Digital MenCare: The role of digital technology in Bulgarian families

A child watches TV.

Guest post by David Kiuranov, MenCare Bulgaria, based on the study Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study: National Report – Bulgaria

Digital technology is becoming more and more present in the everyday lives of Bulgarian families. Members of the youngest generation are growing up to be “digital kids.” Children often take the use of digital technology – namely the Internet – for granted, and parents are facing new challenges in terms of managing their children’s use of and access to technology. Growing digital connectivity is occurring – at different stages – practically all around the globe.

In response, MenCare Bulgaria partner Association Roditeli recently published a study entitled Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study: National Report – Bulgaria. The report is based on in-depth interviews with 10 families from Sofia, Bulgaria on topics related to digital technology. Interviews were conducted separately with the parent(s) and with their young children. Here, MenCare Bulgaria analyzes some of the results.

Why do parents use digital technology with young children?


Parents now consider digital technology to be an indispensable part of their children’s development. They reason that the more proficient their children are with technology, the more career opportunities they will have. Parents also believe that if children are denied the opportunity to actively use and learn from technology, they will fall behind and feel isolated from their peers.

Discovery and Literacy

Technology encourages children’s curiosity and desire to learn. They start to read and write (or type) earlier, improve their motor skills, develop their imaginations, and learn English words (in order to play games).

(Sometimes) Babysitting

While children play a game or watch a film, parents are often able to finish other work or take a break more easily.

Does digital technology unite or isolate?

This is always one of the primary and most controversial questions about digital technology in the contemporary world. Technologies by themselves do not have their own “social agendas” (except those which their advertisers try to impose). However, digital devices and networks are instruments, and as such, they are used according to the attitudes of those who control them; with young children, this is usually their parents. It is therefore up to the parents to decide how to regulate their children’s access to digital technologies and the Internet – and to educate them on their use.

A decade ago, if you ask anyone on the street, “What is a window to the world?”, many might answer, “a book.” Nowadays “the window to the world” is much more literal – it is the tablet, the smartphone, the laptop. Parents see many opportunities for their children’s development through digital technology, but they often also fear its risks. They wonder: “Will my child access pornography? Who will contact my child on social media?” Since parental control software is not very popular in Bulgaria, the onus is on the parents to build a rapport and trust with their children. In other words, new technology brings both new risks and new opportunities for parents.

Progress, entertainment, curiosity, and risks. In this mixture, the study indicates, mothers and fathers have different roles in managing digital technology. The traditional attitude in Bulgaria is that mothers are more involved in their children’s development. While this attitude is changing, there are clearly still different norms for parents across the country, with mothers expected to be more concerned about the risks of digital technologies for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, are often presumed to use technology with their children in a more playful way: teaching their children how to use it and how to play their favorite games.

What is technology’s role when parents are divorced?

Digital devices are often used as instruments of connection, especially in families with separated parents. This might seem obvious: “So, what of it? Everyone knows that even the kids use Skype!” But let us think back on how things have changed in just 20 years: two decades ago, we only had handwritten letters and telephones to communicate. Now, children have much more direct and immediate ways to talk with their nonresident parents, especially fathers. (In Bulgaria, social and juridical tradition dictates that children most often stay with their mothers in cases of divorce). So, digital devices also have the power to bring fathers and children closer. In the study, several children described their experiences:

Laura’s Story

Laura* is 7 years old. She lives with her mother, and her parents are separated. She sees her father mostly during the weekends and sometimes during the working week. She uses his iPhone to play, as well as his tablet. They play together on the PlayStation, because her father likes it very much. She likes to make voice recordings, pretending to be a reporter, and she takes pictures and sends them to her father via email.

Chavdar’s Story

Chavdar’s parents have lived separately for two years now. He lives with his mother and his two younger siblings (a 9-year-old brother and a 6-year-old sister). He sees his fathers two to three times a month. His father is a computer engineer, and 11-year-old Chavdar is very motivated to follow his example – he is even attending an IT training course. When his father sees the children, he helps them out with their questions about computers and technology.

Georgi’s Story

Georgi’s is 7 years old. His mother and father are separated, but he is very close to his mother’s boyfriend. Georgi also has a smart phone, but it is not connected to Internet and he is not allowed to take it out of the house. He uses it to make calls; for example, Georgi talks with his father often on the phone. He also sometimes plays PlayStation games his mother’s boyfriend.

In Bulgaria there is a strong attitude that digital technology and the Internet isolate children and draw them away from “real life” experiences. Association Roditeli’s new study is not only intended to highlight the risks of digital technology, but also to demonstrate that children can use technology for connection – an opportunity too valuable to be missed.

*All names have been changed.