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Help! I Have No Clue How to Parent Generation Z

Photograph by Twenty20

Every day, my children demand "scream time," which is toddler speak for "screen time." I only recently realized my 4-year-old began to think screen time was a birth right instead of a privilege after explaining screen-time limits. If she hasn't had any screens by mid-afternoon, she would complain, "I haven't had my scream time today and I need it!"

This wasn't how I planned to parent. Like a growing cohort of millennials raised on screens, I believed that I ought to protect my kids from the onslaught of the Internet. I envisioned a home filled with Montessori-esque wooden toys, tents and nothing but unfettered imagination. And it worked for a while, until my daughter turned 3.

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Cartoons were at first a rare treat only indulged in when someone was sick. Then, when her little brother was born, cartoons became the crutch I needed to take a shower, just drink a cup of coffee or not go insane.

Now, my daughter is a whiz at computers; she already handles the mouse and touchpad better than her grandma. She learned her ABCs through the Fisher Price online games and is quickly mastering reading through a game called "Teach Your Monster to Read." My 2-year-old thinks everything is a touch screen, and can handle the iPad even better than his sister.

You should hear me try to explain why the iPad can't access the Internet in the car. (My toddlers) just don't believe that it wouldn't be everywhere or ask why I'm too cheap to let them have a data plan.

My kids also have a predilection for YouTube videos; their favorites are the Skylander Family, Miss Booksy, Miss Crafty Carol, and anything involving a surprise egg. I have no idea who these people are and I had to Google them just now. I can't believe I already feel so woefully out of touch.

According to who you ask, my kids are Generation Z, which is defined as children born in the late 1990s to the 2010s, or from the early 2000s to around 2025. They are the real digital natives, born with a touchscreen in their hands and WiFi in the air. To them the Internet is just as common as oxygen. You should hear me try to explain why the iPad can't access the Internet in the car. They just don't believe that it wouldn't be everywhere or ask why I'm too cheap to let them have a data plan.

And honestly, I don't know how to parent them through this. While my children learn their alphabet on the computer, I'm bombarded with messages and articles saying that I'm ruining them with screen time. When together, we explore the ancient pyramids or find a common love of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" through YouTube videos, but the next click reminds me that I'm making them obese and lazy.

While I had my first blog at 19, I am beginning to feel very unequipped to handle the technology that is being thrust at my kids at such a rapid rate. Should they have YouTube channels? Is screen time a crutch or are they actually learning? When I impose limits am I actually limiting the potential for engagement or am I being a good parent?

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The answers to these questions aren't so obvious when you consider that my kids have no problem playing for hours with blocks, building an entire city out of tents, and have healthy body weights and a pretty solid love of outdoors.

While the line to researchers on technology use and children may be clear, the realities of it are a lot more fluid when it comes to the Generation we are parenting. The only thing that is readily apparent to me is that Generation Z already knows a lot more than we do.

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