Technology has taken over! It has invaded our home!
Family life has changed since we were kids. Many of today’s parents long for a time where kids would just “go out and play” rather than being attached to a digital device. Of course, we tend to idealize our childhoods, but it sure seems different today, doesn’t it?
Often these differences, set against an idealized version of the past, lead to a negative impression of technology in general. This mindset is harmful, for two reasons:
1. Technology offers opportunities to our kids in ways that we couldn’t have possibly imagined when we were their age.
2. Technology will play a central role in our kids’ lives, which means that they need to build a set of skills around it.
Think of all the important milestones in your child’s life – learning to drive, getting into college, finding their first job, meeting their future spouse. All of these milestones will not just involve technology – but probably require it.
In other words, a head-in-the-sand approach is not going to cut it for today’s parents. Hiding from these realities is a disservice to your kids’ future. In my field work with parents, my impression is that they understand that – they just don’t know where to begin.
The starting point is fear. If we can isolate the fear, we can eliminate it – or at diminish it. Treading into unfamiliar environments is scary, and so is learning new things. So let’s focus on your fears about technology. What is it in particular that worries you?
* That your child will be distracted by digital, putting homework at risk.
* That your child will be detached, not able to interact in the real world.
* That your child will be bullied or that other kids will say hurtful things.
* That your child will be left out or ostracized from his/her social circle.
These are real concerns, expressed to me by real parents. Now, this shift in mindset doesn't mean abandoning these concerns, but instead learning how to embrace what new technology has to offer. Refocusing yourself and your family on some of the positive uses of technology will empower you. It will also help you diminish the negative aspects in the concerns listed above.
There’s a lot that’s positive about technology in our lives too. For instance, if your kid has a cell phone, you can be instantly connected if something goes wrong at school. Or you can see them collaborating on homework in chat, using the tools to enhance their learning.
Positive uses of technology can engage your family with one another, sharing and learning and just plain spending time together. It can help improve their resourcefulness. It can help open up new avenues for learning. It can even help kids better understand how to manage social interactions with peers.
This won’t happen on its own, though. Our kids need us more than ever. This is why we owe it to them to put away our own fears and get to work helping them. I always see it as an investment in our children’s future. A child who uses technology to support their goals will be well-prepared for the challenges of life.
As a parent and mentor, it’s up to you to set the tone and create the right environment for your kids – in the offline and online world. One of the best ways that you can do that is to start from the assumption that our children want to do the right thing, they just don’t always know how.
Kids’ intentions are usually pretty basic and innocent—they simply want to connect with friends, find like-minded peers, and communicate about their identities and feelings. Technology can add layers of complexity to these natural desires, but that’s why they need your guidance.
You set the tone. Your kids will take cues from you. Let’s prioritize technology’s positive aspects when we do so. Here are some simple things you can do:
* Try to create a tech-positive environment in your home. Try to foster tech use in a shared space, so that you can “play what your kids play.” Design planned activities, online and offline. Create fun, attractive, unplugged spaces as well to show that not everything has to be tech-based.
* Model it for your kids. When your child sees you conducting conversations with civility and respect, they pick up on it. The opposite is true, too. Just like we were taught in offline correspondence, the same holds true in email, text messages and Facebook posts. Check yourself from time to time to make sure you are living your own ideals.
* Create clearly-defined boundaries and adhere to them. Again, you are modeling for your kids. If you are easily interruptible by a text message from work during unplugged time with your kid, she will notice. The result will be that it’s hard to get your child to adhere to the same rules. Set the rules and stick to them.
* By the same token, teach respect for other people’s boundaries in the digital world. Not everyone handles technology in the same fashion. An easy way to start is to ask permission before sharing or posting something about someone. If the person says no, honor that boundary without judgment.
* Recognize that the digital world is more complex – it’s changing all the time, with the rules of etiquette still evolving. Both you and your kids are going to make mistakes – and that’s OK. Get comfortable with that notion. The important thing is to find a positive way to offer your kids some guidance, whenever possible.
* The other side of the coin is to show kids that these two different worlds – online and offline – are really one in the same. Just like you expect them to be respectful in class, they should treat the digital interactions the same way. It’s all about personal relationships – tech is just the means by which we connect.
Applying these principles is certain to have a positive impact. At the very least, it can help parents like you and me feel more in control of the technology that’s invaded our lives. Yes, it’s not all positive – and there are real dangers. But we always want to be in a position to steer the discussion, influence habits, and even inspire ourselves and others to use the power of technology to make a positive difference in the world!
How confident do you feel about your ability to mentor your own digital native(s)? Let’s have a look. I prepared this self-assessment quiz as a good starting point: How Screenwise Are You?
Devorah Heitner, Ph.D. is an international speaker, writer,and digital citizenship expert. She is the founder of Raising Digital Natives and the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, a guide for parents on mentoring digital kids.