Here at Familoop, we’re all about empowering families with useful information, so we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Dawn Matheson, Executive Director of the Mom’s Choice Awards® (MCA) about the digital challenges of “the family”. You are welcome to join us in this talk!
Q: Mom’s Choice Awards® Program honors excellence in family-friendly media, products, and services. Do you feel that families have become more digitally savvy?
A: The evolution of the “digitally savvy” family can be traced back forty years to when the first personal computer was introduced. In the span of two generations, we’ve seen amazing technological advancements. While there may have been a time when families were hesitant to embrace technology, that certainly is not the case today. Modern families expect to use technology to do everything from monitoring their infant’s sleep patterns, to managing a busy family schedule, to preparing a child for kindergarten readiness.
Q: How does digitization of families influence their everyday life and the products they demand for your evaluation?
A: Families are busier than ever, and contemporary parents expect to have technologies to help them manage the myriad of obligations they face. Expectation drives demand, and demand drives development of products, services and technologies. I’m convinced that every parent is an inventor. While most parents will not patent an invention, I would guess that every parent at one time or another has conceived of a product, service or technology that could improve their quality of life.
Q: Mom’s Choice Awards® Program has built a brilliant community of evaluators that include education, media and other experts as well as parents, children, librarians, medical and business professionals, and others. Do they report any common digital parenting challenges?
A: Yes, and the list of concerns and challenges grows daily, but probably the most commonly reported challenge concerns “digital literacy” or “digital awareness.” A study conducted by the online security company AVG shows that one in three children in the US begin their “digital life” when their parents upload a sonogram image on social media.
AVG also reports that 92% of children in the US have an online presence before they are two years of age—a presence that will continue to grow throughout their entire lifespan.
We’re living in an age when a child learns to swipe a screen before he/she can hold a crayon. Today’s child seems to have a natural digital intuition—an innate ability to use and adapt to technology. This digital nature can be a positive factor as it allows a child access to valuable resources and learning opportunities, but it also creates tremendous challenges for parents: management of screen time, protection from predators and bullies, filtering age-appropriate content and so on. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) reports that 93% of children have access to digital devices: computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, etc. – which shows that nearly every parent, caregiver and educator is faced with a litany of digital-related challenges.
Q: What is your definition of a family-friendly digital product? Should it address digital parenting challenges?
A: To us, a family-friendly digital item could be any app, digital product or service that is designed to improve the quality of life for families and to help families grow emotionally, physically or spiritually. Our evaluators appreciate seeing features that are designed to assist parents in managing digital challenges. Ultimately, however, the management of these digital challenges requires active parental involvement. Digital awareness means parents should be informed on the tools and features available for the safe, efficient and healthy use of technology. And, parents should also be aware of the example they are giving their children. Parents are increasingly using digital devices themselves which sets a dangerous example for their children. Children model parents and tech addiction can lead to serious psychological issues and even to the risk of “social disconnect.” This disconnect can have a devastating effect on child development and ultimately our society as a whole.
Q: Please describe your vision for the Mom’s Choice Awards® Program and the changes you envision for next year, particularly in regards to how products can better embrace the ever-changing dynamics of “the family.”
A: Here at Mom’s Choice, we’re working to help families (and educators) identify the best in family-friendly products and services. Parents and educators in more than 50 countries rely on our evaluations when selecting quality products and services for children and families. We’ve built a great reputation as a trusted partner, and we are humbled by the faith and responsibility entrusted in us. As “the family” continues to evolve, market demands evolve as well. Our clients are the inventors, manufacturers, publishers and designers around the globe who are constantly working on the next great thing that will improve the quality of life for families.
Each year, we invest considerably in technology, and this next year will be no different. We recently converted our online application system to a more stable, flexible and robust platform, and we fully integrated our Honoree Portal — an online support community for the companies who’ve earned our designation. We also completely redesigned our website—creating a better experience for anyone visiting us online. Countless other technological changes have been made “behind the scenes” which will help us be more efficient and responsive for our applicants, Honorees and the parents and educators that rely on our evaluations and our content. This next year, we will continue to work to ensure that best practices are delivered across all our platforms so that we are ready to respond to the ever-changing marketplace.
Thanks, Dawn, for your valuable insight into digital challenges of “the family” and giving as a better idea of how Mom’s Choice embraces the ever-changing dynamics of “the family”. We believe our future collaboration will be fruitful and together we will help even more parents to become better digital parents and mentors for their children and build family life they want.