In the age of ubiquitous screens and ceaseless notifications, the role of mothers in managing their children’s digital use has taken a significant mental toll. A new study conducted by the University of South Australia (UniSA) has uncovered a relentless and intense aspect of modern motherhood called “digital care work.”
Dr Fae Heaselgrave, a researcher at UniSA, explains this term as the additional burden placed upon mothers, who monitor their children’s online activities, acquaint themselves with various social media platforms, and develop strategies to regulate their children’s media consumption.
The research highlights the implications of children’s digital media use on mothers, as families in Australia own an average of nearly eight digital devices. Children themselves may own up to three, giving mothers a new dimension of responsibility.
“This means the increased use of digital devices is having a bigger impact on mums in terms of demanding more time, energy, and mental and cognitive work, which can also affect their career choices and paid work patterns,” Dr Heaselgrave states.
Digital care work isn’t just about setting time limits or rules around device usage. The study found it extends to understanding the importance of digital media in children’s lives, negotiating access, and even being involved in children’s digital activities.
One mother, Olivia, reflects the complexity of the situation as she argues for her daughter’s phone access, stating, “I don’t know if he’s [her husband] forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager, but friends are everything when you are a teenager and if you are out of touch with them even for five hours that can be disastrous.”
The study, based on interviews with Adelaide mothers of children aged 9 to 16, reveals that digital care work can take both a physical and emotional toll on mothers. As one mother put it, “sometimes you take the easy option and let them use the iPad because you just want to sit down and go ‘eurgh!’ for five minutes.”
Dr Heaselgrave urges society to understand and appreciate this complex role, stressing the need for further investigation into how mothers are affected socially, mentally, and economically by these technological changes.
The study brings to light a previously undiscussed aspect of contemporary mothering in a digital home and calls for collective action to help mothers feel valued for the digital care work they provide. It’s a timely reminder that the real pressure of managing children’s digital use is more complex than merely pressing an off switch.
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Modern motherhood's "digital care work," encompassing monitoring, tech literacy, & regulation of children's digital media use, takes a toll on mothers' time, energy, & career choices, says a UniSA study. #TheIndianSunhttps://t.co/wFeUaQR6va
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) August 24, 2023