Parenting and Working in the Digital Age: A Qualitative Examination of Intensive Parenting and Ideal Worker Norms
Hammond, Jacobs Wayne
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This dissertation presents the results of three qualitative studies that explore the ways in which individuals interact with digital technologies in the realms of family and work. Past literature in sociology demonstrates that social norms pertaining to parenting and work can be damaging to individuals, though effects often vary by social location. More recently, evidence beyond sociology has demonstrated that new technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops impact children’s development and enable a blurring of the boundaries between work and home. Yet, we know less about how parenting norms interact with societal ideals regarding what constitutes “good” use of digital technology, or the factors that are associated with the degree to which individuals use digital technologies to conform to existing work norms. I build on sociological research on parenting and work by connecting these themes more directly to the digital era. I articulate and address several questions in this dissertation. These include: What does intensive parenting look like in the digital era? How are ideal worker norms manifested in the digital era? In mass media discourses, what constitutes “good” parenting of children’s use of digital technology, and how can work-life balance best be achieved in the digital age? I find that digital technologies amplify existing inequalities in society. For example, in the parenting context, fears about the impact of digital technologies on children’s mental and physical health were most acute among mothers. Responding to such concerns added additional labor for mothers, who suffered emotional stress as a result. In the work context, some high-status workers benefited from digital technologies that enabled them to achieve even greater autonomy, flexibility, and praise at work. In contrast, workers with less status reported greater pressure to adhere to ideal worker norms, less ability to control how work invaded their private lives, and a sense that time spent working outside standard work hours did little for their career advancement. In news media coverage, I note a tendency to frame struggles with parental mediation and work-life conflict as personal troubles rather than public issues, and to discuss solutions targeting individuals rather than social structures.