How educators can prepare for the rise of millennial parents

Child and parent using a laptop

Are Millennial parents a teacher’s dream or worst nightmare? Based on stereotypes associated with the Millennial generation (those born roughly between 1982 and 2000), it could go either way.

Millennials are often — perhaps harshly — described as self-centered, entitled, jaded, and sheltered. Then again, they are also said to be responsible, involved, socially conscious, and innovative. Who to believe? Are these 30-somethings the most complex personalities on the planet?

Of course, no two people are alike. Though there are demographic similarities among them, Millennials, like the rest of us, are individuals with their own unique combination of traits.

Still, if there is one thing this generation is said to share in common as parents, it is this: they believe in the power of information technology to maximize their children’s education.

Tech for tots

As the first generation to grow up in the “connected” world, Millennials have been steeped in the concept of information technology since birth. From websites and social networks, to video links, blogs, and e-books, they not only know where to access data to inform their decision-making, they crave it. Indeed, marketers consider this generation to be among the savviest consumers based on their keen for researching before making a purchase.

Understandably, this attitude factors into their parenting. Millennial parents are in the business of building a better student at home through the use of information technology.

“I believe technology is a hugely important part of my children’s education,” says Theo Bobos, a South London mother of two. The 33-year-old has been sharing educational apps with her children since they were toddlers. She hands her iPad over to two-year-old Ethan to practice his numbers using a counting app. Older sister Emma, now 9, mastered the alphabet using an app called Pocket Phonics.

Emma also logs onto her primary school’s website for homework using her own unique password. “It’s very important for [Emma] to be tech-savvy to prepare her for the world of work one day,” says Bobos.

In Canada, Jessica Roth of British Columbia introduced her nine-year-old daughter, Ella, to Leapfrog’s interactive phonics refrigerator magnet as a preschooler. It kept her occupied with learning during dinner prep.

This year, on the recommendation of Ella’s fourth grade teacher, Ella began using a vocabulary-building app at home called Spelling City. It’s been a boon to both mother and daughter. Roth says Ella’s grade has “consistently been 100 percent” on spelling tests and has relieved the frustration and boredom she experienced having to write out “all the words repeatedly for homework.”

Like her UK counterpart, Roth, 33, believes that children “should use technology from a young age.” But her reasons differ. “It’s not necessarily to be able to compete with future peers,” she says. “It’s because technology is a part of our daily life.”

Too much information?

Those kinds of sentiments — and outcomes — in the home-to-school connection —certainly suggest greater consideration for all parents. But some experts have a few reservations about such an intense love affair with I.T.

One such expert is educator James Pedersen, Ph.D., author of the book The Rise of the Millennial Parents. Pederson marvels at the Millennials’ research talents. But he also notes that the same facility that makes these parents such savvy consumers can also impact upon their relationship with their children’s teachers — and not necessarily for the better.

“Alas, the days of the ‘teacher is always right’ have all but faded,” writes Pedersen. “Parents are not as willing to accept what educators say at face value and now have the resources to make better informed choices about their children’s education. This, of course, poses new challenges as the parent-teacher dynamic is continuously morphing into a different kind of partnership.”

Pederson isn’t out to blame the Millennial parents’ for this trend. He sees it more as a byproduct of the era’s information avalanche, which often overwhelms new parents with shifting advice that influences their parenting styles. He recommends that educators — an increasing number of whom hail from the same generation — learn to recognize and adjust to this new kind of parent to keep relations smooth.

Finding the balance

At Common Sense Media, “technology is a part of our daily life,” is an accepted norm. This not-for-profit company reviews and evaluates tech products for parents and schools to help them make informed choices. One question Common Sense receives frequently from parents, says Seeta Pai, Vice President for Research, is how to factor educational technology into the daily limits they set for their children on tech use in general.

Pai points out the Common Sense doesn’t set specific limits — that’s up to each individual family, she says. Instead, the organization recommends that parents consider the quality of the educational content itself — “if the child is not engaged, he’s not learning,” says Pai — and the context in which it is used.

“We advise parents to think about balancing technology in their children’s lives,” says Pai. “Just like you wouldn’t want them doing the same thing all day long, you want to consider what they’ve been through during the week so it’s okay to hang out and play some apps.”

Are Millennial parents ready for the future?

Millennial parenting is the new frontier when it comes to education outcomes. And like any new frontier, there are growing pains to push through. Every generation of parents brings their own ideas to the job of child-rearing, based on their own upbringing and the practices that work best for them.

Optimistically speaking, the average Millennial parent’s affinity for, and facility with, information technology, can be seen as a huge plus. After all, knowledge is power.

But at the same time, it’s easy to see how some Millennial parents can become overly devoted to information technology, losing perspective on priorities for raising a well-rounded individual who knows how to engage with peers and gains the experience needed to navigate the real world.

As Pai says, “Technology is just a tool. We use it to communicate, to create, and to collaborate. In the adult world, it’s the currency of our social lives, financial, and work. Kids need to learn about that, but the basic skills underlying those things don’t necessarily have to be taught with technology.”

Jessica Roth understands that perspective. As she says, “I believe my daughter must have room to find her own path and make her own mistakes.”

Nick Friedman is a contributor to Pearson Labs’ Edtech Evolves guest writer series, exploring some of the latest trends in educational technology. 

Pearson sponsors NBC Education’s Parent Toolkit in the US, a comprehensive resource for navigating school which all US parents (including Millennials!) might find useful.


This blog post was originally published on Pearson’s Labs blog, and was re-posted with permission.