Compare one who often upgrades their technology to another who only gets hand-me-downs. Key to it is the ability to gain access through available technologies. What is helpful for me is to understand again that affordability and access have a direct impact on families' use of technology. While parents of all income brackets have a similar goal to want the best for their children, how and why they do it differs quite considerably. The book is stronger on the descriptive angle, where research and data are well laid out. The conclusion tends to be more disputable. That said, this book does highlights the need for families to understand one another within the confines of their social affordability with regards to technology. As the prices of technology continues to drop, I believe that such a socio-economical distinction will continue to shrink. When that will happen, I do not know. What we can gain from this book is the methodology used, and the extensive resources provided. Perhaps, some of the conclusions may sway you. If not, it does not hurt to understand Clark's perspective as one of the many out there.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Oxford University Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for reviewing my book! I appreciate your thoughtful comments and I've been thinking about the conclusion in my book, as well. I've got an article written that will be published soon, I hope, titled, The Parent App 2.0 in which I will take your suggestions under consideration. There is so much that's constantly changing in this area that in some ways, a blog is probably the better means for continuing a conversation. I'm starting one at Psychology Today, so if you're interested in continuing the conversation, please come visit me there!

    Again, thanks, and best wishes,
    Lynn Schofield Clark, Ph.D., University of Denver