The Digital Parent Trap

Should your kids avoid tech--or embrace it?

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Even before Dave Crandall's kids were born, he knew they'd be weaned on technology. "My second son--we wanted to name him Kyle," he recalls. Problem was, that Web domain and Gmail address were taken, and Crandall wanted him to have both. "So we went with Cole instead," he says.

"Of course," he adds quickly, "we liked that name too."

By the ripe age of 3, Cole--like siblings Chase and Zoey Grace--had more than just the keys to a burgeoning digital empire. He'd learned actionable tech skills, like how to create a password, log in to a computer and navigate some websites. And Crandall, a 37-year-old software engineer from Westborough, Mass., was proud.

But other moms and dads raised eyebrows. When Chase was in kindergarten, "I remember telling the other parents that he knew how to use the computer," says Crandall. "They looked at me in shock. I think a lot of parents are just plain scared of the Internet."

Such is the culture clash of modern child rearing. By all measures, this generation of American kids (ages 3 to 18) is the tech-savviest in history: 27% of them use tablets, 43% use smartphones, and 52% use laptops. And in just a few weeks they will start the most tech-saturated school year ever: Los Angeles County alone will spend $30 million on classroom iPads this year, outfitting 640,000 kids by late 2014.

Yet, according to the latest findings from the research firm Grunwald Associates, barely half of U.S. parents agree that mobile technology should play a more prominent role in schools. Some are even paying as much as $24,000 to send their kids to monthlong "digital detox" programs like the one at Capio Nightingale Hospital in the U.K.

In other words, for every Dave Crandall there's a Roxanne McGrath--a 41-year-old mother from Essex, Mass., who banned text messaging, social networking and mobile wi-fi in her house after catching her sons sexting and bullying kids on Instagram. "There's no reason to have iPhones till they turn 18," she says.

So who's right--the mom trying to protect her kids from the perils of new technology or the dad who's coaching his kids to embrace it? It's an urgent question at a time when more than 80% of U.S. school districts say they are on the cusp of incorporating Web-enabled tablets into everyday curriculums.

for years, the Parental Adage was simple: The less time spent with screens, the better. That thinking stems from, among other things, reports about the rise of cyberbullying and sexual predators, as well as the fact that social media--specifically the sight of others looking happy in photos--can make kids feel depressed and insecure.

There's also a fundamental aversion to sitting kids in front of screens, thanks to decades of studies proving that watching too much TV can lead to obesity, violence and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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