When it comes to your family's digital life, do you turn into the wannabe "cool" dad, constantly trying to stay tuned in? Or are you completely clueless and shy away from all the social networks, cellphones, and web searches in your family's lives?
Neither is particularly appealing, not least because they both leave fathers helpless when dealing with something that has a profound influence on their children.
A significant segment of American fathers, however, seem to have found a happy medium. Their values are the same as "mainstream dads," but what distinguishes them is how they’re using technology in their parenting role, and it's these "digital dads," as I like to call them, who seem to be more in touch with their kids.
My company recently surveyed a thousand fathers across America, seeking to understand how digital technology affects how they raise their kids and how their kids are growing up. We isolated the most technologically savvy, socially connected individuals to see what their experience could tell us about the upside of parenting in the digital age.
As it turns out, digital dads share the same concerns as mainstream dads when it comes to how digital technology will impact the next generation.
According to our survey, 64 percent of digital dads worry that young people are becoming less proficient in grammar and 61 percent worry that young people are too distracted by technology. At the same time, they’re optimistic: 76 percent believe that access to digital technology will make their kids smarter.
Digital dads are significantly more connected to their kids than mainstream dads. According to our survey, 71 percent of digital dads are friends with their children on Facebook, compared with only 49 percent of mainstream dads.
While most U.S. adults have a Facebook account, our study suggests that mainstream dads and kids are actively failing to make the connection. Likewise, digital dads are twice as likely as mainstream dads to follow their children on Twitter (27 percent versus 13 percent).
However, there are limits to this connection: Only 8 percent of digital dads and 12 percent of mainstream dads admit to hacking in to their children’s email or social media accounts.
Social networking, rather than digital technology in general, seems to be the barrier.
Digital dads are no more likely to use email or text messaging to keep in touch with grown-up kids than mainstream dads are, but they’re much more likely to keep in touch via social networks (29 percent versus 18 percent) than those mainstream dads.
But technology isn’t just providing a means of connection between dads and their kids; it’s providing an outlet for the whole parenting experience.
Two-thirds of digital dads have posted photos of their children on social networking sites, while 64 percent have connected with other parents and 55 percent have looked for parenting advice online, double the proportion of mainstream dads. No wonder a clear majority (57 percent) of digital dads believe that digital connectivity makes it easier to be a parent today.
Stepping from individual families to a wider societal level, it’s reassuring that digital dads aren’t just a proxy for affluent dads. A recent New York Times article highlighted how lower-income families struggle to monitor their children’s online behavior.
The digital dads we surveyed had a similar household income to the mainstream dads. And most digital dads don’t think it’s important for their children to have the latest technology.
Digital dads might only represent one in seven American fathers, but their behavior shows a way forward for mainstream dads. Connection is better than concern, whether seeking a bond with your kids or advice from fellow parents.
Tom Morton is chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG New York and co-chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG North America.
This post originally ran on CNBC's Technology blog.
Image credit: Creative Commons/PictureYouth@flickr.com