by Stacy Kania
With the start of a new year, many people take the time to reflect, make changes and set goals for themselves. For parents, it may mean examining how you approach being a “digital parent,” or parenting in the digital age.
When it comes to kids and technology, are you hands-on, hands-off, or somewhere in between? What is your recipe for success?
In the article “Parents: Reject Technology Shaming,” published in The Atlantic, author Alexandra Samuel references three types of digital parenting styles identified through survey data collected from 10,000 parents in North America.
Digital Enablers - Parents who give their kids carte blanche in terms of tech consumption. They give their kids complete freedom with technology.
Digital Limiters - Parents who impose strict boundaries on tech consumption and always have their hand near the off switch.
Digital Mentors - Parents who take an active role in guiding their child through the world of technology. They realize that tech isn’t going away, and if they don’t provide the necessary navigation, they aren’t preparing their child for the future.
Samuel’s perspective is that the recipe for success is to be a Digital Mentor to your children.
How can we as parents, who didn’t grow up with this magnitude of technology, MENTOR our kids?
Keep the conversations….conversational
In a recent discussion with my own teen, we had a frank talk about sexting and why kids do it - even though parents, teachers and even the authorities warn them about the long-term repercussions and dangers. His response was “because they don’t care.” This led to a conversation together about morals and values. The overall consensus was that teens, in general, l hear the same “don’t” message over and over again, to the point that they tune it right out. It reminded me of the Peanut’s gang teacher “lecturing” in the classroom and all we heard was “wah, wah, wah, waah, waaah.”
A good conversation is the right combination of allowing each person to speak, and more importantly, for the non-speakers to listen.
From the discussion together with my son, I learned a lot about what is going on in my child’s world just by taking the time to hear what he had to say. I didn’t lecture or judge, I just listened. What that said to my son was, “I think what you have to say is important,” and “You can trust me.”
When you’re having a conversation with your teen, don’t hesitate to ask questions. “How does this make you feel?” or “Why do you think people don’t care about sharing these types of photos?” By asking simple questions like these, it conjures up an emotional reaction that can lead to a meaningful discussion and help you as a parent - and digital parent - to better understand what teens face today.
Be “In The Know”
Research technology on your own to familiarize yourself with the digital landscape for teens. Ask your child questions about what apps are hot, what games are popular, and where they spend their time online. Take a vested interest in what they do, how they experience, what they feel, and what they think.
Bookmark your favorite sites for up-to-date references on the latest digital trends. Sites such as commonsensemedia.org and fosi.org are great resources and are organized by age and category so they are extremely user friendly.
Don’t just be a spectator - Get into the game
Engage with your child using technology. Don’t ignore it; ask how it works. Learning about the world of Minecraft, for example, brought me back to feeling the curiosity of a child. Understanding the excitement and element of surprise of getting a new Snapchat reminds me of receiving a note passed in class. Knowing a bit more about what our children enjoy spending hours doing allows us to be a part of their technology world instead of sitting on the sidelines. Plus, knowing that we’re actively observing their online behavior may motivate them to make better choices.
Finding the right concoction of conversation, understanding, engaging, and most importantly, listening will help each of us find our own recipe to success in the world of digital parenting.