Nov 21, 2023
You know that moment in the grocery store or on a family trip when your kid is driving you nuts, your blood pressure is rising, and suddenly, you open your mouth, and you hear your mother’s words and voice tumble out?
Even if we swore up and down that “I will never say X to my kids,” we’re human. When we’re stressed, especially with our kids, we go to what we know. And sometimes, that means echoing the words from our childhood experiences that may not be in alignment with our current-day values.
In the process of becoming Tech-Intentional™, it is important to look at the impact of our childhood experiences on our parenting. How we were parented and how we parent often affect the values we hold.
Years ago, I participated in a parenting class with my then-one-year-old son. One day, the instructor introduced something called “The Parenting Quadrant”:
This quadrant was adapted from the Positive Discipline Association’s parenting approach. It mapped out four different parenting styles:
the permissive parent
the authoritarian parent
the neglectful parent
the positive discipline parent
I hadn't thought about parenting styles until I became a mom. I figured there were some extremes, but for the most part, parenting was parenting. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but seeing this quadrant made me realize that there was so much more nuance to being a parent. For example, experiencing parental loss as a child might lead someone to be an anxious parent. Or someone whose parents were their best friends might make it hard to set boundaries as an adult.
As the instructor explained more about the quadrant, I was struck by something: how I was parented influenced how I was parenting. It was, as they say, an aha moment (and maybe a “duh” one as well!).
Sometimes, to move forward, we must look back. Childhood can be a complex, messy experience. Many of us had parents who tried their best but made mistakes. Some of us had parents who were so in pain from their own bumps and bruises, both literal and figurative, that they could not be present for us as children. Sometimes, there was trauma and abuse.
When we become parents, whether we plan for it or not, we bring what we know to the table. Our child spills a glass of milk, and the scolding words tumble out of our mouths as we gasp, “I sound like my father!” We react to our child’s misbehaviors the way we were reacted to, whether that is with spanking, empathy, punishment, kindness, shaming, hugging, scolding, time-outs, or yelling. In moments of conflict, as parents ourselves, we instinctively go to what we know.
Yes, our childhood took place in a different era. Yes, things have changed. But we carry the experiences of our childhoods into those we provide to our children. Without conscious effort, practice, or therapy, overriding the old habits and hurts of our own experiences is very challenging. And, of course, screentime challenges are riddled with conflict and bring out many of our old habits and patterns.
A child’s negative behavior regarding screen use feels personal, but it isn’t always easy to know why. Their demands and desires to have more and longer time on devices feel like more than the television time we got as children, but it also seems like that’s just what kids do today. We can’t ask our parents how they navigated social media because it didn’t exist 20 years ago. Our screen use is part of our social lives and jobs in a way our parents’ generation never experienced.
Therefore, when our children arrive, we know only what we knew—only what was done to us. Even if we read all the parenting books out there, we apply them through the lens of our own lived experience. To become tech-intentional parents, we must understand how we were parented.
To learn more about the Parenting Quadrant and how it applies to screentime, check out Chapter 3 of The Screentime Solution, available for pre-order, with a January 9, 2024 launch date.