Opinion: Enough with '5G parenting' — it isn't helping your kids
Some adolescents seem to have become dependent on a perpetual parental portal and are incapable of making even minor decisions on their own.
Author of the article: James Watts • Special to Montreal Gazette
Published Jun 08, 2023 • Last updated 3 days ago • 3 minute read
During exams, students are required to place their cellphones on the invigilator’s desk since they are not permitted to have them on their person. While some students turn off their phones, many still receive messages that light up their screens during exams. As a curious invigilator, I glance at the messages to see who might be contacting my students. Surprisingly, the majority of the messages are from parents.
Some messages read: “thinking of you sweetie” or “you’ve got this,” while others are more cryptic, like “slay” and “let’s go!” Some parents even inquire, “Are you done yet?” a mere 20 minutes into the exam. Most messages are adorned with emojis, such as clapping hands, hearts, happy faces, thumbs up, and fire symbols.
My initial reaction is: What the heck? Why are parents sending messages to their children during an exam? During the school year, I believed students focusing on their phones under their desks were receiving “critical” messages from their peers (insert rolling eyes emoji here). Now I wonder whether the source of distraction has been doting parents.
These interruptions led me to contemplate the downside of what I call “5G parenting” — parents who remain attached to their children by cellphone connections. I see this as the next iteration of what has been called “helicopter parenting.”
Lotus birthing, a method of delivering a child and leaving the umbilical cord and placenta attached for days until it self-detaches, has sparked an ongoing debate regarding its benefits and risks. There are parallels between Lotus birthing and the constant cordless cellphone attachment between some teens and their parents.
Maintaining continuous contact with parents may seem healthy. Some parents struggle to communicate with their teens. With cellphones, parents can send texts and voice messages and hope for a reply. Unfortunately, some adolescents seem to have become dependent on a perpetual parental portal and are incapable of making even minor decisions or plans without consulting their parents. When a parent is out of reach, the child freezes.
As an educator with 33 years of experience, I have witnessed the decline in executive functioning among many of my students. When faced with hypothetical or real situations requiring decision-making, many young people cannot choose. Whether it’s ethics classes, school outings, selecting an ice cream flavour or forming in-class groups, more and more young individuals need coaching and sometimes even adult intervention to help them decide and act. Could this be a result of 5G parenting?
There are numerous other reasons to re-evaluate young people’s relationship with their phones, including the damage caused by social media, the dangers of cellphone use while driving, and the sharing of harmful images, to name a few.
However, suppose it is true that cellphone dependency between children and parents is diminishing the child’s ability to mature and develop executive functioning skills. In that case, parents should find ways to reduce their child’s reliance on their 5G connections. One immediate and easy-to-employ option for parents is to respond to queries with: “You figure it out, honey, and let me know what you decide.”
Summer is upon us, presenting a perfect opportunity for change. A two-week phone break is one way to test a child’s dependency on the cellular umbilical cord. (A complete tech break might be overwhelming.)
I can already anticipate parents asking: “What about emergencies?” True, but emergencies are rare, and cellphones that may be borrowed are ubiquitous. It’s an excellent time for children to utilize their executive functioning skills and solve problems using the tools available to them.
Developing children’s autonomy and independence is a parent’s most important task. Spending time with teens, modelling and developing decision-making skills, and reducing the number of decisions parents make for their adolescents may be the most loving thing parents can do.
Parents should keep on encouraging their children, especially at stressful times, but please stop texting them during their exams.
James Watts is the principal at Education Plus High School in St-Laurent.