The Lens of Technology: Enacting Parenting Styles
When I began this research, I assumed naively that the hovering professional middle-class parents would opt for all the help technology could offer to help them keep track of and even spy on their children. In fact, I began this project in part because I thought that it would allow me the fun of exploring novel technologies such as GPS tracking systems for teen drivers and their use within the home.19
As I show in part II of this book, I was wrong. The elite parents I interviewed do opt for some of these technologies, and, in particular, they purchase both baby monitors and cell phones. These devices are viewed as desirable by professional middle-class parents because they fit well with the style of parenting they have adopted: these devices enable parents to be aware of and intimate with their children. But the professional middle-class parents decidedly do not seek out technologies that offer either constraint (such as child locators) or surveillance (such as GPS tracking systems in cars). Indeed they appear to find some of these morally repugnant. Why, they say, would I want a machine to tell me where my child is? Why would I want them to track their driving? I trust them, they say.
This professional middle-class resistance to new technologies that could assist hovering turns out to be a complex phenomenon because it hinges on the technology itself and not on the practices of either constraint or surveillance. In fact, the professional middle-class parents who make significant claims of trusting their children actually forgo neither constraint nor surveillance. Rather, they engage in quite thorough and quite careful attempts to limit and monitor their childrens daily activities. They do hover. But instead of relying on technological assistance (beyond baby monitors and cell phones) for these practices, they rely on their own presence and on the intimacy that is a hallmark of their parenting. As a result, both constraint and monitoring are highly individualized and subject to negotiation. Thus, what the psychologist Barbara Hofer has called the “electronic tether”—the cell phone and email that connects parents and children at a distance—proves to be quite elastic, and often quite unpredictably so.20
The situation is quite different among middle-class and working-class parents. These less privileged parents prefer clear rules and the assistance of more technology. Hence, rather than lurking in a doorway to sneak a look at what a teenager is doing on the computer, as a professional middle-class mother might do, a working-class mother installs a piece of commercial software that blocks unwanted Internet sites. Or, rather than watching videos with a teenage son to ensure that images of violence are subject to detailed discussion, as a professional middle-class father might do, a working-class father simply activates the V-chip on the television. The less elite parents, then, rely on limits rather than subtle control.