Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Class Differences in How Parents Use Surveillance and Control Technology

The most original findings of Margaret Nelson's Parenting Out of Control are class differences in how parents think about technology to connect with, control, and monitor their children.

Professional-class parents strongly embrace connection technology - baby monitors when the kids are little, cell phones when they are bigger. On the other hand, these parents do not want V-chips and software filters that control children directly, and strongly reject tracking devices for cars and computers that secretly spy on kids. Professional parents, as we noted yesterday, most value their close relations with their children. Direct and overt monitoring is fine, because parents see that as part of a close relationship. But controlling and spying on their kids violates the basic trust with their children that these parents most cherish.

Middle-class and working-class parents, on the other hand, see it as part of their job to set clear limits for their children. They accept these kinds of technology as potentially helpful in doing that job. They are more likely to decide on a technology based on cost, and on whether they think a particular child needs a higher level of surveillance and control.

Moreover, middle- and working-class parents want their kids to operate within firm limits to free the parents from endless negotiation about the rules - something parents and kids in the professional class do endlessly.


Whit said...


I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are making among the "professional", "middle" and "working" classes.

I'm a "professional" (lawyer), earn a "middle" class income, and "work" a good deal harder and longer than most.

Can you clarify?

Gruntled said...

I am following Nelson here, but her distinction is fairly standard in sociology. Class is made of job and education. Working class is high school graduates, some with some college education but not a BA, and usually working a traditional blue collar or lower service job. Middle class these days are college graduates in lower to middle service jobs. Professionals have schooling beyond college and work in the professions.

Whit said...

Thanks Gruntled. I confess my utter ignorance of sociology.

But I wonder whether educational distinctions are perhaps not always the best, and that distinctions based on how one earns a living would yield interesting findings. I would be considered a professional, but my attitudes tend more toward those considered “middle class”.

I might distinguish among (1) Entrepreneurs, who work for themselves (including professionals in private firms); (2) Academics and government employees who are mostly insulated from the marketplace; (3) Private sector employees who are generally not insulated from the marketplace but do not own the businesses they work for; and (4) the Chronically Unemployed who are supported primarily by government programs.

Gruntled said...

Agreed - job sector matters. Nelson does not differentiate quite the way you do. Her detailed interviews necessarily make the total number of respondents too small to break down into fine gradations.

Income, interestingly, is not a very helpful differentiator.